...writer Jonathan Levi
and violinist Gil Morgenstern
sat over coffee in Levi’s kitchen in New York City discussing their various upcoming projects. Levi was producing a national tour of a stage production of Dante’s Inferno
based on Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s recent translation. He talked of the challenge of adapting the epic poem for the stage. Morgenstern, who had experimented in interdisciplinary work for years, jumped in with what he saw as the natural solution: a role for a violinist that included interaction with the actors. Or was it Levi who challenged Morgenstern to play the violin and act at the same time?
Whichever version is to be believed, one year later the Inferno
toured the United States with Morgenstern performing an original violin score on stage with four actors, including the Obie Award-winning Bill Camp. As the Inferno
played to full houses and rave reviews, Morgenstern and Levi came to recognize the power of the interplay between words and music. Towards the end of the Inferno
tour, somewhere in Kansas on I-70, they decided to continue to explore the interrelationships between the various artistic disciplines.
With the aim of developing new works and forging new relationships through the collaboration of authors, composers, musicians, directors, visual artists and performers, Levi and Morgenstern founded Nine Circles Chamber Theatre. Taking inspiration from the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno, Nine Circles Chamber Theatre was created to combine the tools of theatre with the intimacy of chamber music.
Beginning with the December 2001 world premiere at New York’s 92nd Street Y of the chamber opera The Scrimshaw Violin, with music by Bruce Saylor to a libretto by Levi, Nine Circles has created and performed, in the United States and abroad, eight original stage productions for musicians, actors, dancers and visual artists that explore the relationship of words and music, harnessing the collaborative process of chamber music to generate memorable theatre.
April 2007 saw the inauguration of the new Reflections series, which brought Nine Circles theatre of ideas to New York City, Florida, Pennsylvania and Italy in a series of reflective encounters between actors and musicians, and eastern and western writers and composers. Nine Circles’ most recent production, Falling Bodies, premiered in a concert version at the Certosa di San Giacomo on the island of Capri in September 2008, with performances in both English and Italian, prior to a tour of the United States. The fully-staged production of Falling Bodies was produced by the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi, Georgia in December 2009.