Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Who's Afraid of Bernd Alois Zimmermann?
The greatest compliment I can give everyone involved in the production is that they made it look easy. And easy is definitely something it was not.
The score is complex and sometimes monumental, the acting space narrow and something like 200 feet long, the audience moves back and forth on the seating risers, a quarter of a million pounds total weight supported on three sets of industrial train tracks laid parallel with the acting platform on each side of it. The lighting installation is massive (some of it hanging on a truss that spans the front of the seating riser unit) and computerized to refocus and change color frequently during the action of the opera.
The Park Avenue Armory is no stranger to the arts in any form, having hosted the now legendary Armory Show in 1913 at which Marcel Duchamp scandalized the American art scene by showing his iconic Nude Descending a Staircase. The production embraced the design and structure of the building, making no attempt to hide any technical workings of the setting, which works well with the idea of Die Soldaten taking place inside a vast machine. Given the size, materials and shape of the almost block long space (a big barrel vaulted roof made of steel and glass, spanning masonry walls) the singers and orchestra had to be amplified, mixed and heard partially through speakers. Amplification (sometimes passed off as “sound reinforcement”) is anathema in the opera house where the natural, unmediated voice is sacred. But given the space and the care with which the sound was managed, the result was unexpectedly successful.
Surprisingly clear and accessible for a work summarily dismissed as unperformable when it was new, were the actual sounds that came from Zimmermann’s huge, percussion-enriched orchestra. His music--sometimes almost gossamer in its delicacy, sometimes made up of strata of overlapping masses of orchestra—sounded more expressive of emotion, more able to differentiate characters one from another, and just more interesting to listen to than, for example, the twelve tone music of Arnold Schoenberg.
One thing I do know is that nobody left during the intermission, and that a polyglot, multigenerational crowd stood and cheered the splendid cast, musicians and technical crews at final curtain. Speaking of the technicians, they were everywhere before and after the performance and during the intermission, available to talk with the audience, explain how it was all done, answer any questions, and make the intricately complex production as transparent as possible). I heard many comments wishing that the seating riser had zoomed into scenes even more than it did. That thing was fun to ride.
The public areas of the Armory are very special, high Victorian to Edwardian in style, comfortably spacious and bearing some important names. The Veterans Room was designed by the [in]famous Stanford White (see the June 9th entry for his story) in collaboration with famed glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Throughout the building, all the original metalwork gas chandeliers and sconces remain, with their original glass globes, now fully restored and converted to electricity. There will be more performances for me at the Armory—the New York City Opera has announced that even after the New York State Theater in which it performs reopens after a year’s renovation, it will perform Olivier Messiaen’s magnificent, sprawling Saint-Francois d’Assise in the Armory during the 2009-2010 season.
And, unexpectedly, an email from NYCO arrived just after I got home from New York with this news about how the desperately needed renovation of the theater is to be financed:
Dear Friend of the New York City Opera,
Today's thrilling news about David H. Koch's $100 million naming gift to the New York State Theater is nothing short of historic. As New York City Opera prepares to take a bold, new direction in 2009-2010 under General Manager Gerard Mortier, this support to modernize our theater is a grand step along that path.
The concept of having $100 million to give away is just breathtaking to me.
When is a cat not a cat? When it’s a fisher cat, that’s when. We have them living in the woods around us.
Although the popular name is fisher cat, the proper name is simply fisher and even that’s a misnomer as they do not fish for their food nor even particularly eat fish when it’s available nearby. They’re related to weasels and martens, aggressive fighters heavily armed with sharp, powerful claws and teeth. The males top out at about fifteen pounds, about three times the size of the females. They’re excellent tree climbers. Once hunted almost to extinction for their fur pelts, they are now found across most of the US.
We haven’t seen them but have certainly heard them. A couple of times in the wee small hours, we’ve been awakened by a loud, harsh screech (one reference source says of their cry that it sounds like the scream of a child in pain). On both occasions that I’ve heard it, I’ve been even more glad than ever that I keep my cat indoors at all times.
Oh, do you remember my writing about the new opera that's been written on the old horror movie, The Fly? I posted that picture of the lovely young naked baritone crouching in the scientific chamber—well, he’s emerged:
The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush
As governor of Texas, I have set high standards for our public schools, and I have met those standards.
On a third grade level, perhaps?
Never heard of a fisher cat before and I'm glad I've never seen one. It doesn't look too friendly. I think you're right in keeping your cat inside where she'll be safe.