We’ve been spinning Matt Marks’ The Little Death: Vol. 1 (New Amsterdam CD) a lot over the past couple of months. It’s a fascinating, but occasionally frustrating work. Marks has described it as a “post-Christian nihilist pop opera,” which is a lot to unpack. Add to that a DIY aesthetic which involved a great deal of home recording. There’s another layer too: deliberate and overt co-opting of religious pop signatures and 80s backing tracks. The work doesn’t let the establish figures they connote off easy, pitting deliberate awkwardness versus unabashed melodicism to mirror creative adolescents in a stifling, sanctimonious atmosphere. Oh, and not to let the cat out of the bag, but it all ends tragically, despite pretty hooks along the way.
Thus, the listener is posed the challenge of untying a Gordian’s knot of cross-references and conundrums; of ironies and parodies. If some aren’t up for the struggle, so be it, but Little Death is a gusty and, apparently, very personal statement from Marks. A particular standout on the recording is soprano Mellissa Hughes, who’s both a dramatic and musical dynamo throughout.
The first staging of the opera will be in New York July 8-17, 2010 at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery (131 East 10th Street at 2nd Avenue). Marks and Hughes will perform; Rafael Gallegos directs. It’ll be interesting to see how adding visual and theatrical elements impact the work’s already formidable profile.