I WAS RIGHT LAST WEEK!
About live music coming back. That light at the end of the tunnel is a spotlight, and the band, the dancers and the actors are getting ready to hit the stage.
Not tonight, not quite yet, but sooner than I thought possible.
And who is leading the way to the return of live performances? Opera! Yes, opera.
I love opera. What’s not to love, if you are a music lover? It’s music by some of the best composers of the classical world, played by outstanding orchestras, accompanied by an on-stage spectacle of fantastic sets and costumes, sung by excellent actors possessed of the greatest human instruments of voice, to timeless stories of…
Well, that’s where it sometimes breaks down for me. Some of the stories in operas are not timeless, they are dated, not believable, cliched, over sentimental, even maudlin. And they were written or adapted for audiences that were not weaned on the sophistication of cinema or modern theater. Knowledge of the world, romantic scenarios, politics, even morality were often a lot different for 17th century audiences.
JUST BECAUSE THE MUSIC IS TO DIE FOR
Doesn’t mean the composer came up with a libretto to match. Librettos, the script if you will, can come from any source. Sometimes the composer also writes it. Sometimes proving that just because you are talented in one form of the arts doesn’t mean you can even tread water in another, like storytelling. Mark Twain probably could have written a killer nursery rhyme, but not the tune for it.
You don’t usually hear people shuffling out from an opera dissecting plot lines, how surprised they were about the cousin’s secret life as a gay lumberjack. (Of course, they may have seen that opera several times before, or read the entire story in their program.) What you’re hearing and seeing on stage usually makes a weak storyline incidental and doesn’t detract from the experience.
Often the drama is timeless, though. Take murdering your father and marrying your mother. Even Jim Morrison found that good grist for a long, dark rock and roll tale (“The End,” music influenced by Chopin’s “Funeral March.”) Igor Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” will be the first presentation by LA Opera to a live audience, indoors at their Dorothy Chandler Pavilion home, in more than a year.
That’s right around the corner! You won’t be able to get a ticket though, unless you’re Mick or Bruce or Gaga or Obama, maybe, because all tickets (free) for that one performance have been “claimed,” though local health authorities could authorize more seats if conditions change. LA Opera is doing it right, with a new air filtering system, two seating areas, for the vaxxed (need proof) and the not (need proof of recent COVID test) or those who prefer to socially distance, and they have allocated tickets for local first responders and healthcare workers, and longtime season ticket holders who got screwed out of a season by a pandemic. Which I’m sure will be fodder for a new opera.
Stravinsky went back 2500 years to Sophocles for the grisly tale that still fascinates audiences. “The 1927 opera is a highly stylized, ritualistic work; in fact, the composer specifically requested that it be staged with minimal movement (which works well with COVID restrictions). A narrator describes the action throughout the course of the opera. Stravinsky set his work in Latin but specified that the narration is to be spoken in the language of the audience. The performance will feature incredibly imaginative projected animations created by Manual Cinema, an Emmy Award-winning performance collective, design studio and film/video production company.”
Sounds fab. Maybe we can catch a later performance, or get a nursing degree by June 6, but this is a landmark occasion. Pacific Opera Project has already staged one show, outdoors at Heritage Museum Square, and is set for another, “Don Procopie” (“it’s time to get Bizet again”), June 4-6.
Thank you, opera. You’ve brought us back. And made the world safe for rock and roll.
CHECK YOUR FAVORITE VENUES
Many are announcing schedules for the coming months. Support them, please. If they made it through this, and many did not, that’s heroic.
LISTEN TO THESE ALBUMS — It is my unique privilege to get to come home with a stack of classic records from my folks every time I visit them. This last batch was especially good; standouts include Fela Kuti’s “Black-President” — just try multitasking while listening to this; I could not, too electrifying — Mal Waldron’s “The Quest” featuring Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin — grade A hard bop — and George Jones’ “My Very Special Guests.” This last album is fantastic, with features by Waylon Jennings, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Dennis & Ray of Dr. Hook, Pops and Mavis Staples, Pete Drake on steel guitar, and Elvis Costello, who I actually did not hate listening to for once (come at me).
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org