My five nights at the opera in Santa Fe last week were some of the most engaging I’ve spent listening to music drama in a long time. I tried to analyze what the season means in the context of today’s larger opera terrain in a piece published last week, and I took a closer look at one of my favorite composers, Karol Szymanowski, in an extended review of his “King Roger” in the Sunday paper. “King Roger” is one of those perpetually more-obscure-than-it-should-be pieces, and I really don’t understand why. It is the work of a Polish composer and written in Polish, which partially marginalized it in a cultural climate focused on the German, French and Italian classics. And its eroticism is a bit a sticky point for some listeners, perhaps. The harmonic language is highly individual, a muscular impressionism that verges on expressionistic outbursts, and that may make it too volatile and unstable for some listeners. And then there is its rather quaint and dense symbolist atmosphere, ladden with anxiety and stark, almost manichean divisions of the world and the soul. But what gorgeous music, and with Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role, what an amazing vehicle for singing. I hope Santa Fe’s success with it, and recent productions at Bard and in Paris, give it a new lease.
Photo Credit: Ken Howard (Courtesy of Santa Fe Opera)
There’s a lot of discussion at the moment about the future of opera, whether it’s trending to a diminished state, with major companies economizing and falling back on a limited repertory of war horses, or thriving in new formats, new venues and new companies, in a post-Grand Opera sort of way. I’m in Santa Fe right now for the opera season, which is spectacular in the way I remember opera could be spectacular when I first fell in love with the art form: great repertoire, great singing, smart direction and passionate audiences. But I do fear we are entering an age in which the serious opera lover finds less and less to delight him, unless he goes to places such as Santa Fe or a handful of other companies where commitment to serious opera is pursued without embarrassment. I tackled some of these issues in a piece for Opera News, which the magazine has kindly posted online. Here’s a nugget of my futurist musings:
Indeed, one can imagine both futures simultaneously, a two-tiered opera world in which the vast majority of the population knows the form only in its digital simulacrum, while an eccentric elite of antiquarians persists in the old ways.
Photo credit: Robert Reck (Courtesy Santa Fe Opera)
Join me at the mother ship, The Washington Post, as I live blog the Olympic broadcast tonight. Yes, yes, I know. I’m completely unqualified to say a thing about the Olympics. But I do occasionally pass judgment on spectacle, and what is the Olympics if not pure spectacle. I’ve asked composer Peter Breiner, who orchestrated all the national anthems for the 2004 Athens Olympics to join me, for musical perspective, and other insights. Beginning 7 ish EST.
At some point in the mid-90s I just stopped thinking about it, stopped watching what seemed at the time overly-sentimental, tear-jerking movies, stopped going to the plays and reading the poems and fiction that dealt with AIDS. I was lucky, born late enough to miss the brunt of the destruction, lucky to be old enough to know how to stay alive. But the New York City I joined in 1988 was a terribly sad and frightened place and by the time I left AIDS seemed too be big and awful to be comprehended. Friends died (Rob, Otis, Nolan, Ben, Jimmy, Carlos), even after 1995, when the new drugs became available, including one very good friend who succumbed to the echo-plague, the drug abuse that afflicted too many of the survivors, even after the disease became more chronic than fatal. David France’s excellent documentary, How to Survive a Plague, was the first time in ages that I sat through a survey of those years. I’m glad I did. In this Sunday’s Washington Post I write about that film, and United in Anger, as well as Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (seen at Arena Stage in July) and a small but cogent show organized by Transformer and Visual AIDS at Fathom Gallery.