Saturday, November 28, 2015

An Index of Metals

Carriageworks, Sydney Chamber Opera and Ensemble Offspring presents AN INDEX OF METALS, Music by Fausto Romitelli, Text by Kenka Lekovich, in Bay 20, at Carriageworks, Wilson St. Redfern. 16 - 19 November. An Australian Premiere.

AN INDEX OF METALS - 2003 - is the last work by Italian composer, Fausto Romitelli, an electro-acoustic investigation where he wanted to access the 'limits of perception by projecting sound as though it were light, reaching the extreme hallucination whereby sound is seen. The aim of AN INDEX OF METALS is to turn the secular form of opera into an experience of total perception, plunging the spectacular into an incandescent matter that is both luminous and sonorous, a magma of flowing sounds, shapes and colours ...' It is a fusion of spectralist techniques with gestures and the sound world of rock - for instance, the opening sound is a sample from Pink Floyd's SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND. There is also a text by poetess, Kenka Lekovich - three poems made into four cyclical 'arias' - deriving their inspiration from Roy Leichtenstein's famous Pop Art work "Drowning Girl" (1963), quoting the famous speech bubble of the painting: 'I DON'T CARE!  I'D RATHER SINK ... THEN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!' The work is a sound saturation, an 'electric poem'.

Usually the work is performed with the orchestra on the concert platform in front of three screens with a video by Paolo Pachini & Leonardo Romoli.(Indeed, these artists are credited in the program despite the fact that their work is not presented as part of this performance, and unless you were sitting in the front few rows of the seating and been able to catch glimpses of the video, which, oddly, was been projected behind and under the instruments of the orchestra, on the 'pit' floor in front of the stage, on some tiny screens, you would have being ignorant of their contribution to Mr Romitelli's vision. The video can be seen, however, via an internet recording of the piece by the Seattle Chamber Players, November, 2014.) So, instead, the Sydney Chamber Opera, have jettisoned the video and determined the imposition of a conventional (and, in this case conservative) opera dramatic story - narrative - onto the work. For the piece that they have imagined and staged is a meditation specifically on the disintegration of a relationship between the Singer and Brad, creating specific characters (with seven actors) telling a through-line story.

Besides the melodrama of the narrative and the sexual frisson of six parading naked men, that Kip Williams, the Director, has conceived to accompany the music - the melodrama 'story' hampered by the fact that the lyrics of the 'arias' were unintelligible when sung by the soprano, Jane Shelton, and despite, again, that Surtitles were credited in the program to Takefumi Ogawa and not used - his Designer, Elizabeth Gadsby has collaborated with Mr Williams on a (contemporary art) installation of enormous proportions, that uses three tall walls of titanic lighting possibilities (Lighting, by Ross Graham, brilliant, by the way), surrounding the polished floor of the huge raised stage space, that when they are activated with the chords of sound, blinds us, instantly, with visceral, directional assault, and, later, shifts around the stage in very impressive Robert Wilson-like replications of light and shade, highlighting the action of the figures in the space - figures that needed, I reckon, a choreographer to discipline the visual impact further - there was NO choreographer used, and Robert Wilson (or LePage) would have been appalled at the mess of the movements circling the woman on the chair, disempowering the intention, the visual beauty, perhaps, of Mr Williams', borrowings (read LOVE AND INFORMATION post.)

All of this creates, for the audience, a powerful tension of observation, between Mr Romitelli's intention of the affect of the visceral sound of the music as light, that is, having us listen; and that of the 'auteur' Mr Williams' who has invented and staged a character driven old -fashioned opera narrative to supersede the composer's intentions, and asking us to watch (as well!?). In my case, the Romitelli score won out with its aural audacities, so that often my concentration was pulled to the 'choreography' of the playing by the orchestra on the 'pit'-floor, and away from the relative banality and repetitiousness of the visual offers of Mr Williams' characters on the stage.

 The orchestra of 11, plus the Sound Designer, Bob Scott, under the guidance of the Conductor, Jack Symonds were tremendously impressive. The impact of the music and its combination of sounds, from Classic instruments - violin, cello, trombone, trumpet etc - to contemporary instruments - the electric guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer and electronic 'white noises' - was magnetic in its power and seductive drawings. The Ensemble Offspring doing a spectacular job. Too, the sounds of Ms Shelton's singing were dramatic and wonderfully impressive, particularly in the growling and reverb offers, in the latter sections. It was a true pity that the lyrics were unintelligible for ALL of the performance - for  no-one knew what was going on except through surmised 'guesses ' from the evidence in front of us, that, ultimately, gave us a gist of a Grand Guignol.

This is Concert music of the 21 Century and yet, oddly, we are given an invented opera scenario with characters and plot created in an histrionic 19th Century mode. Mr Williams has his heroine killing herself with a savage self-stabbing of her body for the love of a man, Brad, much like Madame Butterfly does in Puccini's melodrama for her Lt. Pinkerton (we are lucky when any of his heroines live on, Turandot, being an exception) with an added ludicrous pooling lake of blood spreading over the floor surrounded by the appearance of the six naked men dripping with blood from the top of their 'black, dead-cat' wigged-heads, right down to some protruding sexual 'instruments '- plip, ploping 'blood' on the floor, as the musical finale happens - cliche imaging! It seemed to me a contemporary choice of a dramatic retrograde taste and, perhaps, politically in 2015 (in Sydney, particularly, with the real presence of the Women in Theatre and Screen - WITS, being felt) a male gaze/invention more than slightly untimely, inappropriate! I say this despite Mr Williams' explanation: "Our decision regarding the end of this work is supported by the music's graphic, apocalyptic finality, culminating in a cadenza for two guitars. In the final moments of the opera the protagonist tries to destroy the thing that is eluding her and, in doing so, destroys herself. The final image is thus a representation of this nightmare surrounding her, and of what she was trying to obliterate surrounding the image of her own destruction". Over-imagined, over presumption and definitely, over-kill, I say.

Sydney Chamber Opera have 'shanghaied' a work of Concert and created an Opera. The Concert was better than the Opera. The Ensemble Offspring tremendous. Close your eyes and listen - check out the internet performance, mentioned above, and compare and contrast. Carriageworks has provided production assistance that has continued to create an artistic standard of some high order: SUPERPOSITION and TANGI WAI, two other superlative contributions to my Performance Diary going this year.

In this past week I have been introduced to two modern scores of some interest and possible greatness, AN INDEX OF METALS by Fausto Romitelli, and at The Australian Ballet with 48Nord and their commissioned score for Tim Harbour's FILIGREE AND SHADOWS in their 20 : 21  program. Great fortune. And, of course, there was a reacquaintance with Philip Glass' great work, IN THE UPPER ROOM. Bliss.

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