Tuesday, May 3
Taming the Cacophonous
The three works presented by the Seattle Chamber Players – “Music for Children”, “The Princess has pricked her finger – and all the Kingdom fell asleep…” and “The Tyrant” introduced me to contemporary chamber music. Being fairly new to chamber music, I noted that the contemporary elements seem to play out when the percussionist whips a stool or a flutist twists his body to face the curtain or when the music starts and stops unpredictably. And what a delight all of this is – this ripping apart of sounds, of performative expectations, this loose arrangement with the audience. Having seen several chamber ensembles performing classical music, it was pleasurable to see musicians doing what they usually do not do – bending a knee mid-note, ripping apart what appears to be scaffolding, and snaking around the stage in near-slumber. I enjoy the commitment of these performers to bringing new music to Seattle audiences, and I would definitely attend future performances.
While I appreciate the premise of the opera, the figure of the tyrant is a staid and uninteresting subject. If the hope is to provide dramatic tension (through self-exploration, transformation and even transfiguration) and a starring role for a tenor, I wonder if the Seattle Chamber Players might not look to Philip Glass’ In the Penal Colony as inspiration for future collaborative works. With the addition of a more powerful story, and other voices to round out the tenor’s, a more complex and satisfactory musical experience may be had.
Friday, April 29
Seattle Chamber Players - The Tyrant
The two opening works of the program tonight were well chosen. Both playful in very different ways, they gave the Seattle Chamber Players a good opportunity to exhibit their sense of humor and ensemble. This group is not lacking in either. I send extra applause out to the percussionist of superhuman ability. It’s got to be fun having such a wide array of tools at one’s disposal, and whipping a cushy leather stool is highly underrated.
What is overrated, in my view, is the need to understand what’s going on in an opera. The premiere of Paul Dresher’s opera The Tyrant gave me ample opportunity to stew over my mixed feelings about this musical and dramatic medium. Paul Dresher’s music was very interesting. I couldn’t help wishing the libretto was in some language I didn’t understand so that I might not be distracted from appreciating the music. Weak and paranoid rulers are slippery subjects. I found myself thinking of MacBeth and Claudius and feeling a sense of relief that there are other characters weaving through their stories. Stand them up all alone… it’s difficult for me to feel much pity towards their plights. I don’t know if it was the story, the character, or the silly sound the English language in opera, but something about this piece made me want the one and only character to hop off stage.
With a simple Commedia curtain and the shadow image of a king sitting on a throne grasping at a floating crown, The Tyrant begins. Like most operas, this story is drawn from a simple fable of power, corruption loneliness and great need to hear and understand oneself and others. I love going to the opera- love the grandeur, the bigness of the thing, the myths that are surrounded by music. I have never seen an intimate opera- a one man show opera if you like.
The tete a tete with the orchestra was the most satisfying revelation of the night. In one passage this king sings of his paranoia, to leave the throne and be free or stay and keep tasting the juicy- if lonely- pleasures of power, John Duyers' king descends in his range note for note matched by the ascension of the clarinet. The opera was at times like listening to jazz musicians riff and improvise with each other.
The percussionist spent much of the piece on his drum set, an adolescent in his basement there to piss off the king with his unmatched rhythms loudly overtaking the king's sulking.
The themes of this particular story begin with the ruler's contentment that life in the kingdom are now orderly, and he has finally rid himself of the chaos of his youth- saving/enslaving the people to his particular tune. The score seems to push the vocalist back into his chaos until he imagines himself young again, in love again. Duyers' voice had an easy, relaxed production and his physique was equally loose- imagining this monarch not ever leaving his throne ( having to, in his words, even shit and fuck on it) was not a giant leap. I was transported to thoughts about many baby man despots and tyrants, the whining rulers who turn in a flash- think a fey Richard III, petty Pere Ubu, or even a crying Jim Baker.
The orchestra played the aural role of the indentured servants who don't allow the king peace of mind, actually providing the soundtrack to drive him to doubt. I have so much respect for this grand listening- an ensemble creating chaos balancing on a pin. It was an evening of opening my own ears, my own inner tyrant, to something new.
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About The Tyrant
How "The Tyrant" came into being... composer notes by Paul Dresher!
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