Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dr Atomic

So I saw the John Adams / Peter Sellars Oppenheimer opera yesterday. As most reviewers have said, Openheimer's John Donne Aria at the end of the first act is probably one of the high points of recent classical music. So, even though the main floor was a choppy sea of drooping and abruptly rousing heads -- particularly in the first act -- it was a well spent evening. The person sitting next to me, for example, slept through large chunks of the Opera -- and as Peter Sellars was sitting directly behind me -- I was tempted to nudge my neighbor to show more respect, but then it occured to me that my rapt attention was probably of less interest to the director than knowing which parts were keeping an uninterested audience member awake.

Even more than Nixon in China, the theme was well suited to Sellars' sublime revisitation of the aesthetic successes of Maoist Revolutionary 's opera -- which is to say that the show came most alive when people were singing to the "gadget", but rather than the girl marrying the tractor, it was Oppenheimer using the bomb as a proxy for God.

As the most emotionally moving part of the Opera had Oppenheimer exploring seventeenth century religiosity as a response to twentieth century science, this undercut the press release's and the libretto's suggestion that the bomb had changed the world and made everything new. Twentieth century technology has made it easier to avoid and easier to confront the core issues of humanity, and the suggestion that humanity's core issues had somehow changed because of nuclear technology is the sort of phony profundity that keeps people from seeing the deeper truth that everything is really still the same.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

First Bernhard

So I went to the US premiere Thomas Bernhard's "Ritter, Dene, Voss", and while it is easy to criticize full-throttle yelling in emotion-laden late twentieth century drama, there were many moments -- especially when emotions were modulated -- when the actors captured the fundamentally musical nature of Bernhard's compositional style, and though English is a less hypnotic language than German, most members of the audience left the theater with Bernhard's themes running through their heads.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Counter-tenors suck, but what is the alternative?

While I might make an exception for certain types of ecclesiastical music -- where a musical voice that emphasizes the willful neglect of a range of human experience may be uniquely suited to the musical intention -- the newer tendency of Baroque productions to cast counter-tenors rather than female sopranos in the castrati roles (most recently, for example, at the Lyric's staging of Handel's Giulio Caesare), raises the issue that, for all of our vaunted decadence and sybaritic degeneration, among all the caudillos and druglords in South America, Moscow mafiosi, regional commissars and overly ambitious parents in China, and unchecked Headmen in Africa, there has not yet arisen a single opera fan so committed to period stagings that he is willing to risk the social ignominy that would come from creating the necessarily prerequisite for a period staging of a baroque opera. This is hardly a suggestion for my Mongol readership, but if a genuine Castrato with a strong voice and serious musical training appeared on the musical scene, after the necessarily hand-wringing and editorializing, that person would probably become a multi-billion dollar entertainment sensation. So we can take solace from the fact that, though there is an excessive market demand, and a ready potential supply, not a single person in the last hundred years has bridged the supply with the demand, and though it will be a happy day for opera-goers, it will be a dark day for humanity if and when someone comes forth to meet the demand.

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