*Savage Winter,* 11/8/18
I saw *Savage Winter* at BAM on 11/8/18.
It's a new opera by Douglas J. Cuomo, his take on *Winterreise,* a song cycle by Franz Schubert, a setting of twenty-four poems by Wilhelm Müller. Cuomo kept the twenty-four movement structure of the Schubert cycle, and in some cases used a straight-up English translation of the Müller poem, but mostly used each song as a jumping-off-point for what he wanted to write. Some movements were purely instrumental. I'm speaking of movements, but the opera is through-composed, there's never a break (though you do often sense a change in mood or texture).
It was fascinating, I was very impressed. I've seen a lot of new operas, and this opera and Deborah Drattell's *Lilith* (which I saw at the City Opera in 2001) are the most successful in terms of what Richard Wagner called Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art or unified work of art. Everything in *Savage Winter* worked together: the text, the music, the singer's performance, the staging, the video design, the instrumentation. It all culminated in a unique, engrossing, and ultimately harrowing experience.
Tony Boutté was The Protagonist. He was a perfect case of doing the most with what you've got: his voice isn't intrinsically beautiful or even particularly colorful or multi-faceted, but he gave an extraordinary performance. It takes a special kind of focus and an intangible kind of charisma to be the only person onstage, and he had it.
The most fascinating element of the opera was the instrumentation: Cuomo wrote it for one person playing guitar and managing the electronic music (played by Cuomo himself), a second person playing the piano and conducting (Alan Johnson), and a third person playing trumped (Sir Frank London). It was astonishing how much variety he found, with only three people. I should mention that Boutté had a body mic, which is a no no to some opera purists, but I felt it gave an added intimacy to his performance. Plus it put his singing in the same tonal atmosphere as the heavy-on-electronic ensemble.
Maybe it's because I saw all three seasons of *Twin Peaks* this year, but the whole enterprise had a strong David Lynch flavor: the squalid hotel room, the mixture of creepy electronics and dreamy harmonies in the score, the occasional bit of abstract and incomprehensible imagery, and especially the raw, extreme emotion of The Protagonist.
[Photo by Max Gordon, courtesy of the BAM Press Office.]