Henze, who met Montejo in Cuba, described “El Cimarrón” as a “recital for four musicians,” here the bass-baritone Davóne Tines, the flutist Emi Ferguson, the percussionist Jonny Allen and the guitarist Jordan Dodson. They brought to life the political, emotional and musical threads that run through this riveting work, in a simple yet effective production, developed by the American Modern Opera Company and directed by Zack Winokur. And they conveyed the quality suggested in Henze’s intriguing description of “El Cimarrón” as more like a collective recitation than a dramatic piece for an accompanied singer.
As written, the three instruments often appear to be speaking or mingling with the solo voice. On Friday, extended episodes were daringly hushed and subdued. During frenzied scenes, the music was driven by a din of percussion and screeching flute. Yet passages evoking forest murmurs and insects were suggested by flecks of percussion, plucked guitar and gently reedy flute sounds. When Montejo recalls the brutality of slavery, the horrific tales are sometimes backed by mellow Latin American dance rhythms, as if to suggest that such degradations were just the daily drudgery of a slave’s life.