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Paulanne Simmons

Todd Conner Channels Ovid

Todd Conner

Adapted and performed by Todd Conner
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia St. between Bleecker St. and West 4th St.
Saturdays, Jan. 6, Feb. 3, March 3 at 6 p.m.
$20 includes a drink & light buffet (917) 294-8310
Preview by Paulanne Simmons

When Todd Conner took a job as production manager at the then nascent Getty Center in Los Angeles, little did he think that he would discover Ovid not only as a source material for Renaissance and Baroque painting, but also for his solo performance of Ovid's "Metamorphoses."

This was in 1999. Since then, he has perform "Metamorphoses" across the country, and this season, he will be performing it in a "winter series" Downstairs at Cornelia Street Café the first Saturday in January, February, and March.

Back in 1999, Conner had considerable acting experience in regional theater but spoke no Latin. Fortunately, in the museum's education department he met Liliana Leopardi, a Sicilian woman who "knew as home much of the landscape Ovid described."

Because Connor's intention was "to get as close to the source material as possible," he asked Leopardi to give him a word-for-word English version, which he turned into the beautiful poetry that fills this translation.

Ovid's poems of metamorphosis, written in the first century after Christ, comprise fifteen books of legends that tell the history of the world from its formation out of chaos to the apotheosis of Julius Caesar and the reign of Augustus. The history is told in terms of the instability of nature: a girl is changed into a laurel tree, a man is turned into a stag.

Conner's "Metamorphoses" starts with the creation, goes on to the deluge and the re-creation of the world, and concludes with the myths of Phoebus and Daphne, Actaeon, Ceres and Persephone, and Orpheus and Eurydice. He accompanies himself on the harp, playing music he composed for the piece.

Conner believes "Metamorphoses" is best presented in an amphitheater, with torch lighting and no amplification. Next best is a home or an intimate environment "because ‘Metamorphoses' talks about civilization, building homes and cultivating the earth." Cornelia Street Café is especially appropriate not only for its intimate atmosphere but also because "it's a home to a lot of artists."

In fact, Cornelia Street Café is not only a culinary landmark in New York City, it has also been a venue for Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer-prize winning authors, presidential candidates, members of Monty Python and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as a steady stream of talented New Yorkers: poets, musicians and artists of every stripe who perform for the sheer joy of being onstage before an intelligent and appreciative audience.

Through his voice, his body, a few props and his harp, Conner brings audiences back not only to the poetic traditions of ancient Rome but to the very sources of Western storytelling tradition, from which Ovid drew his inspiration.

There's something truly mesmerizing in Conner's performance. Listening to his resonant voice and evocative words, in the dim café light, with a glass of wine in hand, one can well imagine the electrifying power of mankind first discovering the command of the spoken word.


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