*Angels in America,* 6/10/17
Susan Savel and I saw an opera version of *Angels in America* at the New York City Opera on 6/10/17. It was written by Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös in 2002, was premiered in Paris, has played in a few other cities, I think it was in Boston a few years ago. The performance we saw was the New York premiere. I was most curious to see how Eötvös and librettist Mari Mezei shaved a seven-hour play into a two and a half hour opera.
My only previous experience with Eötvös was at the New York Philharmonic a couple of years ago, they did a concert performance of his newest opera, *Senza Sangue.* I just reread my review and was tickled to see that I used the term "ants in his pants," because that was exactly the problem with *Angels in America.* I guess this is his brand. And I don't like it! When there's so much skittering movement in the music, it becomes dull and flat.
The larger problem, with this opera in particular, is that it doesn't enrich the source. The play is genius and has all the of the music and lyricism right there in the text. Adding music obscures the emotion, it distracts you from it, it doesn't amplify it. The one exception was the first scene in the second act, when the angel is speaking with Prior Walter and explaining why she's there and what his task is. That scene is unreal and larger than life, and it was exciting to hear the angel singing. That scene showed how misguided the rest of the opera was. I had seriously considered leaving at intermission, I was so bored and annoyed by the music. But I decided to stay, mostly because I see so little of my friend Susan, and I was also a little curious to see if the opera got any better. I'm glad I stayed, that scene with the angel was alone worth the price of admission. I slept through much of the rest of the second act, and that was just fine.
The singers did a good job, though the music they were given to sing was so - - is "lusterless" a word? Let's say it is. The music was lusterless, so they didn't have much of an opportunity to impress. Soprano Sarah Beckham-Turner made the strongest impression in the dual role of Harper Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg. Eötvös writes a lot of what's referred to in the business as "elevator music." No, not Mantovanni or Percy Faith or similar, the kind of Muzak that you'd hear in an elevator. In this context, "elevator music" describes the angular, rangy vocal line (non-vocal, actually) that some composers write, like pushing buttons in an elevator: you go from the 1st floor (a low A) to the 34th floor (high C) to the 7th floor (E flat above middle C). Please don't check my math on this. Beckham-Turner sang the music like it made sense! Brava to her.
The opera was generally quite faithful to the play, though I imagine they cut out 3/4 of what was there. Berg did that with *Lulu,* so you do what you have to do. Anyway, there's one scene in the opera that doesn't exist in the play: we saw Joe and Louis in bed together, and Joe's wife and Louis's partner were there in bed with them, but only in their imaginations. It was touching, and a little funny. At one point the four of them were sitting up, leaning against the headboard - - am I the only person who thought of *Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice*?
I said to Susan on our way out, "I asked Richard a few years ago if every gay-themed theatrical production has to feature male nudity. He said, 'But we like that, right?' Yes, I guess so. But it's cheap." We had three naked men in this show. We didn't see their dingle dangles, we only saw their heinies. Why bother.
Some guy came in front of the curtain before the show, I assume it was General Director Michael Capasso. He said they were thrilled to be presenting the New York premiere of this opera during Pride month, and he announced that this was the start of an initiative in which they'll present an LGBT-themed opera every June. Interesting, no? He guessed that they're the only opera company in the world to do such a thing, and who's to say he's not right. So what do you think they're doing next June? Feel free to look away from the screen if you want to guess before I tell you.
. . .
. . .
They're doing the US premiere of Charles Wuorinen's *Brokeback Mountain.* It was not well reviewed in its Madrid premiere a few years ago. Richard is interested in going to that with me. I think we might be in for some more "ants in his pants."