Sunday, January 07, 2007

Alex Ross Reviews Fosco's Winter Plans

Although Santa/Satan failed to put hunky music critic Alex Ross in Fosco's stocking (despite Fosco's request), Fosco did have the pleasure (over the last month or so) of Ross's New Yorker reviews of both of the opera premieres that Fosco plans to attend this winter.

At the beginning of December, Ross reviewed the Vienna premiere of John Adams's new opera A Flowering Tree. (Fosco is going to see the US premiere in San Francisco in March.) This is exciting as, according to Ross's review,

the score is opulent, dreamlike, fiercely lyrical, at times shadowy and strange—unlike anything that the fifty-nine-year-old composer has written.
This sounds perfect, as Adams is Fosco's favorite contemporary composer and this opera seems to place him at the height of his powers. Look for Fosco's review in March.

Approaching sooner (i.e., in three weeks) is a Fosco trip to NYC to see the would-be blockbuster The First Emperor at the Met. How could Fosco (and his sister, Maggie Tulliver) resist taking a trip to New York to see this production? Music by superstar composer Tan Dun. Libretto by National Book Award-winner Ha Jin. Directed by Zhang Yimou, director of the films Hero and House of Flying Daggers. And singing the lead? Oh, just Placido Domingo (who is approaching retirement from the stage). How can this opera not be brilliant?

Well, it turns out that it isn't. According to Sexy Alex-y's review, some of the music is fascinating:
A Peking opera singer invokes the forces of yin and yang in a wailing chant. The chorus shouts, claps, slaps, and stomps. A zheng, or twenty-one-string zither, is savagely strummed; ceramic pots are struck with sticks. A variously blaring, trilling, rustling, and rumbling mass of sound rises up from the orchestra. Across the front of the stage, twelve drummers beat on drums with stones and knock the stones together. It adds up to a strictly organized thunder—and perhaps the most far-out music that has ever been heard at the Met.
But, alas, some of the music is not quite as thrilling:
long stretches of conversation are set to nondescript, tootling music of the kind that plays in movies when naughty pets or children are on the loose.

What else does my dear Alex have to say about the production? The libretto?: "inept." The production?: "misconceived." Placido Domingo?: "to have a Spanish tenor pretending to be Chinese while singing awkwardly in English stretched plausibility to the breaking point." Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Of course, Fosco is still excited about the trip. And still excited about seeing the opera--after all, maybe Alex is wrong... And even if the opera really is a disaster, it should still be fun to see. Watch for Fosco's review at the end of January.

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