Opera Plotz

This fall has, so far, been a large amount of insanity. The beginning of school is always a little crazy; I’m coming off a summer having written a rather large pile of music, with a bunch of deadlines looming by the end of this year. But lots of exciting projects ahead! One of the items in said pile was a percussion quartet, Keeping Time, written for NYU Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of Jonathan Haas. They really went hard on this, and the end result was, I think, fabulous. I absolutely love working with percussionists—they’re often (in a school situation certainly) the most dedicated to New Music, and at NYU are amazingly talented. Back in the day, they literally put out a record of Philip Glass’s piano etudes 1-10 on steel pans. Everybody go buy it.

The other night, I went unexpectedly to Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Met. This production is surely the height of decadence—the set design is astounding (talmbout neon green forest), and the singing was absolutely stunning (particularly Iestyn Davies, who offered a sly Oberon appareled in, again, neon green garments). I have yet to experience a Britten opera that is not thoroughly moving; this particular production used a children’s choir of both boys and girls, all of whom did a spectacular job. It’s ALL about that end of Act I aria (sung by Kathleen Kim, i.e. Madame Mao) and subsequent children-ascending-and-descending scale moment. I totally plotzed. The most mesmerizing part of this production was, I think, the scenery; Britten’s choices based on the Shakespeare were well represented by the angular, stylized set imagery (a forest made out of large rectangles with a tree trunk horizontal through them! Gray mountains subtly moving!). Also, <3 a man with an ass's head laying on a half-moon. AND perhaps my favorite set manoeuvre: an off-white bright background with sparse action going on in silhouettes upstage. Moral of the story, it was wacky at times, but incredibly moving.

A few days prior to the Britten, Nico Muhly's new opera TWO BOYS had its premiere also at the Met. The "opera about chat rooms" (possibly the most confounding publicity choice?) was really well done all around—music was largely excellent, the libretto compelling, and, again, the set breathtaking. I'll leave it to the rest of the marketing materials to explain what it do; loosely, it's based on an early-aughts murder mystery, involving a young teenage boy who lured, by way of a cornucopia of Internet personalities and a tinge of homoeroticism, a slightly older boy to him, with the express purpose of killing him. Almost half of the opera does, in fact, take place online; these were for me the most beautiful and well-wrought parts of the thing. Taken on the whole, TWO BOYS is very, very nostalgic and sad and moving, and exists for me at an interesting place, having grown up in my early childhood with AOL dial-up and a very limited, but at the same time incredibly vast, Internet.

I have friends to this day who exist for me entirely online—and I’d imagine most people my age do—which makes the subject matter particularly touching and close to home. The clear background emotion is one of loneliness—which the early Internet’s anonymous chat rooms could easily (if temporarily) assuage. I think, however, it also hints at the point to which the Internet has gotten today. It’s very difficult to exist anonymously online. Google tracks one’s every move, and a coterie of social media websites make it very clear exactly who you are. The caveat is that denizens of the Internet still have the same loneliness problem, with the qualification that it’s now easier & more convenient to exist as your own self, rather than as a constellation of masks. Hence Weinerg8(s) et al. There’s a beautiful moment in the opera, in the first act, where both Jake (the younger boy/manipulatress) and Brian (the older) are in church at the same time, Jake as an altar boy. Implicit in the scene is an uneasy mutual knowledge, I think, that the two know each other rather intimately (Brian having bared his genitals on a “cam”—did we really have to use that word in 2001?). The only other time that the two see each other physically is in act 2, immediately before murder happens; the two come to know each other in the Biblical sense, and then Brian stabs Jake. They are in reality totally anonymous and unknown to each other, however they both have a deeper thread of understanding that they yearn for something, perhaps for each other. It’s an eerie sense of complicity in the whole thing. (Also, the fact that Brian would be so easily lured into killing a boy who he vaguely knows from the Internet—through a promissory note of employment by M15 + ££££—is strange. But it happened!). Everybody Is Lonely, we need a Lonely Planet guide for the Internet, etc. If you haven’t gone, go, and if you’ve gone, go again and scheme your loved ones into also going.

What’s up with me right now is I have a crazy amount of music to write before the end of February, essentially. Next on the To Do List is a quartet for violin, cello, harp, and piano for some dear friends. I also have a new orchestra thing to write for the NYU Symphony, as a part of this sort of composer-in-residence situation that I’ve been asked to do, to be premiered on March 3 of next year! I’m very excited to write for them; they have a vibrancy and commitment to New Music that I love, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with the orchestra. After I finish that, there’s another new piece for large ensemble happening in late April to write, and along the way, weirdly, a set of smaller solo pieces for viola, harp, and organ. As they say in Italian, Time To Get To Work.

Meanwhile, you should all get into this WILD documentary about an abandoned Japanese island first used for coal mining, then as a labor camp for Chinese and Korean prisoners during WWII. Totally scintillating and terrifying and captivating.

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