Richard and I saw this new opera version of the *The Importance of Being Earnest* at Lincoln Center on 6/2.  I said to him, as we walked out at intermission, "I've heard a lot of new operas over the years, but this one is the pits." We would have left sooner, but I didn't want to wake Richard up.

 

The music is by Irish composer Gerald Barry, the libretto is a pared-down version of the Wilde play.  Richard said the opera was disrespectful to its source, which has the rare honor of having held the stage for 120 years.  The biggest issue with the piece was the music.  The text setting was crap, the harmony was crap, the orchestration was crap.  The vocal writing wasn't complete crap, it would maybe only get a reading of 3.7 on the Crap-o-Meter.

 

It was relentless, willful cacophony.  The music didn't make any sense.  One scene featured endless alternating trills from the two French horns, which grated on the nerves.  And Barry must be a big fan of Ades's *The Tempest*, because he has the same feeling about writing for a soprano: make her sing high, preferably very high, all the time.  This isn't pleasant, not for the singer and not for the audience.  It's shrill and tiring.

 

Barry wrote the role of Lady Bracknell for a bass.  I assumed that he would be a man in drag, as is done now and then, but he was a man in a business suit, acting entirely mannish.  He was still addressed as "Lady Bracknell" and "Aunt Augusta", so I guess maybe he was going through some kind of gender dysphoria.  I was tempted to turn to Richard and say, a la Austin Powers, "That's a MAN, baby!" - - but I didn't want to wake him up.

 

There were two musical high points: the proposal scene for Jack and Gwendolen was set to an ornate and rather abstract series of variations on "Auld Lang Syne."  It was cute.  And I loved the catfight-below-the-surface tea scene between Gwendolen and Cecily.  Barry set the whole thing with the two women facing forward, wearing sunglasses (it was a contemporary setting, natch), and speaking their lines through megaphones.

 

The apex of the scene was set with Gwendolen intoning her lines, tersely through the megaphone, in short spurts, with the rests filled in by a percussionist breaking plates.  I had noticed the stack of plates early on, since the chamber orchestra was onstage facing the audience and a strange, tall, slim object on the left.  It reminded me of the kind of storage unit we used to have in the living room back in the 90s, for our CDs.  I couldn't tell what it was, and it turned out to be a storage unit for plates.  And directly in front of it was a Lucite corral, so the percussionist could break the plates and the pieces wouldn't go all over the stage.  He was wearing safety goggles.  Here's a sample line:

 

Do

-SMASH!-

You

-SMASH!-

Allude

-SMASH!-

To Me

-SMASH!-

Miss

-SMASH!-

Cardew

-SMASH!-

As

-SMASH!-

An

-SMASH!-

Entanglement?

-SMASH!-

 

Hilarious and inventive.  Worth the price of admission.

LOVE, Chris

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