ENO production of The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams.
Before anything else, I want to notice, that I am
not going to say anything about political connotations of this opera. There has been said enough. Anyone, who is interested, can start reading
about that following this link:
Just my own impressions of this particular
performance by ENO (on the Wednesday, 7th of March 2012) and the music, then…
And first of all let’s speak about dynamics. My attention was fixed by co-existence of slow choruses and dynamic action scenes.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some fast choruses as well. What I mean is - at times, the pace of the
performance starts galloping, achieving almost the speed of an action film. To the extend, that you almost forget about
music… ( How many of us, coming out of a
cinema after watching an action film, realize, that there was no music. Or was there?... ) And then,
the speed drops down to a meditation. Well, it was confirmed by the
composer in the beginning of opera’s stage life (more than 20 years ago), that the structure was akin to those of
Bach’s passions. Shall we take it as a
try to marry meditation with action? I did not find it working very well together. Well, imagine a meditating yogi: he sits
still for a while, then jumps and starts running around. Then slows down, sits and drifts into
meditation again… No. For me it does not
Someone mentioned somewhere on the net, that this
opera lacked drama. (???) Well, Drama in
general is too broad a subject to delve
into it in here, but it could make an interesting topic for an article, though. Speaking in short - plenty of drama in there,
to my opinion. The main characteristic
of a drama - having a death of the main character in a libretto. If there is a death – there is a drama. Regardless of the speed of a narrative. And what could be more dramatic than the
passions? But when things develop too
quickly, like in an action film, then opera looses its operatic qualities and
becomes something else. That was what
happened here. The tension… the
suspense… - it is all good… when it is all balanced. If it is not – then we feel uneasy…
unbalanced. Unbalanced! That’s the word I was looking for –
unbalanced. It is indeed extremely
difficult to achieve balance in a long piece of music. Especially, if it involves a detective
Back to the music!
Beautiful, serene and spacious accompaniment, which is almost not an
accompaniment, but a different and self sufficient score in itself. Like the vocal melodies were not belonging
there. Anyway, they were so difficult to
remember – I tried and failed. But, surprisingly, I still remember the
accompaniments. John Adams’s accompaniment
is more "melodic”, than a melody. It seems, that this is a common feature of modern
vocal music based on not rhymed texts. All modern operas are alike in this
respect. To my opinion - this is the weak point of a modern opera; actually, not only opera but any modern vocal
non rhyming music. No memorable melodies. Really. Boring.
A "side” note: I am not implying, that you must
remember melodies. Not at all. But where
there is a good one – you do remember it.
Regardless, of you want it, or not.
That is the main characteristic of a great melody – it sticks to your
mind. Cannot get rid of it…
What about "Klinghoffer”s fast bits of music? Well – they are fast. And noisy.
Sometimes I wonder, what is more difficult to write, really chaotic music ( you
give a pencil and a score paper to a chimp and you supposedly will get some
really chaotic writings as a result).
Or, you carefully structure and balance the "chaos” on paper, so that it
looks and is heard as chaos.
So… meditative, quiet, minimalistic (transparent?)
against loud and chaotic – two polar opposites – two pillars of Adams’s
Another aspect of an opera, which, as an opera composer myself I am very
interested in, is staging. And stage
design in particular. Because, if you
have a simple, but efficient and
beautiful design, you can have great
staging. Or is it vise
versa? If you have great design – you
can make great staging? But it all starts
with the composer and librettist anyway.
Libretto of "Klinghoffer” was by Alice Goodman. No producer can jump over the music and the libretto. (Only directors are allowed to… J)You
have what you have. You have to make it
work. In this case we have staging by
Tom Morris and designs – by Tom Pye. And
since we started talking names – the conductor was Baldur Brönnimann, the
choreographer - Arthur Pita. I do not know other names. If you are so keen – they are all in there –
on the net. I just wanted to share my
thoughts on design. This opera’s particular
design. Photo / video background is a
common place these days. It works. And
it is easy and quick and very simple to transport on a tour. Best solution? Maybe.
Not always. Here we have it, and
here it works. Also here is clever use
of two mobile walls, moving around and displaying
a projected graffitti, or pictures of a desert, or the walls of a cruise ship…
or some documentary explanation notes (in case you did not get it from action…
or from a leaflet).
Choreography. No. There is no ballet, or even a dance for that
matter. But there are some unusual ( by unusual I mean unnatural ) movements on
the stage. The ones you do not make
every day of your life. So it is all
choreographed. Efficiently. To the point.
And it complements greatly the minimalistic and meditative score. In fact, I think Adams’s music could form
great ballets. And symphonies. Yes, he has some orchestral music, but they
are not symphonies, to my knowledge. Or
are they? Unfortunately I have not heard any of it yet. They are on my wish list.
That’s about it. To say more I would
need to look at the score.
So it general – good work.
Solid. Not without some
uncertainties, but what is?