Friday, October 23, 2020

Zhu Shaoyu, You and Me (2013)

Let us take a moment to be grateful for the glorious availability of Western opera. Granted, the pandemic may mean that the performing arts are over forever, but aside from that (Mrs. Lincoln), it's quite impressive. You can easily watch many different operas from any period and in any style there is. Sure, there are composers or particular pieces that deserve more attention, but really, that's just caviling. I'm coming up on four hundred fifty and I haven't even come close to seeing everything there is, so, I mean, really. For an art form that's currently considered extremely niche and/or inaccessibly highbrow, it's doing pretty darned well, I think. If you want to learn about Western opera, you can do that. It's not a problem.

Okay, but let's say that I, a Westerner, want to learn about Chinese opera, a completely different operatic form with a thousand-year-plus history. Well...good luck with that. What can I see? Well, there's this. There's also a recording of Farewell My Concubine (which I shall watch soon). There's a very small handful of dodgy-looking, out-of-print, unsubtitled DVDs. There are some documentaries and youtube clips of individual arias. And...that's pretty much yer lot. Even if you are a Chinese person, if you don't live in an area with a thriving performing arts scene, you're not going to have much luck. For an form with such a long and rich history, they've done a remarkably poor job of creating any kind of permanent record of it. Per wikipedia: "The total number of regional genres was determined to be more than 350 in 1957, but in the 21st century the Chinese government could only identify 162 forms for its intangible cultural heritage list, with many of them in immediate danger of disappearing." I know that, given the political situation, it's hard to really focus much emotional energy on a subject like this that most people don't care about, but nonetheless, I would say that that is a goddamn tragedy.

Of course, I say that more on principle than anything else: it's not like I'm familiar with the form in any way such that I have a personal investment in its perpetuation. But I believe in art generally. Sometimes it's all we have to keep body and soul together. So. Anyway. I saw this.

Here's the story: Emperor Zheng's brother has staged a rebellion, which he crushes (and executes is brother, apparently maybe? it's never referred to again, which seems weird), but he's pissed off at his mother, who had been supporting his brother, and wants to have her exiled, in spite of his courtiers' disapproval. At a feast, Yingkaoshu tries to sway him by commenting on the food--paraphrase, but this really is the exact sense: "Don't eat crows! They display filial piety, always giving food to their mothers before eating themselves! Now owls--those guys are total dicks who murder the shit out of their mothers! Eating them is hell of rad!" I am not sure about the ornithology here. Anyway, it turns out Yingkaoshu is hiding food in his clothing to try to sneak out; when caught, he explains that it's to give to his poor aging mother so the king decides to send her food and then go there in disguise to see if this suspicious "having a mother" story pans out. It turns out it does, and said mother is hell of virtuous. This and other things make him question his decision re his own mother. Finally he decides, okay, he wants to see her again, but! There's a problem, which is that he had sworn that he would only see her again in "the Underworld." So the moderately-cunning Yingkaoshu comes up with a clever plan: he'll dig a giant tunnel so they can meet there, because that's...the Underworld. Sort of. Anyway, the king and ma make up, and everyone leaves together. Wait, now it's okay if they're together in spite of not being in "the Underworld?" Was there a proviso, "after you meet there one time, all bets are off!?" Given that he was clearly actually referring to Hell, I doubt it. But anyway. So it is.

Well there you go. Obviously, this thing is extremely heavy on the filial piety, revealing its Confucian roots. It's actually pretty darn didactic about that, especially in the last act. But I'm really not sure how to evaluate it. The last thing I want is to just be some shithead white guy going, ha ha, these Chinese people are weird and/or funny! That's not helpful to anyone. So I really, really want to underscore the fact that everything I say here should be taken with seventy-three grains of salt. I am a dumb foreigner and I don't know what I'm talking about. It is absolutely definitely one hundred percent the case that I didn't really get this. Still, since most people reading this probably are dumb foreigners also, hell, maybe it's of some use.

First, let's talk about the libretto, which strikes me as bizarrely clumsy and heavy-handed--in a way, however, that I recognize from Chinese movies that I have watched, so I don't think it's anything opera-specific. There may well be a lot lost in translation. There's the aforementioned "crow rules, owls drool" bit, and in that same act these waiters are preparing to bring out food for the banquet: "the dishes are full of eight kinds of food from both land and sea!" "What are the eight kinds of seafood?" "Shark's fin, shellfish, fish gristle, shrimp, abalone, seal, shark's lip, sea cucumber from the East!" "What are the eight kinds of land food?" "Dragon's liver, phoenix's marrow, bear's paw, tiger's kidney, camel's hump, monkey's brain, elephant's trunk, moose's jaw from the West mountain!" And seriously, what am I to make of this? Is it supposed to be funny? It seems like it HAS to be supposed to be funny. And yet, to me it just comes across as alienatingly weird. The opera showcases universal emotions, for sure. And I like that! And yet, there were only a few moments when I felt any kind of emotional resonance at all.

How about the music? Well, actually, the instrumental music here was the least problematic thing for me. It's completely different than Western classical music, featuring hell of instruments that I don't have names for, but it's straightforwardly enjoyable. It's kind of exactly what the stereotypes say Chinese music sounds like (think the famous "Oriental riff"), but it's good. Badass in a few places. Maybe it occasionally feels a little monotonous? Maybe, but overall I really can't complain.

As for the vocal music: there's a lot of spoken dialogue here, and unlike Western opera/operetta, it's not always entirely clear when the spoken ends and the sung begins. I mean, they're definitely different things, but they seem to exist on the same spectrum in a way that's totally unlike anything I'm used to. Which is fine, that's interesting, know, I'm just not sure about the singing. Obviously, Chinese being a tonal language, there are definitionally going to be differences from Occidental (I'm trying not to write "Western" over and over) singing, and even beyond that it's not trying to be the same thing. But as I say: I AM NOT SURE. There are lengthy arias, but to me they are mostly not particularly gripping, or indeed musically varied. Sometimes singers would go, like, aaaaah, aaaaah, aaaaah, and these were the points at which you would often get a certain amount of applause from the audience (the applause was subdued in general, but I'm pretty sure that's just a cultural difference, not lack of enthusiasm), and I'm kind of left thinking, is that impressive? Should I be impressed? I don't get it.

(Also, for whatever reason, the speaking voice of Zheng's wife in particular, oh my god, I know I said I didn't want to sound like an uncultured foreigner, but it was JUST SO WEIRD; I wanted to burst out laughing every time she spoke--her singing sounded more normal)

Let it be noted, there are also intangible things I definitely didn't get: stuff involving the spoken dialect, and the highly stylized movements of the actors. I don't want to pretend like it's just me reacting to what I perceive as rough analogues to Occidental opera and not understanding them in comparison. The lack of understanding is more all-pervasive than that: the sort of thing where you aren't even aware of the things that are lost on you.

Of course, since this is the only one I've seen, I am also wholly unable to place it within the larger tradition, and unfortunately, there's not really much of an opportunity for that. I do want to say, though--just so I don't look like a total goon--I feel like I...could get into this. There were definitely a few moments, as long arias went on, where I thought, you know...I feel like I am sort of perceiving the appeal of this. Maybe? Maybe not. It's a flickering flame.

This definitely looks good, featuring very elaborate costumes into which a lot of money clearly went. It's clearly somebody's idea of a bid at a cultural export (the production is by Zhang Yimou, director of Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, and other movies, and the promotional copy puts WAY more emphasis on his name than on the composer's, presumably because it's one that more Westerners might be expected to know). And yet, I feel that that's not enough. I'm not sure how much I've written about this here, but Western opera was very much an acquired taste for me. I didn't really start to love it until I'd seen, I don't know, maybe a dozen operas. So if you want to make me like this art form which is even MORE foreign to my sensibilities, you're going to need to make a very concerted effort. This would have to just be the beginning.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Paul Dukas, Ariane et Barbe-bleue (1907)

Dukas is mainly known from his "L'apprenti sorcier," and that's not just because of Fantasia; apparently in his lifetime he was irritated that people were focused on that one short piece to the exclusion of all his other work. Well, here we have his only opera, so hopefully now we can give his unquiet ghost (trying to get in a seasonal mood) its due.

Clearly, the main Bluebeard opera that we know is Bluebeard's Castle. Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle. Béla Bartok's bizarre, beautiful Bluebeard's Castle. Sorry, I'm just spouting gibberish. But in all seriousness: that is a hella unnerving opera. Might be a good one to watch for Halloween, if you're looking for something seasonal. Though I don't know; maybe the US teetering on the edge of fascism is scary enough for you. Opinions vary!

Why did I write the above paragraph? Who knows? This is not that, anyway. It's based on a play by Maeterlinck, more or less retelling the basic story, though with differences. Ariane goes to Bluebeard's castle, but she's convinced his previous wives are still alive and that she can save them. She has the seven keys of which she's allowed to use but six; she opens the first six doors and finds a bunch of precious jewels; behind the seventh are the wives. A mob attacks Bluebeard offstage and renders him helpless, leaving the wives to decide what to do with him. They spare his life, but they're still free, in theory: Ariane tries to get them to leave with her, but all of them refuse, so she departs with her nurse. That is it. In spite of the opera's title, the part of Bluebeard is actually extremely small; he only sings in one short scene.

So that's about it. It's sort of hard to determine what particular point is being made here. It is what it is, I suppose. Unless I'm wrong! Maybe it's not what it is. Still, I really like Dukas' music. In particular, the scene in the first act where Ariane and her nurse are opening the doors is pretty stunning. A very ecstatic, Wagnerian sound. To be honest, the actual story didn't engage me much, especially as it wore on, but I'm certainly glad to have seen it. The production--the only available, naturally--probably didn't help: it's not, like, egregiously horrible or anything, but it kind of arbitrarily takes place in this clinical, hospital-like environment. As you know, I don't object to some Eurotrash, but the problem here's just not very interesting to look at, and it underemphasizes the mythic aspects of the story. OH WELL!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Vladimir Deshevov, Ice and Steel (1930)

There is very little information on Deshevov on the English-language internet. Seriously, do a search. Almost everything you'll find is related to this production of this opera. There's a short biography in the DVD, but it's nothing that notable: a left-wing intellectual musician, 1889-1955, this his only opera. The Soviet authorities were extremely down on Shostakovich's operas, and even Prokofiev was viewed with some suspicion, so what did they like? This guy, apparently. Only not so much after all, because, again according to the DVD booklet, while successful at first, this one quickly disappeared from the stage as well, even though it's a blatant propaganda piece. SHEESH. There's no pleasing some people.

Well, this is sort of a collective piece; there are people with names, but only one who has any chance of sticking in your mind--and it's not like she's sharply detailed either. It's more a sort of collage. You have people arguing about ideology and being pure or not pure and everything, but then everyone united because there's trouble brewing: the Kronstadt Rebellion, which was problematic because the people involved in it were themselves communists and other assorted leftists. Hard to frame this in a Politically Correct (in the original sense) way. Well, but here, they're definitely BAD. And this heroic woman, Musja, infiltrates the rebels; she's caught and tortured, but then she blows the place up with a grenade, as pictured on that cover. And then the Soviets hear about it and are all, YEAH! There's a whole bunch of Musjas among us! Up the proletariat!

Right, so I wouldn't say this is a particularly good opera (though it IS only a svelte hour and a half, which is a point in its favor).  The protagonist-less presentation is sort of theoretically interesting in an avant-garde way, but not really in practice, and it's fairly musically uninteresting--very subdued stuff for the most part that will not give Shostakovich or my man NRK a run for their money. The moment where Musja blows up the rebels is pretty cool--you can see it on the cover there; she stands there in that triumphant pose with an explosion in the background--but because art in propaganda can only be incidental, it doesn't actually end there; instead we get the epilogue, which reeeeaally spells out the message.

And then there's the way the producers handled it: you see, these days we may not be so euphorically giddy about communism triumphant. So it works thusly: after the final chorus where all the people are standing around defiantly, we see them fall over one by one until they're all dead, and then some guys use ropes to pull down Musja (who is clearly represented as a statue now, you see). And, I mean, really now. If this piece has any value, it's as a historical artifact. What is gained by reading it against itself like that? And if you insist on doing that (which I don't think you should, but clearly you don't care what I think), the production doesn't even have the courage of its convictions: Musja's sacrifice is clearly set up to look cool and badass, which it does. So what are you even saying if you decide, oh, that thing that we set up as a triumphant moment? It actually sucks, and we should be glad it's gone.  I ask you!

I would say we need a better production of this, but eh. We probably don't. As a bit of ephemera, it may hold some limited interest, but I can't say I'm really up for revisiting it.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Adriano in Siria (w/Livietta e Tracollo) (1734)

After being disappointed by that misbegotten production of Il prigionier superbo, I wanted to have a bette Pergolesi experience, so here's his third opera seria.

It's to a libretto by Metastasio. Dozens of others were set to the same one, of course, but as far as I know, this is the only one available in video format. Here's my question: what was the last opera ever to use one of his libretti? You don't get an answer by doing a google search for "last opera with a Metastasio libretto." Nobody else seems interested in the question. There's this from 1823, which seems really late, but anything after that? I feel like by the nineteenth century, people had mostly embraced the romantic idea of individual genius. Sure, you likely weren't writing your own libretti, but you wanted your work to seem unique to you; there wouldn't have been much appeal to the idea of your opera jostling around to compete with dozens of other with the same words and story.

Who knows. I ask that because I've been kind of preoccupied lately with this idea: why doesn't some contemporary composer write an opera to a Metastasio libretto? Not imitating the style of baroque music (although if someone wants to do that, that's cool too), but just setting this text in a radically different musical idiom. Wouldn't that be fascinating? Don't you want to see Thomas Adès' Semiramide riconosciuta? I know I do.

Well, this one is set in Roman Times. Knock me down with a feather. The Roman emperor is Adriano (ie, Hadrian), and you will NEVER GUESS where he is. He's just conquered the Parthians, and the Parthian prince, Farnaspe, is petitioning him to release his imprisoned fiancée, Emirena, playing on the well-known Roman qualities of mercy and justice (you can complain about historical revisionism in these things if you want, but the very fact that composers of the time considered these the most noble of qualities seems to me worth celebrating). However, Adriano is also in love with Emirena, in spite of already having a wife, Sabina. The situation is also complicated by the fact that Adriano's adjutant Aquilo is secretly in love with Sabina, which leads him to encourage his infatuation with Emirena so he doesn't reconcile with his wife. And finally, there's Emirena's father Osroa, who tries to assassinate Adriano and is imprisoned. But don't worry, in the end everyone is reconciled and/or forgiven and Adriano and Sabina are back together again.

The more opera seria I see, the more I realize how formulaic the genre is. It was undoubtedly a good thing that opera evolved from this. But crud, man, it's a solid formula. It may be that it will never surprise me, but I'm more or less guaranteed to enjoy it a lot, as is the case here. My subjective perception is that, production aside, this is a stronger work than Il prigionier superbo. The production is straightforward, but really, sometimes that's quite enough. The most notable thing here is that it features an actual goddamn falcon onstage.  Looking at the cover, I wasn't sure whether it was real or not, but it totally is.  Well, technically it's a Harris's hawk, but those are commonly used in falconry, and that's clearly the intended impression. Its name is Aron, and there are two credited falconers--all for a bird that appears onstage at the beginning and end for no more than a minute or two. That kind of extravagance seems Met-esque, but hey, I'm glad to see falconers getting work. I can't imagine there's a lot of it these days.

Oh yeah, we also have the intermezzo, Livietta e Tracollo. Unlike La serva padrona in Il prigionier superbo, this is presented probably more like it originally would have been, with the first half after Act I and the second after Act II. It concerns this robber, Tracollo, who, disguised as a woman, is captured by Livietta, a woman disguised as a man. Later, he's out of jail and disguised as an astrologer. She pretends to faint. He tells her where, allegedly, he's hidden his treasure. They agree to get married. That is about that. It's fine; why wouldn't it be? You can probably see why it isn't as famous as La serva padrona; there's not much of a story, and the mucking about I didn't find that fascinating. Also, authentic or not, I found that as presented here it kind of dulled the momentum of the superior Adriano in Siria. Whatevs! It's fine.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Luigi Rossi, L'Orfeo (1647)

Yes! It's the other seventeenth-century opera called Orfeo. Actually, you've gotta figure there are probably more, but these are the most prominent [UPDATE: yup, this page lists five others, plus sundry more from later times]. This one two is at least somewhat historically significant: La finta pazza may have been first, but this one was actually specifically commissioned for the French stage. And it had wider political significance than just that: supposedly resentment at how expensive the staging was lead to the Fronde, a series of rebellions against Louis XIV that he ultimately crushed and used to consolidate his power. At least that's how I understand it. Look, I'm American; we don't do European history, except for things like World War II where we can insert ourselves into it and cheer about what great heroes we were.

You might ask, is this going to be basically the same as Monteverdi? Will I be able to easily tell the difference? The answers are no and yes. This is extremely different from that. Monteverdi, as you know, is rather stripped down, just telling the basic story. There is A LOT more frippery here, with extra gods banging around and featuring Eurydice's dad and just being...different. Momus and his satyr pal are there for comic relief, as is the skirt-role nurse (BOY did that ever kill in the seventeenth century!). But the biggest difference between the two is that this one seems oddly uninterested in its title character. The bulk of this is about Eurydice and this guy Aristeo, her frustrated, would-be lover (that's Aristeo there on the DVD cover with her).

Who is Aristeo? He's this guy, who supposedly invented beekeeping, among other things. There's a version of the story where he was chasing Eurydice and that's when she got bitten. This pissed off the gods and he wasn't allowed to beekeep any more until he made sacrifices. Which, fair enough. You've gotta wonder what his relationship with Orpheus was like after that, though; I'm guessing the answer is Not Cordial.

Anyway, he spends a lot of time pursuing her, and gods intercede on his behalf, but all in vain as she's bitten by a snake and then refuses the antidote he offers because she doesn't want to be implicated with him in any way. Then at her grave, he imagines her ghost yelling at him--seeing an opera character's inter turmoil externalized that way is not something you see every day. Or, indeed, any day. I mean there must be other examples, but they don't come to mind. Extraordinarily sophisticated stuff. Anyway, he ends up going mad, after which is narrative just kind of stops. I has this idea that he was going to somehow sacrifice himself after Orpheus screws up so Eurydice can live again, but I guess that's kind of a fan-ficcy idea (not that baroque opera isn't frequently fan-ficcy). This definitely has the darkest ending of any Orpheus opera I've ever seen, as, having lost his love, he laments and then just recedes into the darkness. Curtain. The wikipedia entry claims that Jupiter appears to tell him that he and Eurydice will be turned into constellations, but that entry seems very suspect to me, given how much it leaves out. We do learn that there's a prologue and epilogue, however, which are not featured in this production, which I suppose begun the tradition of glorifying France in general and Louis XVI in particular.

Terrific opera, at any rate. The unfamiliar elements to the story really keep you involved (me, at any rate); the whole thing feels so confident and self-assured, and the music is in turns funny, dramatic, and spine-tingling. It's a modern-day production, which could go either way, but it feels very natural and appropriate. Francesca Aspromonte as Eurydice steals the show; one of the many pleasures of watching this is that she feels like much more of a defined character than is normally the case, and Aspromonte really inhabits her.

Rossi only wrote one other opera, Il palazzo incantato (an Orlando Furioso opera--really covering the baroque bases here); unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on video, but I hope it will be one day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Il prigionier superbo (1733)

If you do a search for this, google helpfully corrects you:

Ah yes, that world-famous opera, Il prigioniero superbowl. I know it well.

This is most famous as the opera that was originally wrapped around La serva padrona, but destined to be much less popular. It's about this prisoner. He is a truly superb prisoner. In fact, he's such a great prisoner that all the guards signed his birthday card. And then they had a big party with cake and ice cream and presents and okay okay, "superbo" just means "proud" in Italian. WHATEVER. So what's it REALLY about? Um...dead kings many things I can't define? Well, basically, this here prisoner is a king who's been captured. By another king. As oft happens. And these kings all have various daughters and love interests who are in love with other people, know. Typical opera seria stuff.

Still, if that description sounded vague, there may be a reason for that. The plot's complicated, sure, but is it difficult to follow? That is hard to say, actually, because GOOD GOD, this production. I feel like I have never seen one that I found as enraging as this. The concept is that there are some people at a party in some sort of cave or something, and they find these puppets and decide to put on a show. So there are these puppets and puppeteers on-stage, one alter-ego for each character. The production makes zero effort to concretely situate it in its place, and get this: five out of the six characters are sung by women; I might have enjoyed a few countertenors, but fine. But the real issue is, they do not make even the most token effort to have them look like men. They're all wearing dresses and have absolutely zero male signifiers--I suppose because that would violate the extremely important "concept" that we have decided we must arbitrarily lay over the proceedings. What all this boils down to is that the plot--which probably would've been pretty twisty anyway--becomes effectively impossible to follow, and all drama and emotion is completely leeched out of the story. I simply cannot imagine what the fuck the producers can have been thinking. Unlike most opera DVDs, there's no synopsis included in the manual; normally, there's no need for such a thing, but the ONE time you actually want one...there's an amazon review that goes to truly heroic lengths to summarize the plot, but even with that summary, it would take A LOT of effort to make sense of this.

It is too goddamn bad. Musically, it's what you'd expect, which is very good: lots of kickass baroque music with some impressive arias. And yet, I still feel short-changed. Unsurprisingly, this is the only way to see this opera, but having seen it, I have to wonder: DID I actually experience the opera in any meaningful way? GOOD GOD, Pergolesi died at the age of twenty-six; isn't that bad enough? You also have to run roughshod over his work? Talk about adding insult to injury.

Well, as you can see from that cover, this also includes a production of La serva padrona (that's where the image comes from). So how's that?'s comprehensible, at any rate. It would be hard for such a simple story not to be. But it ain't great: it takes place in a circus. Uberto is some sort of ringmaster and/or lion tamer, and Serpina is...well, it's not exactly clear what she is, but some kind of circus performer. This is bizarre; the idea that someone working in this environment would have a "servant" makes little sense, let alone that people like this would be preoccupied with the idea of marriage. It's tolerable, I suppose, but it's not wonderful. It's a shame: the music, of course, is great, and Alessandra Marianelli is actually very charming and funny as Serpina. It's just...GOOD LORD, people. You're allowed to do a regular ol' opera production! There's nothing wrong with a little Eurotrash, but if you don't have a good idea for it, you're not required to go in that direction. I hope that the Pergolesi DVDs I have yet to see go a little less dumb and bad, production-wise.

Right, one last thing.  You may be interested to know what ELSE Pergolesi fans are interested in: of these things is not like the others...?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Michael Daughterty, Jackie O (1997)'s an opera about Jackie Onassis Kennedy. Obviously. Kind of. It's a very impressionistic thing, about which more anon.

The first act takes place at a happening in Andy Warhol's Factory, featuring also Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. It's the sixties! It's groovy! Jackie shows up: as far as I know this never happened in real life, but Warhol did do a famous image of her:

Aristotle Onassis also shows up with his lover, Maria Callas. He and Jackie meet and spark up a relationship. In the second act they're married. Jackie's feeling depressed about the Unpleasantness that ended her first marriage; after a long duet between her and Callas, where they sort of reconcile, she hears Kennedy's disembodied voice. She forgives him his infidelities, opens herself up to future possibilities. It ends with a number based on Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you," which, seriously, everyone talks about like it's so inspiring, but how is it not a paean to fascism? What am I missing here?

Welp. That's it. How to even start? How about at the beginning, by quoting the opening chorus:

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, freeze!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, smile!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, click!

Things are happening!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, freeze!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, flash!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, cheese!

It's a happening!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, we communicate!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, we annihilate!

One, nine, six, eight, 1968, sex with stars is great!

That is big Waiting for Guffman energy, and briefly, I thought this was going to be something I'd never seen before: an opera that's so bad it's good. But as things proceeded, it sadly became clear that, no: sadly, this is the much more common so bad it's bad.

I am one hundred percent here for this in theory: an avant-garde sixties collage and character study? Sign me the fuck up. I'm possibly the ideal audience for this, having consumed quite a lot of literature in that vein and also, obviously, being a huge opera fan. But while a good concept may give you a tiny step up, it's at least almost all in the execution, and the execution here is...not good. The libretto is really, really dire, and not mostly in fun ways. It's just utterly leaden, and its efforts to catch that sixties spirit are all clumsy failures. In theory it also includes evocations of the ever-popular story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but you'd need some better writing for that to be apparent. Then there's the music, which includes imitations of jazz and sixties rock stuff, plus some inevitable opera quotes because of Callas' presence, but the whole thing is really, really thin. There was one part that I thought sorta-kinda almost worked, where Onassis is inviting Jackie to see I Am Curious (Yellow) (weird first date movie), and that forms the backbone for an aria--I say "almost" because, like everything else, it's crippled by the terrible writing and the unimaginative music, but there are fun and creative aspects to it, and I could at least see the dim silhouette of a much better opera. That's about all I can say that's even vaguely positive, though. On the basis of this, I am not convinced that Daughterty is actually a very good composer, and it may be a mercy that this is his only opera to date.

The debut of this, at Houston Grand Opera (who commissioned it and therefore presumably felt obligated to stage it) featured an absolutely stupidly overqualified cast, including Joyce DiDonato, Stephanie Novacek, and Eric Owens. This recording, as you can see from the box...does not. Fair enough. It's actually a decent production, dominated by that big ol' soup can.'s mostly a decent production, until you get to the end, which inexplicably features TV footage of 9/11. I'd say it's in poor taste, but you kind of get distracted from that by just how baffling it is. We will never know what the hell the producers thought they were saying. Or, to be fair, care. But regardless, that's a big swing and a miss. Probably accidentally hurling the bat into the stands and hitting a pregnant woman.

I'm happy I only paid four dollars to stream this, but even that seems a little much. Michael Daughterty, your opera is bad and you should feel bad.  And now I feel guilty about saying that.  What if he reads this?  You don't have to feel bad, dude.  I forgive you.  But your opera is bad.  I can't compromise on that.