There could be, maybe, as many of ten of these posts and mostly they will reflect on preparations for the Aug 25-30 workshop for my Drought in Eden at ArraySpace.
But because of an unplanned warp in my calendar, let this first one be instead a note of thanks for the just ended run of Airline Icarus, Brian Current’s new opera. Not a review, a thank you to the composer, to his librettist, Aton Piatigorsky and their production team, especially Soundstreams and Lawrence Cherney who have nurtured the project for ten years.
The ending, the last 12 minutes I’d say but I wasn’t watching my watch– is gorgeous.
I think it was Joseph Kerman who noted that wonderful operas maintain a unique unity of tone. His best example, you drop the needle anywhere on a recording of Tristan and it immediately sounds like Tristan. (Anybody out there remember needles?) The needle test would work well this Icarus. The central tones of Airplane Icarus are blends of excitement with anxiety. Excitement hiding anxiety. Anxiety blocking excitement. How does he do it? Was it the busy inner voices putting pressure on the outer voices? Hypnotic lights flashing out of the harmonies? Those tones are shaped and sustained relentlessly until their peripeteia is answered by the wonderfully pertinent contrast of the ending, with its stunning and surprising a capella pasage. That passage is the climax of the large sound design, a too rarely mentioned component of music theatre but as integral to drama as a narrative of actions. (Nothing is more purely dramatic than the change from men’s voices in the 1st Act of Parsifal to women’s in the 2nd.)
Current’s tones have terrific import. They have a lot to do with going fast (though the opera suggests moments of suspended time) and with that sense of movement that is music’s fundamental core. Elliott Carter, commenting on his own style of musical time, his composing of simultaneous multiple speeds, said once he was more interested in how it felt to move in cars and airplanes than in marching and dancing. Whatever you may share or not share of his preferences, Carter surely fingered there a boundary line between epochs. Jason Booker, who reviewed Airline Icarus for Charlebois Post (www.charpo-canda.com) suggested we wouldn’t come out humming any of the tunes. OK, I didn’t. But the next time I buckle up in the seat of an airplane, I think I will find that I am humming the tones. Brian Current and his librettist hit a nail we know well on the head. It really is one of OUR nails. For better or worse, Airplane Icarus’ musical exploration of excitement and anxiety has a lot more to do with my life than the fatal desire that saturates Tristan. I’m grateful to have a new sound-image of it.
The next two posts will be, I think, one on hearing sung words and one on genre: Why is it an Opera? Show? Comic Book?, etc.
An afterthought: It was not my first visit to Ada Slaight hall in the Daniels Spectrum Centre at but it was the first time I heard music there. I had assumed the acoustics in that big box would be impossible, but in fact, it worked. Don’t understand how or why.