Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The YKCYC Experience

We are halfway through the run of the Daniil Kharms piece here in snow-kissed Klagenfurt, the Paris of Carinthia, gateway to Slovenia and the beyond.  The experience, I suppose like all, has been unique, and not without lessons learned, lessons that almost surely will not be remembered nor even applicable in the future, but still of possibly some small interest.  It is the first time I've worked on an operatic piece from such a distance, with so many people I didn't really know, and that has required a certain letting go of the typical iron-fisted control I wield over my own productions.  The librettists and directors, the young and talented VADA, were not so familiar with opera and music theater, and didn't understand many of the conventions of the process: e.g. the vocalists' need for a handsome répétiteur or in general the diplomacies required to nurse the singers' tortured instruments through the difficult act of singing. But they've come into their own, learning very quickly, and in the end producing a lovely and affecting rendition of their work.

I hesitate to call it an opera, more of a singspiel (a word which when I write it seems even more pretentious than the former), as there are some major textual moments entwined with no music whatsoever, a situation unknown of in any previous Erling Wold opus.  I had in fact written musical settings of much more of the text, but my ostensible collaborators cut this and that behind my back, I suppose to suit their own purposes and vanities and, after much pulling out of hair, here we are.

The actors are really fantastic. Adolfo Assor, who owns no telephone, could in fact read the telephone directory (if such a thing still actually exists in the modern world) and bring an audience to rapt attention, yearning for more. When he dies, I die with him.  Rüdiger has some amazing moments - the fotzenloch bit comes immediately to mind - and the two of them together are a great comic team, especially in the Boeuf Bub sections that mark the transitions between the four boxes.

The band - the Talltones extended - has been fantastic, better than I could have hoped for, throwing my piece to the wind, adding a jazz layer that I had poorly attempted but which they, in their wisdom, simply ignored, crafting their own.  Richie Klammer sings the Divan song just perfectly, but they are all good, Emil a fantastic drummer, best I've worked with since the old old days with Mark Crawford, Tonč's masterful fingers full of expression and delight, Stefan the St. Peter of the ensemble - so critical for the bass, Michael's fabulous solo in the same tune mentioned above, and Primus, bringing just the right collection of pedals to push it over the edge from my current uptight classical adulthood back to the rock pretensions of my youth, revealing how close all that is to my freshly painted surface. Working with jazz players is very familiar to me, and they have some great advantages, sometimes approaching the music more deeply than conservatory musicians who have not had the experience, who have no  issues around the sacredness of the score, and who make their imperfections - or what would be considered imperfections in the classical world - nothing like imperfections, but charming attributes of their playing, seemingly organic parts of the music. I do like it when players make my scribblings their own, and I, in my vanity, happily take ownership of all their contributions.

This is now Josef Oberauer's third opera of mine - more than any other singer - having been in the Austrian premieres of both Little Girl and Sub Pontio Pilato. He's just good, has a beautiful warm voice and has no, absolutely no, worries about his image, willing to do whatever needs to be done for the piece. Above is Sirje Viise, a master actress, a singing powerhouse, who submits to the will of the composer, but who, in her perfection, is willing to fight back, winning the day, conquering both the land and its inhabitants. Her singing of the aria Du hast den Gedächnisstrom is simply electrifying.

I love listening to them both, especially those pretty moments that I attempt to prettify when I write them but then become heartbreaking when filtered through the instrument of an extraordinary vocalist, humbling me, reducing me to my proper position as merely, on one hand, a scribe for the divine, and on the other, the messenger delivering it to the divine here on earth. For Josef, Aus übergroßer Neugierde and for Diva Viise, Du bist ein Gott auf neun Beinen - my breathing becomes ragged and my heart palpitates.

I've saved the very last for Davorin Mori - a conducting student of Alexei Kornienko - who was brought in to save the piece, and who did.  He's led the ensemble with a sure hand, unwilling to drop it when things were not perfect, who has continued to improve its architecture and connections.  I'm so grateful, and that's all I can say.  It would not have succeeded without him.

Besides the work, there's been an enormous amount of drinking, and of cold, and of breathing second-hand smoke, and walking, and practicing conducting, and going to Ljubljana with Gerhard, and more drinking, and mentoring Sirje in the ways of demanding diva-hood, careerism and the loneliness that ensues. Soon Lynne will arrive and there will no doubt be more drinking, but surely more expensive drinking, and that to cover the sadness of the project's end, a profound sadness and grief and pain.

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