Movies go to the Opera

Poul Ruders has composed an opera based on Lars von Trier’s 2000 film Dancer in the Dark. The work will be premiered by the Royal Danish Opera next week (on 9/5). You can check out a teaser video below.

Dancer in the Dark is one of several recent operas based on films; but there are countless films yet to be adapted for the operatic stage. Which films would you like to see re-imagined as an opera?

Guess what we’re watching in Minimalism class today?

Westminster Choir College just got the Naxos Video Library. While I think that it’s fair to say that NVL is still in its early stages of growth, it’s already proving to be a terrific teaching tool.

Lo and behold, one of the titles in the collection is the Staatsoper Stuttgart production of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha.

As one of my students mentioned in class yesterday, seeing the visual component is an important aspect of studying anyone’s operas. But it’s particularly key to understanding Glass’ theatre works: their interdisciplinary nature and their play with our perceptions of time, monumentality, and spectacle. I’m looking forward to discussing Satyagraha with them after we’ve viewed some of it.

Due to their recent production of the work, the Metropolitan Opera has some very helpful resources online, including the synopsis and libretto for the opera here.

Here’s a snippet of the Stuttgart production that someone posted on YouTube.

Here’s what the NY Times had to say about the Met production.

Matt Marks’ Little Death takes stage

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.

Ahem… Mr. Wakin, Death awaits a retraction…

In his 5/23 article for the NY Times, Daniel Wakin asked ,”A contemporary surrealist opera at the NY Philharmonic? About the end of the world? On Memorial Day weekend? What are they thinking over there at Avery Fisher Hall?” He then went on to report that “2/3 of the Philharmonic’s regular concert goers were having none of it… subscription sales averaged about 33 percent, the Philharmonic acknowledged…”

When I went to the Philharmonic website last night, I was greeted with message that the entire run is SOLD OUT!

Apparently, the NY Philharmonic was thinking that there might be other audience members interested in the first NY production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. As Mr. Gilbert says in the Times article,”“It’s about developing and expanding the audience.”

True, Mr. Wakin also wrote about NYPO’s marketing strategies for the show: the website, the videos with “Death and Alan,” and the little eye that’s become the NYPO’s email signature this week. But that was much later in the article, well “below the fold,” well after a snarky set-up.

It would be nice if the Times ate a bit of crow and published a follow up piece, one that reported that Mr. Gilbert’s “risky gambit” paid off. One hopes the information about Le Grand Macabre being a sold out run won’t be buried as an aside in their review of the event.  Of course, that’s just one subscriber’s opinion … what do our Sequenza 21readers think?

Le Grand Macabre premieres tonight at Avery Fisher Hall, with subsequent performances Friday and Saturday. The NY Philharmonic’s website noted that, while the event is sold out, those who want tickets should check back to see if any are returned for resale.

Birtwistle's Minotaur

Harrison Birtwistle


Opus Arte DVD OA 1000D


In his latest opera, The Minotaur, British composer Harrison Birtwistle collaborates once again with David Harsent (librettist for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). He also returns to themes found frequently in his music: tales from Greek mythology, labyrinthine structures (both theatrical and musical), theatre-as-ritual, and violence. The latter, even for a composer with a reputation for selecting confrontational scenarios, is on an unprecedented scale.


Of course, this befits the ancient tale of the Minotaur, a half-man half-beast who murders and cannibalizes Athenian sacrificial victims until vanquished by Theseus (with a little help from Minoan priestess Ariadne). Abetted by director Stephen Langridge’s visceral production, Birtwistle and Harsent play up the brutality of the monster – as well as the carrion-hunting Furies who appear in the wake of his rampages. While some may shudder at the graphic nature of the action (including a particularly disturbing rape-murder and several simulated eviscerations), The Minotaur also attempts to construct a three dimensional portrait of its antagonist as a deeply conflicted and isolated individual. Taunted and shunned by humankind, he is an inarticulate monster when awake, but somehow is able to speak when dreaming. John Tomlinson’s poignant, emotionally wracked Minotaur evokes sympathy, despite his seemingly unquenchable brutality.


Other members of the cast are compelling as well. Christine Rice sings the challenging and long role of Ariadne beautifully, but deftly underlines the character’s moral ambiguity and capacity for subterfuge. Johan Reuter supplies a well-honed portrayal as well. Sung with intensity and fearsome brio, his Theseus has few romantic sentiments; he clearly prefers using Ariadne to wooing her. Birtwistle’s score, with its characteristic vocal angularity and imaginative orchestration, captures the subtleties and subterfuge of the characters’ interactions and meditations. It’s also more than up to the task of vividly accompanying the most raucous of the opera’s action sequences. Like Harsent’s depiction of Theseus, The Minotaur  is not interested in wooing or cajoling the audience, but it certainly creates a memorable reassessment of a timeless story.


-Christian Carey