Saturday, April 12, 2008

Got yer what hurts?

Don't even try. This subject line brought to you by the fact that the title Satyagraha is resistant to punnish riffs, any I can think of, and I did sit around, earning my salary, thinking of words like "Minnehaha" and then emphatically discarding them as too much effort to work one's way around to.

This is going to be hard to write about. I'm not gonna lie to you. Funny thing is, all my snootoise New Music friends (I kid, they're all super down to earth, except not) for some reason have it in for Phillip Glass, and I, Mr. "Berg is the Very Edge of Music" think he's, uh, neat. I'm not willing to put this down to Glass being somehow middlebrow, though I think he's heard that way by a lot of people, through the filter of his ubiquity and prolific output. It may be that I like him a lot because the stuff I heard first was the cream of the crop, stuff like Songs from Liquid Days and Koyanisqaatsi that excuse some of what I'd later sit through like the Kafka opera, whatever that was called.

In any case he's got rather a loyal New York following if tonight was any evidence. The only thing to top the ovation for the production team was the one for Glass himself. And why not? It was, overall, an enthralling couple of hours.

The production itself, by the way, is fascinating from what I could see. Like the sentimental gal who keeps giving that good-for-nothing guy another shot, I can't quite get it through my head that most balcony box seats are for shit. Waldorf and I were in 5 and 6, the balcony of the balcony box, and the main aesthetic casualty was that, well, you heard the one where this opera is in Sanskrit? So and they projected translations on the back wall, which I can dig, but then I guess because there's a lot of singing things over and over and over and it would be awkward, Met-title-wise, they didn't have any Met titles. Leaving many of us with nothing to grasp onto at all, due to the angle. Jeez, if Gandhi heard that the masses who couldn't pay $80+ for a seat were denied subtitles, he would fucking go ballistic. Don't make me call him. So anyway you pressed the button on the little screen and were informed in blocky yellow letters that you might want to find other reading materials.

Fortunately for me, who listens to this music in a more diffuse way ("listen" and "diffuse" don't go that well together but you follow, right?) there's lots of interesting stuff in the program. Ok but I was talking about the production. Which s filled with inspired chimera, I'm pretty certain. Giant puppets, for one thing. During Butterfly, I'd begun to suspect that I had that thing about puppets that most people have about clowns, but I think that was because of the "uncanny valley", hat tip to Grrg, and these things fall happily on the fair side of that. They're less cloyingly whimsical than some of the stuff in Taymor and more damp with the dew of primary process. They're beautiful, but you might see them in a nightmare.

I have to take some small issue with the King section for trading in the commodified iconography of MLK in a way that verges on cheap or even a little reprehensible (showing the back of him at a lectern doesn't, in itself, dehistoricize and bleach his radicalism, but it makes reference to something that, in its use and overuse, does.) It is a minor misstep if it is one at all.

Kids, I can't tell you much about the singing. There was really nothing to associate singer with character, so other than Richard Bernstein who was identifiably blue and in robust voice, and Richard Croft who was M.G. himself. Croft sang with fervor and stamina, and his Sanskrit diction is perfection! Joking, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. I wanted to commend the singer in the white dress and fancy hat with the parasol for singing music in which it can be hard to find the emotion as if it were Mahler. I think it may have been newly minted Met Fave Maria Zifchak, but someone should correct me if I'm wrong. Someone always does! Waldorf wondered aloud if the original cast sang in such operatic voices or something more like the Phillip Glass Ensemble uses, but as the evening wore on it seemed to me this is about as close as Glass gets to Il Trovatore and I find it hard to imagine it sung without an operatic thrust and technique.

If I had other things to say, they'll surely come back to me tomorrow. Tomorrow's the eye of the operatic storm before Edgar on Sunday. Anyway, yeah, you know without me telling you whether you're going to the 'graha, but I will say it's a captivating spectacle.

ETA: and if you want a second opinion, here's a review-preview of someone who liked it even a notch better, I'd estimate, than I did.


Unknown said...

I don't have objections to the King setting. I think that final piece, so song-like and simple, with King against that blue sky, is a thing of disarming beauty. But the Scotch tape!? Ah, the scotch tape! What were they thinking!!??

The projections are very sparse, mostly extracts from the Bhagavad Gita in somewhat archaically phrased English. If you read the notes, you were as equipped to "follow" as were the rest of us looking head on. The typography was kinda sexy, though.

Anonymous said...

Was the woman with the parasol Miss Schlesen? Because if so, she was Rachelle Durkin. Who is Australian and wonderful and with whom I am mildly obsessed.

Maury D'annato said...

r. I don't object strongly, I guess, it's just that a figure I understand to have been radical in a way Americans would be taken aback by but the better for knowing seems at times to have been turned into one iconic and not representative moment. Maybe the King panto wasn't even referencing that the way I thought it was and my knee is merely jerking.

Maury D'annato said...

Sarah: that's the thing--I couldn't say. There was nothing visually to make her Mrs. Schlesen or Mrs. Garret or Mrs. Butterworth as far as I could see. While this is not what you'd call a flaw of the staging, it makes it harder to review.

Maury D'annato said...

p.s. to r., I must admit to you that I liked the scotch tape. It walked a fine line between "new" and "WTF", but especially the setting of its removal I found striking, in the good way.

Sarah said...

I went looking. Photos from ENO indicate the parasol woman was Mrs Alexander. But she was sung by Mary Phillips; Maria Zifchak was Kasturbai.
Damn. I am on the hunt for reports of My Rachelle.

RudigerVT said...

Maury, thanks for this. Saw M. Zifchak's Komponist a few years ago @ Opera North. After her big sing as Act 1's ending, my Joe turns to me and says, "the hair's standing up on the back of my neck." I sagely reply, "yes, that's what this is all about."

So, should we drop everything and come for the last night of the Glass?


Maury D'annato said...

LPR: It looks like I was wrong about the solo I thought was so great; not MZ. Minor point, anyway...depending on what else you're doing and how much you like or dislike travel, I do think it's a big, unique spectacle (not to keep using that word) and a very classy reading.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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