Recently during a late evening in the Vélez Blanco Patio, well after the Met had closed to visitors, there was a digital-mapping and audio-tuning session for the upcoming premiere of La Celestina that kept the gallery buzzing and active well into the night. Quick glimpses of the digital projections on the gallery wall (like the sexy visage of Melibea appearing through the windows of the sixteenth-century space) flashed before me before being swiftly adjusted, mapped, and then gone again.
All week, the installation and rehearsals of this groundbreaking video opera have taken over the gallery, but this morning, shortly after the Museum opened, La Celestina premiered to any visitors who chose to walk through the gallery doors of the Vélez Blanco Patio. A mesmerizing operatic experience, La Celestina will run approximately every thirty minutes throughout Museum hours through Sunday, March 29, and is free with Museum admission. The passionate love affair and unspeakable tragedy it recounts was transformed by ERRATICA, the London-based performance company under the artistic direction of Patrick Eakin Young, with digital shadow puppetry created by Manual Cinema specifically for the Met's gallery.
Created by Fernando de Rohas and published in 1499, La Celestina remains one of the most important works of Spanish literature. The story is centered on a gentleman named Calisto, who enlists the old woman Celestina—a witch, a healer, and a meddler—to cast a spell on the lovely Melibea so she will fall in love with him. Much greed, debauchery, drinking, and, ultimately, murder ensues. View the full program and story synopsis (PDF).
In the Met's collection is a 1922 French edition of La Celestina, La Célestine ou tragi-comédie de Calixte & Mélibé, translated from the original Spanish by A. Germond de Lavigne and illustrated by Démétrius Emmanuel Galanis. I recently spent some time with this exquisite book, which was acquired by the Met in 1930. As delicate as the pages are, the 171 leaves (numbered 1–339) feature 51 engravings (both on copper and wood), and are all piercingly detailed character studies of each of the story's players. Towards the end of this French edition, the reader is treated to two striking illustrations: one a peek into an impassioned love scene, and the other a more abstract interpretation of the story's unfortunate end. Intrigued yet?
Galanis's engravings gorgeously capture the virtues of each, from the smirk of Célestine (Celestina) to the prideful tilt of Mélibé's (Melibea's) head. While most of the engravings are of the characters, there are also some pages accented with equally intricate miniatures, highlighting scene locations, and, most memorably, suggestive—and even erotic—scenes signifying the drama that lies ahead.
Patrick Eakin Young says in his program notes that ERRATICA's version of the play is "an opera without singers, whose theater is also its stage, told through hearsay and rumor, neither fully spoken nor sung." This production engages with visitors in a highly creative capacity, using the gallery and art to place audiences within the action. A performance experience with cutting-edge projection and audio technology, La Celestina also pioneers a new way to stage live arts in priceless galleries. There is almost no footprint on the gallery itself: no living performers, no moving bodies, and no chairs for the audience. This is another step in Met Museum Presents' mission of viewing performance as organic to, rather than just an appendage to, the Met's many gallery spaces.