Cher Public

A pocket full of meta

“Rumors were that an ‘Occupy’-something group would disrupt Wednesday night’s US premiere of Kommilitonen! But the Juilliard Opera performance went off without offstage fireworks, and proved to be a well-crafted and moving meditation on student activism.” [New York Post] (Photo: Nan Melville)

  • Nerva Nelli

    “Here, for once, is a modern opera that exudes musical modernism….In Europe operas with comparably spiky atonal scores are routine.”

    Huh? This pastiche score, with its liberal quotes of spirituals, Britten, Poulenc, Prokofiev, FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, etc etc etc?

  • Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim has a rather different take, to which La Cieca can only reply, “Hey, lady, who put the worms in your rosemary?” (This very useful expression is what Moravians say instead of our more familiar “Who pissed in your cornflakes?)

    • Regina delle fate

      lol Corinna de Fonseca-Wollheim is a real name? hehe -- I thought it sounded like a parterre poster’s screenie. I suppose you really couldn’t make it up.

  • Belfagor

    Well, interestingly, my take was the exact opposite to La Cieca’s -- I felt the ‘Weisse Rose’ segments did not dramatically convey the pacifism within all the shouting, nor did the music really wind down enough to contrast with the other segments -- apparently Max was channelling Schumann, but it was more redolent of Henze. The deep South segments were disappointing, being portrayed as the reminiscences of one man -- only in the Chinese revolutionary scenes did we get background and foreground -- an attempt to show the conflict between personal and public. Sounds like Conseca da Formica-Wombats needs to read a history of the Cultural Revolution, or have it explained to her, as her review shows she does not grasp that it was a student movement manipulated by Mao, and I felt it was the most vivid.

    Max’s music is odd these days -- his own 60’s activist pieces were more of a piece, and had a voice, here it is all over the place -- the gestures are spot on, but the notes don’t seem to be ‘heard’ with the same precision -- and his orchestral writing is a bit busy and grey -- an inner Hindemith trying to get out. The second act disappointed a bit, as it fails to deliver on the promise of the first -- and becomes flatter and more poster-like, when one wanted it to deepen (my inside info has it that the libretto was rather different, Max didn’t like it and wrote his own end). I liked all the onstage instrument vignettes -- and the burlesque moment (channelling Astaire, Fabray and Buchanan in ‘The band Wagon’) was actually quite shocking. But there’s a big problem when your final musical gesture, and choruses exhorting the audience to rise up sound like the official ra-ra-cis-boom-ba Fascist music you are trying to critique.

    Interesting, I thought, thought-provoking and at least, not boring. Wouldn’t put it on my iPod though.

    On the other hand, went to ‘Dark Sisters’ last night. What a fucking abortion!

    • Regina delle fate

      Kommilitonen! was respectfully received by the mainstream critics -- a few were rapturous, none really negative -- in the UK and these different takes sort of back up the original response. It seemed like a good show in London, and an appropriate one for student performance. Whether it will become a repertory piece, well, I guess that’s unlikely in the present climate. It will probably be taken up by other colleges and conservatories, though, which is presumably why it was written when Max had already declared he wouldn’t be writing another opera. I saw Taverner when it was revived at Covent Garden in the late 1970s -- has it been done anywhere in the States, ever? It caused a big stir when it was new, but seems to have sunk almost without trace, despite the recently issued recording.

      • This seems the kind of piece that Chris Keene would have moved heaven and earth to present at NYCO, but otherwise, yes, it’s more suitable to big university opera programs, where there are plentiful singers for small roles and rehearsal time is cheap. That the opera is devised to be performed on, essentially, a bare stage is also a plus.

        But perhaps the greatest of all advantages of doing Kommilitonen! in a university setting (outside New York, anyway) is that the work won’t have to face critics whose politics are even less up to date than their knowledge of German punctuation.

        • Regina delle fate

          Ha! She gets really worked up about that exclamation mark. Presumably she thinks Oklahoma! is subversive, too.

          • One can only imagine what would transpire were she to encounter H.K. Gruber’s “Frankenstein!!”

    • Camille

      “an inner Hindemith trying to get out.” Please don’t let him escape!!

      Is it, in fact, the case that Hindemith is the “real” Adrian Leverkuehn, as I have read somewhere or other, rather than good old Arnie? Interesting to speculate upon.

      Why was Dark Sisters a “f@cking abortion”? Truly that bad? I would like to extend this young composer some credit and give him the benefit of the doubt, but perhaps I shouldn’t?

      • Camilly -- been thinking of you and your Beethoven Odyssey, while watching this on a fantastic quality Blu-ray -- here’s the complete playlist, watch on 720HD. I wonder what you make of it. I had a fantastic time.

        • Camille

          Hello my most darlings Cerquetti and Farrell!
          Did you see my post to you of Anita’s magisterial “O Re dei Cieli” on the Gasparo Spontini birthday mention, a couple days back? A beautiful photo of her as well.

          Oh yes, I like this version so much more than this:

          which is, of course, beautiful and wonderful in its way, but way too heavy.

          Thank you for introducing me to the sigh worthy Vladimir! I have heard his name but not seen his face. Now I will have to change my name to Fedora, for I shall have to utter “Vladimiro, amor mio santo”, like she — the very picture of the nineteenth century romantic musician, is he! Herzliche, C.

          • I love Cerquetti’s Agnese aria. With a passion! No, I haven’t watched Parterre for a week or so, been singing S.Saens’ awful Noel Oratorio and the chamber Faure Requiem with Andrew Parrott. Very interesting.

            Glad you liked Jurowski, yes, he’s quite photogenic. It’s a playlist and you have the beautiful 4th and a surprisingly reined-in version of the 7th, all from the same concert. Quite a feat for original instruments.

          • Camille

            Cerquetti/Farrell, that is good. Much better you are singing with young people than sitting around palavering with a bunch of us old nags.

            A chamber Faure Requiem? Why, I like the sound of that very much.

            In bocca al lupo, and keep on singing.
            I’ll be getting together all my Beethoven
            U-Tubes in the next month for the Great Day.
            Lot of love to you, C.

      • m. croche

        Leverkuehn’s a composite, with bits of Schoenberg, Berg, Wolf and god-knows-who-else thrown in (the only person I can imagine composing an opera on Love’s Labors Lost in that time frame would be Busoni, for example.) I’m sure you could find one or two projects in Leverkuehn’s worklist that might sound Hindemithy.

        Schoenberg, with characteristic restraint and modesty (and with an assist from the ever-considerate Alma M-G-W), was convinced that the book was all about him, and thus began the public row.

        • Camille

          “…the ever considerate Alma M-G-W…” is my chuckle for the day. I see, and thank you, as ever m. croche. Now I am wondering wherever I read that about Hindemith? And, come to think of it, Arnie was a Virgoan, the lot of which has supposedly always been known for being so notoriously modest and self-critical?

          My problem with that book has always been my morbid fascination with the death of little Nepomuk, which I’ve read and re-read over and over again. Among my manifold failings, and sometime before I croak, I seek to emend this by cuddling down on a long winter’s night and reading it on through.

          And speaking of Alma Schindler, the most beautiful girl in Vienna, my husband was just speaking of her yesterday as he had been reading something anout that era — oh, he got stuck reading a big ranting chunk of Weininger — and he was fairly surprised (and delighted) to know that Oskar Kokoschka had had a life-size, anatomically correct doll made up of Alma, which he carried around (La Ronde?) with him in Vienna, and apparently to public places. How wunderbar. I do wonder how he managed it! I wonder if he took her to Demel?

          “Wir werden die Schokolade hier in Salon einnehmen?” ??????????????????

        • manou

          • Camille

            “You never did falter, with Gustav and Walter and Franz!”

            It has been years since I have heard or thought of this little ditty, so thank you, madame manou, for the memories!

            “There were three famous ones that she married And God knows how many between”. Oh yeah.

      • Belfagor

        Well I may have been a bit intemperate about Muhly’s opus, but frankly, it was the second disappointing evening I have squandered going to his apprentice efforts (I saw ‘Two Boys’ at English National Opera, and it was so so) -- ‘Dark Sister’s -- well, if there had been a dramaturge available at the first session when the first draft sketches were shown, they would have knocked some logic into the proceedings. The libretto was jejune -- no one had decided where the ‘weight’ of the piece was -- yes, great idea to start an opera with a rapt quintet for female voices -- except when your peace is all about religious doctrine, oppression and sequestration, you don’t start us off with images of wide open spaces -- and then anticlimactically deliver the info that the community is in a state of siege -- you get that in Khovanshchina after 4 and a half long acts and it is EARNED dramatically -- here it killed the suspense in the first 5 minutes and the first act dribbled along with everything in the wrong order, designed to mitigate any possible tension. The music piddled -- no sense of claustrophobia, panic, fervour, religious zeal (misplaced or otherwise).

        From the way the media goes on you would think there were no other composers currently active in the field -- what are ENO/Met/Gotham City Opera doing putting on apprentice efforts like these and passing them off as finished art? And the tickets for the acoustically challenged barn of a theatre were obscenely expensive.

        It seems that if you have a large mouth, give a good interview, be gay and pseudo glamorous, and give good blog it is assumed you can write operas. Give the talented mouthy man a chat show instead!

        I could have been pinned to my seat by real fervour last night -- whatever the casting shortcomings -- I should have gone to ‘Nabucco’!!

        Hence my ‘fuck’ was, I believe, justified. I’m sorry if I have offended the maidenly sensibilities of those on parterre!

        • Camille

          O Belfagor! No maidenly sensitivities left here with Camille…merely surprised at the choice of words, uncharacteristic of you. No censure implied.

          Well that I ask as your analysis is the first forthright bit I’ve seen on the subject, with ‘jejune’ seeming to be the key word here which sums it up. Much as I would LOVE to doff my hat to herald a new genius, I am not a sufficiently naïve enough maiden to think that such a one, composing for a half dozen years or so, is going to come up with anything other than an ‘apprentice work’, and as well that should be at this point. In this case it will probably be one another case of the emperor’s new clothes.

          Belfagor, you are one of The Elect upon whom I depend for matters beyond my experience, reach, or ken, so thank you for taking the time to flesh your thoughts out. It helps me to know which way the wind blows, as it is hard telling, what with all the blow out there.

    • MisterSloan

      Yes, went to DARK SISTERS, and it just didn’t add up. The hype on Muhly was so great, I just truly expected to have at least one “wow moment”, but was sadly disappointed.

      Max’s KOMMILITONEN was a better experience. The piece does work, especially in the dramatic timings-- which he’s always been good at-- but I agree that the music is all over the place. And, even though I won’t be rushing to buy the KOMMILITONEN recording, the opera is still a far better, and more inventive, rendering of musical-dramatic storytelling than DARK SISTERS,

  • brooklynpunk

    “Rumors were that an “Occupy”-something group would disrupt Wednesday night’s US premiere”

    …I guess the same right-wing clowns “covering” the Occupy Movement in the NYPost or NY Daily News, who kept insisting all day yesterday that there were plans to hijack the Transit system by protesters, might have started this rumor as well?

    Wy would a student production of a work composed by a sympathetic composer be attacked?

    (Unless La C is just joking with us, here?)

    • Well, no. This is the flyer that was distributed online before the demonstration.

      And I heard the rumor of a disruption from a reliable source. Along the way, though, it appears the group sensibly revised their plans and staged the demonstration reported in the various reviews: non-disruptive and keyed to the theme of the opera.

      • brooklynpunk

        My apologies, then La C.!!--i wasn’t doubting you, necessarily, as wondering how silly this sounded……

        …. not everything in the current wave of activism in the streets makes a whole lot of sense, I guess… nu?


        thiis might have been a form of “agent-provocaterism”--which there has been a lot of, recently, as well….

      • bassoprofundo

        I suppose they’ll outside of the Met during Rodelinda protesting that “one-percenter” Renee Fleming.



        • bassoprofundo

          or is she off limits?

        • Belfagor

          the one percent being -- -- ? effort? suitability?
          actually one of the placards said ‘Johann Strauss sucks’ -- and something about John Cage.

          I think old people have very romantic ideas of how students are supposed to behave. They tend to be a conformist lot these days, with big loans to pay off, and nary an ideal in sight…………

  • brooklynpunk

    What is truly sad is that line about the ” favorite leisure activity of Wall Street’s residents…”

    Sad that Opera is still thought of in that stereotyped way, no?

    (It’s still hard fer me to take this particular “call to arms” seriously… I wonder if Juilliard “hired” them as part of the performance?)

    • adina

      Brooklynpunk, I am inclined to agree with your parenthetical statement. There is so much that “Wall Street” funds, why single out and pick on opera.