Twenty years have passed since the last Mass was celebrated in the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Faubourg Marigny. But this weekend the lives of three saints will be celebrated in the repurposed church, now known as the Marigny Opera House.
“The Book of Saints,” an original contemporary dance inspired by saints Teresa of Avila, Sebastian the Martyr and Francis of Assisi, will be staged over three nights, beginning Friday and running through Sunday. The production will feature 11 dancers from the Marigny Opera Ballet and an original score composed by Tucker Fuller.
In Latin, Spanish and Italian, the librettos — based on writings attributed to the three saints — will be sung by eight members of the Krewe du Voix Choir under the direction of Paul Weber, of Trinity Episcopal Church. English translations will appear in the performance programs.
The accompaniment by the New Resonance Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Francis Scully, will include three winds, three horns, percussion and a double bass.
Teresa Fellion, the production’s New York-based choreographer, attributed the “Book of Saints” concept to Marigny Opera House co-founder and executive director Dave Hurlbert.
“Dave and I seemed to see things in a similar way,” Fellion said. “I appreciate the way he brings together live music and dance performance, taking advantage of the acoustics and the beauty of the space.”
Fellion began working on “Saints” this spring when she was in New Orleans to attend the dance “Orfeo” at the Marigny Opera House.
During that time, she helped audition performers who were new to the resident dance company, and she also had early opportunities to hear portions of the musical score as Fuller was composing it.
“The Book of Saints” will be presented in two acts. The full work begins and ends with the choir singing “Kyrie” from the “Litany of the Saints,” a formal prayer in the church liturgy praising the saints while calling for the merciful intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
Throughout the work the three saints are visited by seraphs — winged angelic beings believed to have been seen by these saints during religious experiences.
In both acts, St. Teresa, danced by Lauren Guynes, is accompanied by seraph John Bozeman. St. Francis, portrayed by Joshua Bell, is accompanied by seraphs Kellis McSparrin-Oldenberg and Gretchen Erickson. All three seraphs are with St. Sebastian (Edward Spots) during that segment.
Other dancers in the cast include Derwin May Jr., Niklas Nelson, Lauren Ashlee Small, Sarah Noelle Prescott and Kentro Mason-Taylor Jr.
“It’s a cantata,” Fuller said. “A multimovement piece for instrumentalists and chorus with some solo bits. Because this piece has been so abstract ... there’s so much room for flexibility."
“Anything that’s being told in any act is like an emotional transformation,” Fuller continued. “That is being conveyed musically and in the choreography, so we get to watch and hear the narrative play itself out.”
The instrumentation, Fuller explained, is along the lines of the “Stravinsky Mass” with the brass and winds predominant but “austere and cold,” as he described the Stravinsky work. “I wanted to take the same instrumentation and try to warm it up. Make it less austere and more rich in sound,” he said
In making her New Orleans directing debut, Fellion praised all of the principals involved in the production: “It’s such a great team and I feel happy to work with them. It’s been a really productive and informative collaboration.”
The Book of Saints
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Marigny Opera House
725 St. Ferdinand St., New Orleans
TICKETS: $42.39. Student/Senior Discount $26.87.
INFO: (504) 948-9998 or marignyoperahouse.org