Thursday, July 19, 2007

And now for something tangentially related...

I've decided that I'd like Elliot Goldenthal to disappear, to pack up his composing toys and go home. Permanently. Yeah, I'm sure Julie Taymor and anyone in the market for a workmanlike yet predictable soundtrack for a movie will miss him, but the classical music world certainly won't.

Here's my beef with Mr. Goldenthal: He sucks. OK, Grendel was like the curate's egg of operas--it was good in parts, but what made it out of the ordinary was the singers and Taymor's production, not Goldenthal's music. That was bland as bland could be, for the most part. If Grendel and random movie soundtracks were the only examples of Goldenthal's music I ever heard, we could peacefully coexist. But last weekend I heard the music he wrote for a ballet of Othello, and I've decided that this planet just isn't big enough for the both of us. Goldenthal has crossed a line--a line from blandness into inappropriately imitative hackery.

Grendel was peppered with such imitation; Stravinsky was especially cribbed from, and Othello is the same way. I generally enjoy it when a composer is inspired by the setting of his work, and either Goldenthal doesn't know where the hell Venice and Cyprus are, or he just decided to stick his fingers in his ears and say "La la la, I can't hear, you Venetian musical traditions!" The majority of the act set in Venice sounded like it was written by George Gershwin and an extremely drunk Igor Stravinsky doing a soundtrack for a film about Peter Griffin riding on a bus. Basically, it was bustling, squawking, and totally inappropriate. Then, in the pas de deux with Othello and Iago, Goldenthal decided to transplant them from Cyprus to the streets of Leonard Bernstein's New York, for a drunken night of shore leave with some classy dames. There were enough wa-wa-wa-ing saxophones in that scene to make it sound like a Charlie Brown Adult Chorus was singing along backstage. The other sincerest form of flattering that I noticed was in the last act, when Goldenthal threw in the same chords (probably the wrong musical term) from Mélisande's death scene in Pelléas et Mélisande. Yeah, Debussy isn't the captain of those chords or anything, but it was just too much of an homage, and it was misused dramatically too.

Goldenthal wasn't the only person ignoring traditional Italian styles, though. Set designer George Tsypin created a spare set (makes sense, otherwise the dancers would be crashing into things), often decorated only by a glass throne, and, in the last act, a pile of giant microscope slides and a bunch of shards. The glass was supposed to recall Venetian glass, but really it bore as much resemblance to Venetian glass as Goldenthal's music did to Venetian music. It just looked like George Tsypin was a giant child making furniture for his Barbie dolls out of household items.

Since I know next to nothing about ballet, I won't comment much on the dancing. Well, I will a little, because I can't resist a bit of mocking. Apparently, Lar Lubovitch mainly choreographs modern pieces, and he should stick to that rather than getting modern dance in ballet and making it look like crap. There was a lot of rolling around on the floor and flexed feet. A lot of the choreography felt too self-consciously symbolic; we were back in the realm of the Red Dragon "DO YOU SEE?!" nonsense. One touch that I did like was Iago's strange, oddly jerky and angular dancing. The most effective part of it was that when he was around other people, he danced like everyone else, but as soon as no one was looking, he'd go back to his weird, asymmetrical arm movements. In general, though, I felt that most of the choreography relied too heavily on upper body movements. It was like Emo Drill Team! If I wanted to watch dancers flail their arms around and roll their heads back and forth melodramatically, I'd watch So You Think You Can Dance. Also, I didn't realize that Muslims vogue like Madonna when they're praying. Because Othello was practically wearing a pointy bra, he was Voguing so hard. And then, to finish off his prayer, he'd crouch down on all fours, lower his head, and shake it around, like a dog digging in to an especially tasty meal.

Of the main dancers, Julie Kent as Desdemona stuck out the most to my untrained eye. Her first move, a pas de bourée couru downstage to Othello was beautifully fluid; it looked like she was on a track or something. Her choreography seemed the most traditionally balletic of the principal characters, which is maybe why I responded to it the most. Marcelo Gomes looked very beefy as Othello, though his tights matched his skin color so closely that I wondered why Othello never wore pants. Apparently, Lubovitch had made a point of keeping Othello "tethered to the ground", as a contrast for Desdemona's ethereal, airy movements, but this didn't really allow Gomes to show off much. He was either Emo Drill Teaming on the floor or he was partnering Desdemona or Iago. I'm told Gomes is an exceptional partner, but it would've been nice to see him let loose a little. Sascha Radetsky looked like Dave Navarro from far away, which added to his air of pint-sized evil. I liked his pas de deux with Othello even if the LA Times reviewer thought they were trite. Yeah, in a piece with music written by Elliot Goldenthal, the choreography is trite. Sure.

I very much doubt that I'll ever love ballet the way I love opera, and I'm not sure why. Though I know a little more about opera, I'm not that knowledgeable about either one. Maybe it's because opera, though sung, is still dependent on words, whereas ballet is all body. Words, I can understand, but bodies and movement, uh, not really. It could be simply a question of learning how to understand how certain movements add to the characterization. In opera, you can hear the emotion, even if you don't understand the language in which they're sung, but with ballet, it's hard to tell if a certain gesture or movement means anything or what it says about the character. I could see that Iago was evil because he had a beard and wore black, but while his movements told me that he was out of sync with the music of the spheres (which is a sign of evil in itself, according to Michael Hackett, who is quite the little rug-cutter in his own right), they didn't tell me anything else about him.

Photo copyright Gene Schiavone

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007


This is almost certainly silly. But silliness never deterred me from posting something before, so here it goes--my treatise on why Pelléas et Mélisande reminded me of The Mighty Boosh, or why I'm not really crazy, honest.

The first similarity I noticed was between Golaud and Howard Moon. Both have a tendency to be violent out of frustration. This isn't a particularly unique trait, and it's obviously much more disturbing in Golaud, because he pushes his young son, tosses his pregnant wife around, and eventually murders his brother, whereas Howard just tends to panic and sucker-punch people. Their constant threats of violence are also somewhat similar--Howard is always threating to come at people like a bullet, or put the scissor-punch on them, while Golaud's threats are more subtle. Golaud tells Mélisande that he's not going to hurt her with his sword, but then says something to the effect of "Stop looking at me or I'll close your eyes forever"; instead of outwardly threatening Pelléas, he takes him to a subterranean dungeon/cavern and is vaguely menacing.

Violence also seeps into Golaud's tender moments, like when he's holding Mélisande's hands and muses that he could crush them like flowers. In both cases, the violence and threats of violence are born of insecurity, again not all that unique, and while Howard's threats of violence are also a sort of bravado, he usually seems to genuinely regret some of his outbursts. Golaud, on the other hand, feels justified in his violence and doesn't seem to feel remorse until the last act, and he often brags that he is "made of blood and iron". Golaud spends most of his time hunting, when he's not indulging in domestic violence, and there's no indication that he ever got off with any of the animals he killed.

Anyway, the Pelléas=Vince Noir is less convincing, though both of them are easily distracted by pretty things and enjoy hair (I would've liked to have seen a scene in which Pelléas recommends some root-booster and a cheeky fringe to Mélisande).
Here's a picture of what Pelléas et Mélisande starring Vince Noir and Howard Moon would look like:

Two scenes in particular reminded me of the Boosh. The first was one Golaud caught Pelléas all wrapped up in Mélisande's hair. First, he seems suspicious of them, but then (to Pelléas's visible relief), he says "You're playing like children" in a very disapproving tone. This reminded me of the scene in the first episode of the Boosh radio show, in which Bob Fossil and Vince hire a chopper to catch the Phantom who's been stealing animals from the zoo. Howard looks on in disapproval as Fossil and Vince fly around the zoo, shooting off flares and getting attacked by bats. Now granted, hiring a chopper and flying it around while wearing two eyepatches really isn't a good way of catching a criminal and is definitely much sillier than a brother- and sister-in-law messing with each other's hair. On the other hand, fooling around in a flirtatious way with your brother's (who is clearly in need of a rage dump) wife isn't all that smart either.

The similarity for me comes into play with a certain lack of imagination. Howard does have an imagination, though he's usually very sensible (though it's odd to say that anything to do with The Mighty Boosh is sensible). Howard tends to think in straight lines, which may be why he's not "The One" when it comes to jazz--it would be hard to improvise in jazz if you think in straight lines. In "Charlie", Howard has written a good first sentence for his novel, so he also has some creativity.

Golaud on the other hand is fairly sensible, but he's also overly rigid (his mind, I mean). For him, the world is black and white (or in the case of the ridiculous production, red and white. There are no shades of, er, pink. He definitely thinks in straight lines, but he's unimaginative, so once he gets a thought in his head that makes sense (because it's obvious), he becomes consumed by it. He is so convinced that Pelléas and Mélisande are having an affair that he tries to make his son Yniold tell him just what he suspects and becomes angry when Yniold can only provide evidence of Pelléas and Mélisande's innocence.

Both Golaud and Howard tend to be, not pessimistic exactly, but somewhat mistrustful of happiness. Vince seems to enjoy everything, from romancing lady pandas to shoveling animal poo, whereas Howard even takes some time to be made happy by a poncho. Golaud tells Mélisande that joy isn't an everyday thing and she shouldn't expect it to be.

Another scene in the opera that reminded me of the Boosh was when Golaud takes Pelléas down into the subterranean cavern. Golaud, as mentioned before, is subtly threatening Pelléas, which Pelléas seems oblivious to. When they finally emerge from the cavern, Pelléas gasps for air and then runs around like a speed-freak, pointing out all the beautiful things around them. Golaud, as played by Gerald Finley, just stands there while his younger brother flits around him, staring at Pelléas like he's a nutball and needs some time in the ambient-hutch. It reminded me of Howard's puzzlement at Vince's cheeriness, but in another way it brought to mind the scene in the radio version of "Tundra" in which Howard is trying to get Vince to visualize a bone-chilling meeting with a polar bear. Vince, being a simple man, can't go from zero to polar bear, so Howard kind of leads him through his imagination from a blue clock to Stocky Jesus to a seaweed god on a throne to a polar bear. Once at the polar bear, though, Howard is frustrated when Vince says that he gets on quite well with the polar bear. Golaud, in this scene, seemed baffled that Pelléas couldn't understand what he was hinting at, even though he tried to kind of circuitously lead Pelléas around to "Hey, if you don't leave my wife alone, I'm going to shove you into that stank-ass cavern."

I guess what I'm saying is that this production would've vastly improved if Pelléas and Mélisande had been flying around in a chopper, shooting flares at Yniold for pelting a flock of sheep in the eyes with Smarties. And then a bat could fly into the chopper and get caught in Mélisande's crazy-long hair. And hey! Mélisande would be wearing two eyepatches à la Bob Fossil, which make another oh-so-convenient-and-obvious symbol for blindness. Someone should really pitch this to Stanislas Nordey. I wouldn't have said "Good day, sir!" to seeing Simon Keenlyside in tight little Vince jeans or Gerald Finley in Moonesque short-shorts. Just saying.

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