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Review: Kate Soper’s ‘The Hunt’ Makes the Medieval Modern

Brett Umlauf, who performed alongside Soper in “Sirens,” has a bright, Kristen Chenoweth-like soprano that lends itself well to Fleur’s desperate respectability and sinister sunniness. On livestreamed updates for the kingdom, she smiles through saying that she has “a good feeling” about Day 17 … and 43 … and 82. But the moment she stops recording, her face slackens into a hilarious but lonely frown familiar to anyone who has ever filmed a selfie.

Together, they spin out the melodies of Soper’s score, which takes on a repetitive structure similar to the plot. (Mila Henry is the music director.) Each update from the virgins comes from the same sound world, just as each comment from the king unfurls over an electronic drone. Briar introduces deceptively straightforward folk songs, whose lyrics are pulled and adapted (sometimes even translated by Soper) from historical texts by Hildegard von Bingen, Thibaut de Champagne, Christina Rossetti and more. Entr’acte numbers step out of the action entirely for a solo ballad with a cappella backing.

In the end, the work adds up to something that few would qualify as absolutely an opera or a musical, or even a play with music — but, in classic Soper fashion, none of them and all of them at once.

Her finest touch in this score may be the occasional overlaying of three blocks of text for the sopranos, in which a small phrase is sung while the rest is babbled. It’s another trademark move, the kind of Soperian gesture that surfaces elsewhere in the singer-songwriter-meets-troubadour aesthetic; the carefree noodling on the instruments; the wit of a virtuosic violin solo gesture being met with the silly strum of the ukulele. Not to mention when, on a bad trip induced by sugar cubes, the virgins devolve into primitive communication, Meredith Monk-like tongue trilling that swirls in its phrasing, free of any traditional pitch or notation.

That scene, though, drags on. As is often the case with Soper’s stage works, you feel, near the end, as if the score has overstated itself, that it could have benefited from a quick snip of the garden shears.

What I do wish were longer is the run of “The Hunt” itself. Thursday’s premiere was one of just two performances. Not for the first time, Soper has written a show that could feasibly appeal to an Off Broadway crowd somewhere like Ars Nova. There, it could reach more people over more dates. And the more people who know about her, the better.

The Hunt

Repeats on Saturday at the Miller Theater at Columbia University, Manhattan;

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