Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Valedictory Note to An American Tragedy

The hype of a premiere stands to be a more exciting experience than a final performance from an event standpoint, but a new opera's Swan Song can often be more telling: the hype has dissolved at the same rate that the cast and orchestra have settled into the piece; shiny novelty is traded for deeper polish. I attended the last of An American Tragedy (my second time to see it) and with neither bells nor whistles abetting a buzzing pressroom, I discovered that it is just a commendably wonderful piece of writing. The score is marvelously tight, creative and inventive, and while I see one big problem in the libretto (which is also a problem in the book and A Place in the Sun: you never quite understand the murderous scope of Clyde's ambition, so his plot seems deeply out of character) I suppose I could say the same thing about The Magic Flute (ridiculous), Les Enfants et les Sortilleges (singing teacups indeed) or Cosi Fan Tutti (would anyone really fall for those disguises?).

So the opera will either have legs or not--still too soon to tell--but the discussion it accomplished between critics and bloggers and those in the profession is rather astounding. Though the lion's share of this season's press was devoted (disproportionately, in my humble opinion) to the Adams/Sellars machine on the Left Coast, reviews for Doctor Atomic tended to be rather divided and tendentious: you were fer or agin' it; this was either a breakthrough or a flop, depending on who you asked. For AAT, on the other hand, the reviews have run the gamut from patently disapproving (Justin Davidson) to accommodating (Tomassini) to guardedly praising (Alex Ross), but what all three of these perspicacious critics did was to review the complex work in a complex way, admitting both its faults and strengths, without simply saying which direction their thumb was pointing. I disagree with some of these reviews, but respect their non-colluding points of view. And though much was made of whether or not AAT "pushed the boundaries" of our collective (and disparate) notions of how opera ought to behave (best instantiated by the Times), mostly critics and the critics of critics effectively, and without fawning in-the-pocket effusion or bilous vituperation, vivisected the work on its own terms.

This gives me hope that the proto-Teutonic way of criticizing something new based on which line it falls in will lose steam; the artistic-musical bunkers of the mid-century have been shattered to a million little pieces, and though that makes this an even more complex time to be a composer (do not get me started), I would hope that a good way to really kick off this post-millenial period of this country so recently deflowered of its innocence is for all of us who choose to opine in print or pixels to continue to remove our vanished lenses and use our secret weapons of even-handed knowledge, educated opinions and agenda-free thinking (no serialist or neo-Romantic doublespeak nor minimalist posturing) to create a new form of dialogue. As a writer, it allows me to be unconstrained by the shackles of old ways; as a composer, it allows limitless freedom of material untainted by any political ramifications. So we come to judge what's there, not what we believe should be there.

More than that, bravo Tobias, you've written an opera that made us all cry, think, and feel: there's much to be said for that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on, brother, Happy New Year

5:23 AM  

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