*The Good Swimmer,* 11/29/18
I saw *The Good Swimmer* at BAM on 11/29/18.
It's a new opera, music by Heidi Rodewald, lyrics by Donna Di Novelli. I hear the words "new opera" and I brace myself for some challenging music - - but imagine my surprise, it sounded like warmed-over Burt Bacharach! And you know how I love Burt.
The music was entirely accessible, catchy, groovy. Pop with some inventive rhythms and a somewhat gritty edge. It was through-composed but with discernible breaks between songs, just not enough to encourage applause (though the audience did applaud at one particularly definitive finish). The tonal shifts between movements were handled beautifully.
The drummer, Marty Beller, was incredibly sexy. Didn't seem concerned about playing too loud, which I found appealing. The lead singer, David Driver, had a nice voice and a deep sense of the style, but he had an inflated view of his own sexiness. Which I did NOT find appealing.
The text appeared to be adapted from a training manual for lifeguards. We saw projections of a 1937 manual, also some amusing photos and diagrams. At one point late in the show the focus transferred the lifeguard manual to an instruction manual for soldiers going to Viet Nam, then back to the lifeguards at the end of the show. This transfer was confusing and not at all convincing. Director Kevin Newbury tried to make sense of the shift, and he did his best.
Maybe you're interested in the instrumentation?
Lead vocals (he also played the tambourine)
Keyboard (he also sang backup)
Violin, keyboard, and glockenspiel (yes, those were all played by one person, but not simultaneously)
Electric bass and vocals
Guitar and vocals
And a chorus of seven - - six guys and a girl, all somewhere south of 30. They sounded good, but I would have appreciated more variety in the writing for them. You have seven people, why have them singing in unison so much of the time?
The high point of the piece was a movement about "double drowning," a situation where one person tries to save another person and they both end up drowning. It was hypnotic, creepy, the music had an intense yet melancholy vibe. I had the feeling that the composer saw a greater significance in double drowning - - the music had such focus and impact, I had the feeling she saw it as a metaphor for romantic love!
It brought to mind something my friend Karen said years ago. She and I and our friends Jere and Dale saw *Drawing Restraint 9* at the IFC Center back in 2005. It's a film written and directed by the darling of the art world, Matthew Barney, starring Barney himself and his then-partner, Björk. I'll quote from my Top Five email, which quotes from Carina Chocano’s review for the LA Times:
The movie takes place aboard the real-life Japanese whaling ship, now a research vessel, the Nisshin Maru, one of the last built before the international ban on whaling took effect. The film begins with Will Oldham singing text of letters from postwar Japan as a woman wraps a fossil, then follows the two "occidental guests," Barney and Björk, as they make their separate ways onboard the ship. Once they arrive, they are ministered to and groomed in preparation for a traditional Shinto wedding. Meanwhile, on deck, the crew busies itself with the petroleum jelly mold. After the ceremony, the ship is rocked by a storm, and the Vaseline begins to melt and seep into the cabins below. Flooded by viscous liquid, the occidental guests join in a grisly but tender love-death, slicing at one another's lower extremities with flensing knives and breathing through spouts on the backs of their necks.
Karen said after this flesh-slicing scene, “Finally, a realistic depiction of marriage.”
[Photo by Ed Leifkowicz, courtesy of the BAM Press Office.]