I’ve been heard to complain about the lack of experimental theater in the Bay Area, but this week has paid off quite nicely with two pieces that make me feel quite a bit more optimistic about San Francisco’s willingness to take chances with non-narrative theater.Share on Facebook
Posts Tagged ‘postmodernism’
The judge has spoken and the winners have been announced. (I was kinda hoping that Jonas Kaufmann would record this momentous announcement in rich Wagnerian tenor in a full orchestral setting).
With almost 1000 entries, narrowing the field to 5 winners was surely a daunting task and there was no doubt that many worthy entries would be passed over. The decision was bound to be a highly subjective one, depending largely on the sensibilities of the judge and his/her own sense of humor.
By almost any measure, Kaufmann has shown himself to have very conservative tastes. The winning entries are largely straightforward summarizations with the only the gentlest of twists. The most “modern” opera is Elektra (1909). It appears that Kaufmann had little appreciation for anachronism, post-modernism, or any pop culture references at all (with the exception of Daniel John Kelley’s txt-speak paraphrasing of Eugene Onegin). Based on these selections, I would guess that were Kaufmann to take a Meyers-Briggs test, he would test very high on the Sensing (as opposed to the iNtuiting) axis.
As a result, there are easily dozens of very clever entries that are going unnoticed, and that’s a shame. I’ve done pretty well myself (the extra effort of recording the Oedipus #operaplot paid off with a “Best creative use of an #operaplot” mention and my Gen-Yers misunderstanding of La Boheme was appreciated by the folks over at the English National Orchestra) but many of my favorite entries from other #operaplotters have been tragically overlooked. Regular readers know I have a deep appreciation for the ironic and the post-modern (and a complicated love-hate relationship with genre mashing). I rank so far on the iNtuitive axis that I have a hard time even making conversation with Sensors (my own wife is an N, and problems still pop up because she’s JUST NOT N ENOUGH DAMMIT!) Clearly my list of the five strongest #operaplots would look quite different. In fact, it would look more similar to the five randomly selected #operaplots that received Decca CDs than Kaufmann’s official list!
So, my fellow ironists, satirists, and post-modernists, I solemnly commit myself to attaining a level of professional fame and notoriety sufficient to reach the exalted position of #operaplot judge so that your ironic, satirical, and post-modern #operaplot entries can receive the recognition that they deserve!Share on Facebook
Looking through the 900 odd (sometimes very odd) #operaplot entries, I started noticing some distinct trends, a number of “schools” of #operaplot authoring. This isn’t that surprising, there are only so many ways one can distill a multi hour convergence of music and theater into a coherent series of 140 characters (130 excluding the #operaplot hash).
As a service to future #operaplotters, I’ve taken the time to assemble a semi-scholarly taxonomy of the 2010 entries, illustrative examples included.Share on Facebook
Two weeks ago I swung by the free Hot Air Music Festival at the SF Conservatory. It was an all day affair with dozens of pieces from composers who, save for four, all shared a trait that almost guarantees that they’ll be largely unknown and unheard, specifically, they’re alive.
I was only able to attend the last four hours of the day (unfortunately missing David Conte’s Two Motets for Double Brass Quartet) but there was a lot of great stuff packed into those two hours.
Steve Reich’s 1987 Electric Counterpoint was written for Pat Metheny as part BAM’s Next Wave Festival. It was designed to have twelve guitar parts all prerecorded by the soloist, who would then play the “solo” thirteenth part live at the actual performance while accompanied by the tape. The composer also prepared a less frequently performed version for a full battery of guitars, which was the version performed at the festival. No recording can do justice to the sound of a stage full of acoustic guitars strumming. If you get a chance to hear a good guitar ensemble play live, go!
Here’s Gaku Yamada playing the solo version in recital. Dunno who that is, but it’s the best video I could find on YouTube. You can always buy the Pat Metheny version.
Another revelation (for me at least) was Alfred Schnittke’s Concert Grosso No. 1. I was familiar with his name, but he was always one of those composers I was going to get around to listening to later. I think later may have moved to sooner. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Liana Berube (who played in the premiere of my String Quartet) was one of the soloists. Schnittke certainly has a lot of fun taking baroque forms and motives and layering them to the point of utterly unrecognizable noise. It’s intense and at times nerve wracking, but damn exciting.
The piece is definitely all over the map, but when it hits, it hits hard. Although I think I’d prefer a wee bit more coherence, stylistically.
In recent discussion about the piece, a friend said he preferred his composers to be more “baked” (in the cooked sense, not the altered sense, I assume). More like Barber and Copland than the raw music of Ives and Schnittke. In theory, I share his preferences, but looking back at his list, while I’d prefer to have Copland’s career and skillset, I’d much rather be listening to Ives. At my heart, I’m a pretty conservative composer, but I deeply admire iconoclasts. It’s hard to forge a path when you’re still worshipping idols.Share on Facebook
Disclaimer – this essay doesn’t have a lot to do with nudity or sex. The title and photo are there to draw your attention to a topic that you may otherwise find fairly dry and uninteresting, even though I happen to care about it a lot. Specifically this is an essay about how opera survives drastic restagings and reinterpretations, and the dichotomy of form and content. While sex and nudity are discussed, this is still a bait and switch technique, and as much as I resent such marketing tricks and believe they cheapen the content they try to promote, those sensationalistic tricks really do work. At least in the short term. (Just ask Calixto Bieito. Or the folks who market his productions. More on him in a bit.)Share on Facebook
Some really great theater can happen when opera composers play with the conventions of the genre.
In the comment section of the “What’s Opera Doc” post, Eph brought up a great bit in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Pinkerton, the brash American lieutenant interrupts his aria almost mid phrase to offer his guest a drink of Milk punch or Whiskey. It’s a funny and surprising moment of reality, and reminded me of another, even more extreme example of arioso interruptus.
Stravinsky actually presses pause on an aria and then restarts it half an hour later.
In Act II, Scene 3 of The Rake’s Progress, Baba the Turk, the hero’s new wife, enters a plate smashing tirade of jealousy. Literally plate smashing. It’s in the score. (“Scorned! Abused!”) In the middle of a ridiculously extended vocal candenza, Tom reaches the end of his nerves and plops his wig over her face, causing her to freeze in place, mid-aria.
At the top of the next act, our now bankrupt hero’s properties are being auctioned off, including the still motionless Baba. When this “unknown item” fetches the highest price by far, the auctioneer removes the wig and Baba springs to life, continuing the aria exactly where she left off a full 25 minutes earlier (depending on the length of intermission). She continues her tirade, this time directed at the auction attendees. (“Sold! Annoyed!”)
That’s some pretty funny stuff. (As opera goes.) It should be pointed out that this opera was composed in 1948-1951, right around the juncture between modernism and post-modernism, which makes a lot of sense for those of you who for whom that sort of thing makes sense. (See what I did there?)
(Excerpts from the London Digital recording with Riccardo Chailly and the London Sinfonietta.)Share on Facebook