Richard and I saw a new opera by David Lang at BAM on 9/9. It's called *The Loser*, with text and music by Lang adapted from the novel by Thomas Bernhard. Lang got the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008 for his cantata *the little match girl passion.* He was one of the composers my chorus commissioned for our 10th anniversary season, he wrote us a rather flat yet effective piece called "again."
My friend Jim saw *The Loser* a couple of nights before we did, and described it as "art torture," which is totally my lane, right? And the Brooklyn Academy of Music is the American capital of art torture, to be sure. They collect art torture from around the world and bring it to Brooklyn. I assured Richard that it wouldn't be too bad (art torture isn't HIS lane), because it was only an hour long.
As I said to Richard as we left the theater, "That was the longest one-hour opera ever written." I seen some strange operas in my day, and this is definitely one of the strangest.
It's a one-man opera - - the character is a pianist who had been friends with the great (and greatly flawed) Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. He sings about Gould, another pianist friend, and dense thorny issues about art, genius, and suicide versus "a natural death."
The blurb on the website said, "He appears to float in the nothingness." The photo in the BAM season guide supported this idea. The audience was seated in the mezzanine, and only in the mezzanine. The opera started with baritone Rod Gilfry climbing up a set of stairs and standing at the top of the stairs (at our level) on a sort of landing with a railing. And he stood there for the next hour. Hello, where is the floating? I came here to see some floating.
The libretto was printed in the program, and it went on for pages and pages. The text setting was what's called parlando - - set more or less to the rhythm of speech, maybe a little lyrical moment here or there, but not really what I would define as melody. This was hypnotic at first, then it just became boring. I took a nap and when I woke up I liked it better. So that's good.
The instrumentation was for a small ensemble of strings and percussion, rather spare. About halfway through the lights came up dimly on the stage, which seemed very far away, and a pianist was noodling at the piano. And he went on with this fluttery noodling for the next half hour. It drove me a little bonkers. It went nowhere, or to be more precise, it went to the same four or five places over and over again.
More art torture at BAM next week - - Isabelle Huppert in a French mishmash about Phaedra. Over three hours long. Is it time to choose another lane?