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

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Final Tragedy Posting

Rather than just take umbrage with all of the reviews, I want to say something a little more general about the wishy-washy critical response to An American Tragedy. There seems to be a common disease among critics of lamenting of a work of art--especially a new opera--that it did not do what it 1) never set out to do and 2) could not have ever done. It was as if Picker's piece was supposed to be a boundary-smashing musical both hewn to and avoiding of the Great Operatic Tradition, and what's worse, from a few shows and only non-committal reviews, we should be all sad that, as yet, the Great American Opera spot is still up for grabs, that because this piece did not change the world it is not worth any more than trifling consideration. Do we lament the piece, or the fact that opera cannot any more change the world.

I don't know, its such a High Fidelity top five approach (we need the opera and nothing besides) and it outlines why many a European thinks we Americans are so off the cultural map: we don't discuss beauty, we discuss effectiveness; for art to be great here, it has to work and not just elude us, baffle us, tickle our sense of wonder. Maybe this sounds naive of me; perhaps this reveals the Candide beneath the surface (and only just), but even the staunchest Austrians or Germans that I have met are amazed (and not in a good way) by the incomprehensible scope and plumber-like apparatus of our collective critical lens. I reccomend a retreat to simpler times: were you or were you not moved by the piece, with all harmonic (read: idiomatic) guilt removed?

Serialism is by no means dead because some of its greatest adherents are still vital, but an au courant political movement it is about as potent and relevant as flappers or Dreyfusards. So why do we continue to speak in these vanished terms--tonal vs. non-tonal, progressive vs. conservative, theatrical vs. intellectual--rather than just judge works not on what they ought to be (or can never be) but on what they actually are?

I'd really like an answer, if anyone's got one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had this same inkling of thought tonight, watching some of the American version of "The Office". We hugely appreciated the nuances and subtleties of the original, and watching the insipid American attempt is just another reminder of that priority in our society to make money out of art, or religion, or other variety of intangible beauty.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Henry Holland said...

I've long maintained that we Americans have an almost unique ability to take the fun out of anything. I use kids sports as an example: when I was playing Little League in the early 70's, it was still pretty much a way for parents to get rid of their kids for a couple of hours a week. Now, parents hover over LL like vampires, getting in fights, jacking up the hyper-competetiveness of 12 year olds and, worst of all, making it about the kid becoming either a scholarship player at a university or a pro.

5:28 PM  

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