This weekend we got to see the final performance of György Ligeti’s “anti-anti-opera” le Grand Macabre. We had a feeling it would be good, but we had no idea it would be so outrageously fun and, for lack of better words, so very cool. (We tried: no luck from thesaurus.com.) After avoiding reading reviews, so as not to interfere with ours, le Grand Macabre went beyond what we expected.
To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. There were quirky and silly (in a good way) puppets manipulated and projected onstage by Giants are Small. Super off-the-wall characters were fabulously portrayed. Our favorite was Gepopo, performed by Barbara Hannigan, a hyper-active Lady Gaga-in-outer-space-looking creature (so Lady Gaga normal we mean?) that dances around like she’s strung out on some serious drugs (aka: how we typically dance at bars downtown). Then there were Amanda and Amando, a topless, super-horny couple clad in grass mini-skirts. Pretend analingus onstage. There was so much hilarity. Really funny stuff. Not like, ‘I’m-at-the-opera-this-is-where-I’m-supposed-to-laugh-so-it-shows-I-get-it-funny,’ but like real people funny.
One of the best parts was that the New York Phil looked like they were having FUN (gasp!) and showed they have a personality. Alan Gilbert is the Cher to their Tai. (If you haven’t seen Clueless, Cher, the main character, is the popular girl who takes newbie Tai under her wing and dresses her in a plaid mini and knee-socks, instantly making her popular, 90’s style.) The night we went, there were a few chic-looking people. Maybe not as many as you’d see at one of those Nouveau Classical concerts, but more than usual ;). The New York Phil might get to sit next to the cool kids at lunch period this week!
It looks like the Phil is getting a clue, and they have Gilbert to thank, along with whoever else was responsible for making le Grand Macabre happen. The strong visuals, which include outlandish costumes by Catherine Zuber, were a huge factor in the opera’s success. And we loved the booklets (pictured above) that contained drawings and the libretto inside.
We wonder what the New York Phil plans to do next. How do they plan to make their non-operatic, regular concerts stand out? Will it be possible to make as much of an impact? This weekend got us interested (and almost excited) about their next move.
While the New York Phil premiered le Grand Macabre last night, we had to get out and experience the one-night-only (!) double premiere at Merkin Hall, where Signal gave two on point performances. First up was Nico Muhly’s Stabat Mater, a piece based on a Roman Catholic chant of the same name that describes the Virgin Mary weeping during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This composition may not give anyone a definite answer to Sequenza21’s ‘rude’ question from a couple weeks ago, but no matter…the performance was convincing and Muhly created some really great effects, especially in the string writing. Towards the end was a startling climax where the music let loose, with the ensemble improvising dynamics and the vocalists singing with frantic intensity. Stabat Mater was overall clear and simple, a mini-oratorio type of deal with a Nico Muhly touch, and it’s pretty cool to see how one would approach this subject matter in modern times. Definitely more about the sound than the savior…but hasn’t it always been?
The second half of the program provided the audience with a nice contrast, with more drama and excitement from Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s The Corridor. The Corridor recounts the myth of Orpheus looking back at Eurydice, causing her to stay in the underworld forever. Right from the start of we know we’re not in a safe place: the ensemble hits a loud dissonant chord, like what we’d hear if a movie character was at the edge of a cliff. And that is sort of where we begin: with Eurydice at the point between life and death. The story is told with much expressiveness from Signal; enough intensity was created to imagine the scene visually. The music itself created such a strong backdrop for every mood and character. Both soprano Rachel Calloway and tenor Jeffrey Gavett were great actors and played their roles with conviction…In Calloway’s case, two roles: that of Eurydice and that of commentator. The Corridor did what a good story does: excite and entertain.
We love how cohesive the program was altogether. Muhly had good taste in writing ‘something to go along with a bit of Birtwistle.’* Stabat Mater may have been a little harder to pull off; after all, it is based on the Bible, and if you’re not religious, it will most likely not move you. The story isn’t as enticing as a Greek myth, but it was nevertheless pleasant and had some great moments. And with a fierce ensemble like Signal, it is hard to go wrong.
More photos here.
*Before last night we weren’t thoroughly familiar…ok, not really familiar, with Birtwistle’s music…don’t judge us! But we definitely want to hear more now. If you do too, here’s his discography.
…has a lot going on! It’s been a busy week so far…last night we hit a couple parties with our friend Charles at NYLON, including the Mulberry Glastonbury Book Party at Milk Studios, where we were able to catch a great performance by Kelis. What we’re really excited about, though, are:
So now that you know, throw on your chicest concert-going outfit (translation: something that’s NOT boring) and don’t miss out!
P.S. We’d love to hear your thoughts if you hit any of these…give us a shout on Twitter.
The shiny and new Juillard Bookstore reminds us of Muji with it’s clean, white aesthetic. The rounded shelves look like they could be found at CB2. Very cool, makes us want to buy piles of scores and books and CDs (we still need a little bit more convincing to buy a ton of Juilliard paraphernalia ;) …if they made a super chic iPod case or canvas bag, maybe…).
Now you can be as glam as Nouveau Classical was at form/FIGURE and still pay rent this month! Gigi has created an affordable-yet-luxurious capsule collection for East Village vintage shop Screaming Mimi’s. We got a chance to preview the collection at GrandLifeNYC/Screaming Mimi’s/Gigi Burris Garden Party, which took place at The Yard at the SoHo Grand. Congrats, Gigi!