Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pointing the way to the future of the medium

The life of the opera composer is a tough life, a life fabricated from raw ambition, of the ruthless climbing of the musical ladder, of finding a dog that will eat the other dog, of game-theoretic cuttings of the cake, delicate in an atmosphere of distrust, where one must watch so that even one's closest friends, smiling across the dinner table, sipping the wine that you will soon be buying for them, might consider, in a moment of inadequate attention, to just slip a knuckle dagger a-rib-glancing into your heart. But even in that dark and Bergmanesque life, sometimes a ray of sunshine breaks through, where for example, we replay the phone call that arrived on my doorstep this morning, transcribed here for your amusement:


looking at the caller ID
Oh is this the San Francisco Opera, oh my oh my, I can't believe it, you're commissioning one of my operas, oh god, oh god, I can't breathe, just a moment, you've made me so happy, give me a moment, while I compose myself, now, oh I'd like to thank my teachers, all those people who made this possible, I am so happy, wait, what's that, what?, I oh you what

and we want to thank you for your past support

oh no, my god no, you just want my money, oh the shame of it all, sniffling, then breaking into sobs, huh huh, chest heaving, why am I such a fool, a stupid fool, a fucking stupid worthless fool, piece of shit, fuck fuck fuck, oh god, fucking shit, that's the last of it, the last, oh god

and this year we plan to bring back Turandot in a new production where Puccini himself appears on stage as a giant ice swan

sobbing uncontrollably, lifts a gun to his head



Weeks after that aforementioned dinner conversation, my good artistic friend and competitor S. Kraft and I spent a pleasant evening in conversation, on display in a privacy booth at the 5M something-or-other-seasonal party. The atmosphere, thickened by the sweat of milling drunken youth, was redolent with sex, and our talk turned naturally to the topic. I told her of my previous as-yet-unrequited attempts to bring sex more strongly into my work, primarily through the vehicle of the long-suffering second Bisso-Wold collaboration 24x7, which, like Sub Pontio Pilato before it, had turned into a sprawling epic, caroming from Jack the Ripper to 120 Days of Sodom and points between. We talked of our shared admiration for San Francisco, a city of wantonness and hedonistic delight, where the fulfilling of one's lightest-felt caprices is the occupation of all. We spoke of the Armory, a beauteous Moorish Revival castle now run as a showcase to hogtying, a former boxing stadium now featuring girl-on-girl wrestling whose prize is the prising domination of the loser, and confessed of our friends who had worked there and throughout the sexual strata of the city.

I hoped, I said, to connect more with that institution, and maybe to perform something in its labyrinth of reconstructed motel rooms and gynecologist offices. I had considered scoring one of their works with a lush and voluptuous and eager composition, but recordings are not experience, and the fourth wall of film is too thick for such profound acts. Sex, I said, should be experienced live, either in the comfort in one's own homes, with one's own partners, or in public where that fourth wall cannot exist, where the distance of an audience member is difficult to maintain. Sex, performed live, is like a music that "sneaks past one's defenses and whose delicate beauty glides in just below the listener's critical consciousness," an act piercing direct to the emotional center, past the intellect, deep down and down and then down a little more.

So, soon, something will come of all this. In the meantime, there are two operas to finish, and one is the commission from the Austrians, appealing to my cupidity as well as my soul. And a commission from someone else, about which I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, an agreement so tight that I had to agree that if approached by the media, I could in fact say nothing at all, not even "no comment" or "any other non-substantive answer." I list those possibilities now, again, for your enjoyment:

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