Tuesday, June 20, 2006
"Angels in America," the opera, part one
It's completely outrageous, of course. But this document might well force a major re-examination of the government's policies and attitudes. Bush himself has appointed at least one openly gay man to be a U.S. ambassador; there are, and have been, openly gay and lesbian senators and representatives on both the state and federal level for years. Sooner or later, the top levels of the U.S. government, no matter which party, are going to have to stop calling us defective. They'll be forced to face the fact that the gay and lesbian population is made up of perfectly normal human beings, many of whom inhabit the highest levels of the government itself, who are entitled to all the rights, privileges and the RESPECT due to every U.S. citizen.
It's ironic as well, because the Reagan administration's total lack of respect for gay citizens caused much of the anguish of the first decade of the AIDS crisis that is so powerfully treated in Tony Kushner's great play.
So, on to the operatic "Angels in America." By coincidence this morning I discovered the blog of Tom Meglioranza who sang Prior Walter in the opera. He has some interesting things to say about the vocal lines and the relation of what's sung in the score to what the orchestra's doing at any given time. This is a topic that had been covered as part of an entire program devoted to introducing "Angels" on Saturday afternoon. For those who like total immersion, and I'm so there when this kind of programming happens, it made for a rich and rewarding day.
At 3pm there was a vocal recital on themes relating to “Angels.” The lead off was what looked on paper like a strange duck indeed, a twenty minute long three act mono-opera with Epilog by American composer Judith Weir on the subject of Norwegian King Harold’s invasion of England in 1066. A single soprano acts as narrator and all the characters, and she must be a rock-solid musician as the work is sung totally unaccompanied by any musical instrument or device to provide pitch and tempo.
The relevance and point of the piece became apparent in the smart-ass tone of some of the text. Harold has used false intelligence information to launch his attack to take over medieval England. Once there, his army is faced by overwhelmingly superior English forces and slaughtered. Harold is killed. In the epilog, an Icelandic Sage delivers the Epilog: " . . . it seems to happen often, and they always say the same thing: Since so many were killed, we will never forget and make the same mistake; but they do! And it happens again. Why did Harold bother? He should have stayed at home and made the best of it. I could have told him it would end like this." Political comment on current events was hard to miss. Elizabeth Keusch was the virtuosic performer. Several singers from the cast of "Angels" then sang songs by Charles Ives, Ned Rorem, Leonard Bernstein, Max Helfman and Chris de Blasio (from the AIDS Quilt Songbook) that echoed aspects of the "Angles" libretto.
Immediately following was "The Evolution of 'Angels in America'," a panel discussion with Director Steven Maler, the production's designers, and Carole Charnow, Opera Boston's general manager. As there were only about eight of us who stayed after the recital, we had a lot of one-on-one discussion with them and learned a great deal about the compression of the text necessary to make a single opera out of the huge two play structure that is Tony Kushner's original work. There was then a two hour break during which friends joined me for dinner before the 7pm pre-performance talk on the music itself.
"Angels" is playing at the Wimberly Theater in the Calderwoood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts. It's seen here from the stage looking into the auditorium just after the end of a technical rehearsal, the "Angels" cast sitting with their backs to the camera. I've got to stop thinking of the two Calderwood theaters as "new" but they are in fact the first really new theaters built in Boston for three quarters of a century. They're now two or three years old and are very good places to see theater but aren't set up for opera and musicals. Some creative production design is required to accommodate orchestras of any size.
We sat in the Wimberly's balcony at 7pm for a discussion of the choices Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös and his wife, librettist Masi Matei, had made in adapting the plays for the opera stage. We were told that there were many kinds of vocal expression in "Angels": plain speech with music under it; a kind of sing-song without indicated pitch or rhythm; the same thing with pitch and/or rhythm indicated; and conventional operatic singing. It sounds a bit more complicated than it turned out to be on stage, where one kind of utterance flowed back and forth into any of the others with the naturalness of normal conversation--although much of that naturalness was due to the skill of the cast. We watched the final placing of props and musical instruments around the set and then had a bathroom break before the 8pm curtain.
Tomorrow: "Angels" the opera in performance.
Photos from Tom Meglioranza's blog: tomness.blogspot.com, with thanks
Of course, politics will ALWAYS be behind the curve. That's just the way it is.