By Justin Davidson
For most of us, March is a little early in the season for a loincloth, but a bracing spring breeze isn’t enough to deter Thoth - not the Ibis-headed Egyptian god, mind you, but the sandaled and feathered prayformer of his own soloperas. Thoth has been a fixture of Central Park for years, his celebrity documented in articles, interviews, and even a documentary that won an Academy Award in 2002. For a while, though, he was in in exile from his preferred venue, Angel Tunnel near Bethesda Fountain, while it was being restored. Now the tunnel's open and he's back, his incantatory chants and droning violin reverberating off the gorgeously restored tile ceiling.
The music is mesmerizing. In a voice that ranges from a Tibetan monkish baritone to a pristine soprano, Thoth (a.k.a. Stephen Kaufman, who lives in Jamaica, Queens) sings his ritual epics, while whirling, fiddling, and accompanying himself on bells wrapped around his ankles. Since the libretto is in a language of his own invention, it’s hard to know what exactly is going on in “The Herma: The Life and Land of Nular-In,” but then the same could be said for “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Whatever they mean, those are some funky phonemes.
Being a technologically adept mystic, Thoth maintains a website (which had been disabled by hackers the last time I checked) and a myspace page, where he chronicles the thrill of his return to Angel Tunnel. “I have noticed that I am having less visions than I was having at Trefoil Arch. I'm not sure I understand why.” (I think he means that’s a good thing.)