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Composer Serge Noskov Thursday, 27 Feb 2020, 10:00:01
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Main » 2012 » April » 17 » The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams
The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams

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 work.

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 element.

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.  And chaotic. 
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 "Klinghoffer”.

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?

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