Troyens

Troyens

Monday, October 19, 2015

And While I am At It....

I just stumbled across a copy of Behind the Curtain, a print publication of San Francisco Opera, that I never took out of its envelope when it arrived. Here's a nice quotation from David Gockley, describing La Ciociara:
I wanted an opera with a gorgeous score so the audience is crazy with delight to see and hear it, not cringing in their seats. It can be challenging for composers to write beautiful music because critics often condemn them for it.
Can anyone please come up with recent examples of this from, say, in the last 25 years?

There were plenty of complaints about La Ciociara, but most of them focused on its poorly-executed, blatant imitation of Puccini and weak libretto. On the other hand, I remember quite a lot of praise for just how beautiful Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick was. It has problems, which I've discussed, but that the score is beautiful is not one of them - except to the extent that it limited the emotional range of the piece.

And if that's the kind of criticism that Gockley is thinking of, he's off base.

14 comments:

Michael said...

It took all of one minute to find an example in one of your reviews: "What sticks most in the memory is the overly sweet and generic nature of melodies." If criticizing "overly sweet" melodies isn't an example of condemning composers for writing beautiful music, what is?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Link, please, because I don't know my own reviews by heart. "Overly sweet and generic nature" is rather specific about the problem, and it isn't that the melodies are beautiful but that they are too sweet and without character.

Lisa Hirsch said...

You must also realize that a composer who fears a specific criticism is a composer who doesn't have the courage of his compositional style. That is another problem with what Gockley said.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, okay - that's from my review of Mark Adamo's Mary Magdalene. Well, I thought it was crap, for all sorts of reasons. That single sentence needs to be taken in context, of course. And the most musically effective part of the opera is the crucifixion scene, where Adamo's setting is harsher, has a distinctive character, and is appropriate for the text.

I've specifically praised the overall beauty of Heggie's Moby-Dick, while thinking at the same time that some aspects of the plot - the madness of Ahab and his terrible pursuit of the whale - are not best expressed with beauty, any more than most of Elektra would be best served by pretty tunes.

Michael said...

I think your replies reinforce my point. If my memory serves, and I saw both of them, Moby Dick is a considerably more dissonant opera than The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, though nothing compared to some of your favorite composers. It's also more dissonant than Dead Man Walking, another opera you don't like. The average Western listener would likely consider both those operas more beautiful than Moby Dick. You also avoided Heart of a Soldier altogether. Would that really have happened if you knew the composer wrote in a more dissonant style?

CruzSF said...

I wanted to like Mary Magdalene so much. I even went 2 or 3 times. Parts of it moved me and I thought Sasha Cooke was a powerhouse in it. But that opera's major problems extended beyond the music, IMO.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I have never heard a note of Theofandis's music and thus I have no opinion whatsoever of the music of Heart of a Soldier or anything else he has composed. I avoided it because the subject matter made me queasy.

My recollection is that both Moby and Mary M. are in the generally-tonal area; I don't have any sense o Moby having been more dissonant than Mary M. If this is getting into the area of how we each hear beauty, I shrug - that's what makes horse races.

I know there've also been works where it sounds to me that the composer is writing in a more austere style than he or she would really like to, and I've wondered why they don't just write what they're thinking. Andrew Imbrie's flute concerto - from the 70s, I think - sounds as though he wants to write with a much richer orchestral style than what's on the paper. I know there are other pieces like this.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Whoops, Cruz SF's comment came in while I was writing - I totally loved Adamo's Lysistrata, which is funny, touching, and very clever, with some great tunes. That's a lot of why I was SOOOO disappointed with Mary M..

CruzSF said...

I've heard others speak well of Lysistrata, too. Wasn't it coming out here? I thought Opera Parallèle going to stage it. Did I miss it?

Lisa Hirsch said...

They were, the year after Great Gatsby, and it got postponed. I may have email about it - I know I asked OP about it at some point.

CruzSF said...

Ah, OK. I hope they pick it up again. Or maybe it's a good choice for West Edge Opera?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Either, or SFO, for that matter - it is a really fine opera.

Steve Hicken said...

Too many equate "beautiful" with "pretty".

Lisa Hirsch said...

That is a useful distinction. Carter - often beautiful but rarely pretty.