Billed as a “30-second anxiety attack extended musically into a 30-minute opera” in paraphrasis of its original composer, Arnold Schönberg, Erwartung drew crowds from the art world to an oval stage on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets. It also drew many more uninitiated onlookers to the exterior of the seating area to snap a photo or, in at least the case of one portly man, stand with mouth agape. A reimagining of Schönberg’s 1909 opera by artist Robin Rhode for Performa 15, the piece featured a single soprano (the renowned Carole Sidney Louis, her face painted a stark white) projecting above a sizable orchestra conducted by Maestro Arturo Tamayo.
It was the first time an opera had ever been staged in Times Square, a location that updates the backdrop of Schönberg’s original piece. The libretto sets Erwartung in a dark forest, illuminated only by moonlight. In Rhode’s rendition, metal and glass skyscrapers fill in for trees, ultra-HD billboards serving as so many moons. The stage—many layers of poster-sized prints of sketches Rhode made after Schönberg’s original plans for the mise-en-scene, plastered to the ground—was set sparsely. A pair of mannequin arms could be seen at stage left (the “harlot” about whom the Woman’s jealousy boils), a bench made from concrete bricks at right, and a solo brick at center serving as stand-in for a log, which, at the end of the second of four scenes, the Woman mistakes for her lover’s body.