‘Some Day Your Cross Will Come’

Finding allegory or historical resonance with disconnected and often unrelated facts is now a commonplace. We are told to “Blink” and ‘thin slice’ our life experiences to ‘think without thinking’ (erudition and analysis are ‘overthinking’). We see it all around us; we all have noted it here dozens and dozens of times together. All perfect for Agit Prop in the Cowell-TMZ-Situation Room sludge posted earlier.

You know our view re comparing a speech from a two year Senator whose life experience really has been “community organizer” (whatever the hell that really means) with Abraham Lincoln in a deliberate Agit Prop effort to equate both men in historical presidential terms, and so on. One might be tempted to say that even now, within the bowels of Simon & Shuster a manuscript boils over, soon to unveil the truth beyond credulity that Donald Trump is our modern Prince Siddhartha Gautama (the real one). ‘Thin slicing’ after all allowed a cabal to railroad morons like the Warlord, General Jello and Cher Condi to “blink” and sign off on invading the Middle East to spill blood, national honor and treasure. (GJ actually caved as we all know but you get the gist).

Our lives and world are unfortunately not so tidy; ‘thin slice’ is also a pizza order.

‘Paralysis of analysis’ also is real. Certainly Rumstud post Baghdad capture highlights that. We are reminded of a quasi apocryphal story involving a Soviet defector. Suffering claustrophobia, he is taken to a shopping center to get out, get used to the non-GUM world, and of course further tempt cooperation by exposure to more insidious capitalist offerings. Our defector is meandering down the toothpaste aisle and suffers complete and total brain lock. Literal paralysis. Too many brands, too many claims, too many labels. If only we had known earlier the tangibly devastating power of Colgate, Crest and Listerine. (Levis don’t count, every Sov wanted *those* even before the Helsinki Accords).

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Marie and Santa Claus

So what a disappointment to read the reviews of Die Soldaten (The Soldiers) which opened this last Saturday, July 5th (for 5 performances only). And how startling to see the most insightful coverage of such a major cultural and staggeringly expensive event in all places, the WaPo (most often a furniture or car dealer advertising circular adorned around the margins with text per earlier post). This opera’s staging in the Park Avenue Armory by all accounts already has exhausted the Lincoln Center Festival’s finances.

The monumental 4 act opera by Robert Zimmerman is usually regarded as one of the most important musical compositions of the second half of the 20th century. And in the same breath, as our friends at the New York Sun recognized in June 2008 along with millions of others, it is nearly impossible to perform. Based on a 1776 play by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, the work presents many facets, the two most popular? A meditation on war’s destructiveness, or ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ without Michelle Pfeiffer or the recent revival.

Not everyone shares these concerns: the Grey Lady simply tosses out a bland summation by the AP in both NYT and IHT. Surely someone can play Frank Rich for a day. Separately, the Times writes a musical critique, closing with:

An unfortunate drawback of this ambitious production is that the seating area accommodates fewer than 1,000. With only five performances and top tickets going for $250, not everyone who wants to see it will be able to do so. But those who do will experience a miraculous realization of an opera once deemed unperformable.

Yet Anne Midgette in the WaPo catches something when she cuts through the NYT’s gushing waffle and simply states “[the] music sounds like the expression of a broken and angry century.” She adds tellingly, one reason for the work’s mystique is that on the extraordinarily rare occasions the huge finances can be found to stage it all, it overwhelms a select audience with sheer brute force. (The equivalent of a certain quartet with Marshall and Hi Watt amps overwhelming a stadium audience with 126 db 32 meters from speakers) (for which quartet in their prime, as long time readers know, the Stiftung has great affection). The use of a vast armory house a rolling audience, orchestra and staging? Not so impressive. The NY Sun, interestingly, quotes the musical director, Steven Sloane thusly a month before the debut:

Mr. Sloane expressed a similar attitude toward the music. “Everyone views it as a big bombastic piece, but it is actually the opposite; it is a very intimate, direct, emotional, musical language,” he said. “Once you get past the almost super-dimensional difficulty of actually playing the music,” he continued, “it actually becomes quite chamber-like.”

Channel hopping we heard Ozzie Osborne once complain without any trace of irony that none of his contemporaries understood melody and his musical subtleties.

David Pountney’s opera production’s grandstand is set on rails to move the audience allowing Zimmerman’s simultaneous past, present and future narratives to unfold. Ms. Midgette’s annoyance that it ultimately amounted to a confusing an distracting gimmick rings true. You know things are shaky when the *WaPo* says the singing was worthy “of a respectable regional production”. That Marie, whose downfall is the center of the piece, now is gang raped by a number of men dressed as Santa Claus (rather than soldiers in the original) sums up a lot. Catherine Mackinnon’s reaction would be beyond imagination were she able to (or want to) snag a ticket.

The photography montage at the WaPo article is worth noting. It reminds us of an unbelievably and unintentionally hilarious and atrocious Soviet fashion show we sat through during the reign of the Old Men. Something, dare we say it, ineffable?

The relationship to “thin slicing?” Totally random per our above snark? Not quite. And not quite what you might expect given the scale and cost of this seemingly over produced stunt. Pountney’s current production originated at the German festival Ruhr Triennale in 2006.

Pountney says he had some reservations about whether the piece itself ever really “works” in a traditional theater. But, referring to the Jahrhunderthalle [equivalent to the Park Avenue Armory], he says, “I found it instantly possible to understand how it could work in that particular hall. I think I suggested the way we were going to end up doing it within the first four minutes of standing in the room.”

“The way” was to have the audience move through the production. Pountney sat the audience on two motorized platforms flanking a long but very narrow stage, which he now describes as an “epic table.”

Perhaps Messrs. Pountney, Sloane et al. should have consulted with Stanley Kubrick in the hereafter. Just for a short chat with eye contact. Over thinking can indeed be a drawback — ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. The theatrical release and Blu-Ray version of ‘2001’, however . . .

Did you just blink?