Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Road Report #4: The Collaborative Gesamtkunstwerk

“Nude supers to the stage, please.”

Out they walked – two dozen unclothed men – onto the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They were the “Corps of Lovers” in the New York City Opera’s 2013 production of Thomas Adès’ Powder Her Face. And they, in their bold, silent nakedness, were the topic of giddy conversations during intermission, on Twitter, and in all of the opera’s reviews.

These men are found nowhere in Adès’ score; they were an invention of stage director Jay Scheib, inserted into the opera’s most famous scene as a ghostly reminder of the main character’s many past anonymous romances.

Scheib’s decision was, without doubt, a coup. First and foremost, it was an artistically bold choice – the parade of bodies avoided burlesque bawdiness, instead combining in a haunting tableaux, silent of voice but damning in presence.

But nowadays, operas can’t thrive on artistry alone, and the “Corps of Lovers” also proved an irresistible topic for media (it even made a splash in British tabloids) and an undeniable draw for audience members, who flooded the lobby on opening night, delaying the curtain by 20 minutes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Road Report #3: The Composer’s Guide to Singers

In an orange-and-brown high school classroom in Richmond, Virginia, my first choral composition was sung for the first time. It was 1999, and I was a keen, bright-eyed 15-year-old beginner. The piece was entitled Silence of the Night (on a poem written by my piano teacher), and I passed out handwritten copies. My generous choir director, Dwight Graham, played the piano as my fellow choristers sang.

About ten bars into the piece, the sopranos were told to sing a high B-flat on the word “see.” Where I had hoped for a glorious, ringing tone, a primordial squawk emerged.

We finished singing, and I walked around the room to collect my copies. I approached the soprano section expecting florid apologies for the fumbled high note, but was instead met with silence. In their eyes was a white-hot rage that communicated a single phrase: “Never again.”

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Beeson's Dr. Heidegger at Hunter College Opera

Today  Hunter College Opera Theater performs Jack Beeson's one act opera, DR. HEIDEGGER'S FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. Jack was one of the founding board members of the Moore Fund and a close friend and colleague of Douglas Moore. There is a lovely recording of the opera.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Road Report #2: The state of the art form

Premature declarations of death have become a modern comedy cliché – think of Monty Python’s classic “Bring out your dead” skit, or Will Ferrell’s hilariously protracted death scene from the first Austin Powers movie.

We like it when people jump the gun, and we laugh when the down-and-out bounce back and refuse to go quietly into that good night.

And so it gives me great pleasure to write that modern opera, despite the doomsday claims of many, is healthy and thriving.