Monday, June 11, 2007

Queens of the Crap Age

Here's a great picture I found of Queens-frontman Josh Homme working on the latest album, Era Vulgaris.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Frau Margot - FW Opera

Cross posted from The Fort Worthian.

It was a dark and stormy night…

While that may not be the greatest start for a novel, it was a nice mood-setter for Frau Margot. The opera began with a black scrim at the front of the stage, and showed the projected raindrops and the outside of a brownstone, along with some ominous lightning flashes. An appropriate film noir opening for an opera about a murder.

But first, a little bit about the inspiration behind Frau Margot.
When composer Alban Berg died, he left behind an unfinished opera entitled “Lulu.” Leonard Bernstein approached Berg’s widow about the possibility of completing the opera, and she told him she would let him know in a few days. A few days later, Mrs. Berg told Bernstein that she had consulted with her husband and that he had said no to Bernstein completing the opera. Bernstein later found out that many other composers had approached Mrs. Berg about completing the opera, and that they were all told the same thing. Apparently, Mrs. Berg was contacting her husband through a séance to inquire about the opera completion offers.

So that’s a pretty juicy story to start an opera from… Add a bit of laudanum addiction, and extramarital affair, some twisted psyches and a murder, and you’ve got yourself a pretty juicy opera!

Frau Margot premiered in FW on June 2, which gave the company the luxury of not having the performance compared to past versions. The set was stunning, with crazy angles giving the appearance of extreme depth to the stage. There were projection scrims around the top and back of the set, and the projections were used to give the sense of shifting locations without a lot of set changes. And whenever Frau Margot was tripping on laudanum, the projections showed ripples expanding outward -- a nice trick to help illustrate the mindset of the character. The set also helped establish the aforementioned film noir mindset, with heavy use of black, white and gray elements, and stark lighting that emphasized long menacing shadows.

I enjoyed the opera, but it seemed to miss some dramatic moments in the music during the second act. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but Frau Margot seemed to include a less extreme version of sprechtsing from Berg's Wozzeck (which, for the record, I thoroughly enjoyed a few years ago at the Dallas Opera, and I'm certain I was in the minority that night... I've never seen so many people walk out of an opera!). Frau Margot also seems inspired by Wozzeck in terms of the sexuality displayed on stage, though Margot's is, again, a little less extreme.

The vocalists were all great, though I must give special attention to Lauren Flanigan as Frau Margot and Allan Glassman as Margot's agent. Glassman had some comic elements that really stole the show for me, and I fell in love with Flanigan's voice from the beginning. It didn't matter that she was a crazy drug-addled widow -- I was infatuated. I wasn't really feeling much sympathy or affection for the Ted or Kara characters by the end, though I think we were supposed to... But I think that's part of the film noir influence showing through again -- the moral ambiguity of Kara left me with little sympathy towards her character.

I hope this opera catches on, and is performed in other places. While it's not the most melodic of operas, it is a fascinating story and it's fun to watch.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55

Calm music is needed today. I often use music as a drug -- a way to elevate or change moods, to energize, to relax, to mess with my senses... We all do it to a certain extent.

In that context, 5:55 is a nice glass of red wine. It's not enough to leave you wobbly all night, but it is enough to take the edge off and relax you just a bit.

Gainsbourg occupies a territory between (non-vocal acrobatic) Kate Bush and Air (which makes sense, as Air was involved in the recording) -- she's got the sultry seductress whispery voice going on, but she rarely affects any emotion beyond that. Whether she's singing the ominous airliner going down lyrics of "AF607105" (which would be a great companion piece to Laurie Anderson's "From the Air"), or the supposedly angry "You'll never work in this town again" lyrics of "Jamais," she maintains the same breathy tone. While I like the album overall, I find this to be a bit disconcerting, as if the whispering girlfriend has taken over Seinfeld.

Pulp fans will also notice Jarvis Cocker's (another collaborator on this project) influence in the vocal pacing and delivery on songs like "Everything I Cannot See." Compare Gainsbourg's pacing in this song to Cocker's on "This is Hardcore" for a prime example.

Now don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying this album is unoriginal or derivative, it's just one of those albums with the influences on its sleeve (and in the credits). There's some nice stuff here, and this CD has been in the player quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. Bass players will find some juicy lines to steal here, especially the ridiculously fluid lines on "5:55" and the fun funk on "Jamais." In fact the musicianship is stellar throughout. I just wish that the gentlemen from Air hadn't influenced Charlotte quite so much in the vocal department. It would be nice to hear her let her emotions out.