Early on in the week, based upon a few tweets from chambermusiciantoday and Sequenza21, I checked out Elodie Lauten’s ‘new’ opera The Death of Don Juan (apparently it originated in the 80s, but this is the first staging and it was radically overhauled). The timing was right, I was going to be in the neighborhood, and at only $15, it seemed worth taking a chance on.
The performance was, in short, underwhelming. It was scrappy and independent with rough edges and some questionable talent on display. There were some cringe inducing moments of out of tune singing and a concept that wore pretty thin, even for a brief sixty minute presentation.
I would have left it at that, no blog entry needed. I do my best to advocate when I can, offer criticism if I think it would be constructive, but no reason to rail on something for the sake of railing. But the other day this rave review of this piece was published in Sequenza21 and I was left scratching my head. I have no idea who Mark Greenfast is, a quick Google search suggests that it’s more likely Mark Greenfest who seems have written mostly for “New Music Connoisseur”. But to read this review, one would think that this production is single handedly both resolving the opera/musical theater schism AND the first convincing use of virtual instruments in history.
Now, reasonable people can disagree, but I’m confident that the vast majority of people who saw this show did NOT find it as “accessible as a Broadway Musical”. I brought my 69 year old father and step-mother and I’m pretty sure they would have found the incomprehensible sprawl of Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark more accessible (although there is something to be said for being half the length and one twentieth the cost). I dare say it’s hard to imagine many people finding this a particularly compelling or emotionally resonant bit of theater, there being no naturalistic dialogue or identifiable character traits or plot or motivation. That in itself isn’t a bad thing (I’m a huge Richard Foreman fan) but non-narrative, non-representational theater is a bear to pull off and I don’t think this production came anywhere close.
OK. Fine. Different strokes and all. Maybe this is exactly the sort of thing Mark Greenfast (fest?) has been dreaming to see produced. But when you start claiming that this is the first use of virtual instruments that sounds real, it’s pretty clear that Mr. Greenfest is way behind the times. I remember hearing a sample library demo of La Mer using virtual instruments back in 2000 and save for a few moments of solo violin, it was largely indistinguishable from a live recording. Paul Lansky turned me onto a program called SynFul that uses acoustic modeling to simulate instruments in real time. Does this french horn sound fake to you?
So I’m a bit stymied here. Sequenza21 is one of the most widely read new music blogs out there. It’s sister blog ChamberMusicianToday occasionally picks up my own blog entries, but as far as I know Sequenza21 has some sort of editorial standard. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Washington Post/Examiner kerfuffle that Maura Lafferty summarized quite well in April. At least Mark is reviewing the music as he experienced it (as opposed to commenting on what fellow audience members wore), but his experience is so drastically at odds with my own, I find myself wondering how much salt I should have on hand when reading these reviews.