Saturday, November 19, 2011

Feeling Fancy

I went to a preview of Nico Mulhy's new opera Dark Sisters a couple of months back. Boy did I feel fancy.  All the cool new music people were there, all the beautiful rich and famous and in the know. I had arrived. I was a fancy lad. A young conductor was spotted with his super-model girlfriend. Alan Rickman walked by. Alan Rickman! You know, the guy from The January Man? It was all very exciting. Then before the opera started the composer and the director themselves walked on stage and told us how grateful they were that we were there and that they wanted our opinions after the show because, after all, we, the fancy people, were worth listening to. Ok, that wasn't what they really said, that's what I felt that they were inferring. The composer did ask us not to tweet or blog about an unfinished product but instead to talk to him about what could be improved. This turned out to be the best part of the show. Nico Mulhy is a very charming, articulate dude. I'll listen to him speak from the stage about his music anytime.
So. At this point I need to tell you that I have a slight contrarian streak. I'm also constantly horrified at the excesses and injustices of capitalism. Plus when you throw in my low self-esteem (which was telling me that I wasn't fancy enough to be in this crowd) you have a recipe for not being able to enjoy a night at the preview opera. I tried to get into it. I fidgeted and shifted in my chair and glanced over at the star of Galaxy Quest when I got bored. I tried to look past how wide some of the singers' vibrato was (wide enough for a subway car). But I never managed to lose myself in the music or the drama. After it was over I couldn't help but question my inability to enjoy it. For weeks afterwards I was wondering to myself "Is it me? Why didn't I like it? All those fancy people seemed to like it..."
Or worse, did I not like it because I perceived that the fancy people were enjoying it? Oy. I mean, I didn't hate it, there was lots of individual elements that I thought were cool. There was some beautiful orchestration and a spectacular video projection, for example. I just did not connect to this opera. And I felt especially resentful that I didn't have long, full, lustrous salt and pepper hair like that guy from Truly, Madly, Deeply. Luckily a month later it opened and Anthony Tommasini was there to review it. Here is the link to the full review:

Like a knight in shining armor, Mr. Tommasini arrives to save myself from my social climbing paranoia and to put words to how I felt about the opera. Thanks Tony! Now I can go back to pretending that I'm an objective listener as opposed to someone who can't stop thinking about how the Hollywood MegaStar from Love Actually is sitting three rows away from me.

I do however, want to quibble with the last line of the review for a second. 

"Mr. Muhly is a prolific composer. This year the English National Opera presented the premiere of his full-length “Two Boys,” with a libretto by Craig Lucas, which drew mixed reviews and is scheduled for a future production at the Metropolitan Opera.

Though there is much to admire about “Dark Sisters,” the score seems not yet finished. Mr. Muhly may be spreading himself too thin."

The review as a whole clearly articulated some of the things I was feeling as a listener. But then with this last sentence Tommasini veers dangerously close to the edge for me by assuming that what is wrong with the opera can be explained by the composer "spreading himself too thin." Can it? I don't think Tommasini presents enough evidence (another recent opera getting "mixed reviews" hardly matters) to support his claim. Why does he feel the need to wrap things up this way? Is he apologizing for everything that he just wrote by trying to be sympathetic to the composer? Or is he putting the composer down for biting off more than he can chew? Either way, if you start talking about a composer's state of mind or your perception of how busy his life is, I need more proof as a reader."Seems" and "may be" really don't cut it for me. 
I didn't see Tommasini at the preview but I can report that Mr. Rickman seems to have enough free time to take in a Nico Mulhy opera and he may be taller and even better looking in person than he is in the movies.

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