dave malloy


24 October 2007

last thursday night i went to see philip glass's appomattox at the sf opera. let's talk about what was good first. well, first it was just fun to go to the opera. i was alone - my date had caught the sniffles and none of the friends i contacted last minute were available/down with paying $25 to listen to a bunch of triads for 3 hours - but still there was a certain romance, seeing san francisco's wide range of style, velvet black gowns nestled sweetly against no-one's-gonna-turn-me-away-in-my-san-francasual-jeans. i was wearing black jeans and a proper gray sweater. i sat next to cute single girl in a floral dress and only looked at her once. sigh!

appomattox centers on the signing of the civil war peace treaty...its best scenes involve the interplay between generals lee and grant, played by two mesmerizing actors, giving the pedestrian details of diplomacy such grace and depth with their paired bassos. it was refreshing for me to see how engaging sung text can be; these scenes are just straight dialogue set to music, with no attempts at rhyme, meter or repetition. its just words set to non repeating melodies. and thats surprisingly beautiful...the time that it takes, the time it takes to sing something as opposed to saying it, gave everything such slow motion weight. weight to an actually heavy thing...the event itself, the end of a war, thrived in this slomo meticulous (went to the darjeeling express {limited? incident? the fact that i still cant remember the title is a hint to my critique [it was fine, delightful, unimportant]} recently and was all, jesus christ wes, maybe just pick 5 slomo scenes per movie>? wouldnt 5 be quite enough? couldnt you do that?) i loved these two guys, and wanted them to negotiate over horses for hours.

horses, though, ugh/ you know that thing, where an expensive theater show has a big prop/set piece, and they use it, and even though the symbolism and actual aesthetics of the piece are dead on beautiful, nevertheless youre just watching and going "wow, theres their expensive set/prop piece"? helicopters, chandeliers, revolving barricades...appomattox had inverted horse corpses, dead, realistic, gruesome. and belabored. oh well. also, a small fire on stage during the burning of richmond was so fucking laughably tame...this is san francisco for gods sake, fire art capital of my world. come on! though really after seeing "crude awakening" at burning man this year (the giant oil rig explosion) im probably pretty much spoiled on fire art for the rest of my life (nebunele on that burn: "It is the most viscerally powerful experience of art I have ever had or expect to have." amen.)

so yes. great singers, and the music itself, while not really notable, was at least pretty. i could go off on philip glass not really evolving at all, in fact having gone a little dry, gone are the playful arpeggios of youth, but thats a little old hat. hes an old stagnant man...frustrating though to have those pieces that transcend his safe zone (im thinking here of music from the screens and kundun) be so fucking good, and yet here he is in 2007, writing distilled late mozart. really well though. let us move on.

to what was so fucking BAD:::::::
black men directed by a white man singing a white mans words set to extremely white music by an extremely white man. about slavery/freedom and all. i mean, what?

ive got a real problem with artists speculating on profound things that they dont have any actual first hand experience with. its fucking insulting. even anderson's playful caricatures, so apt when applied to the upper middle class of rushmore-tennenbaum-aquatic, when thrust on not-his-india left me feeling a little queasy.

so white lutheran male childless me, im not gonna go write a piece on slavery, the holocaust, breast cancer, raising an autistic child, any number of a million hard difficult things in this world that i dont have firsthand experience with. i mean id get it wrong! i have no idea! "you dont own this". its true. and it belittles it to think that my imagination is enough to communicate the actual pain. and while i can certainly dig writing about any of these things from an outsiders perspective (eg im reading lethem's fortress of solitude right now and wow is it great, all about growing up white in 70s black brooklyn), to actual pretending to present the viewpoint of another race that has been oppressed by your own race and try to convey their emotions through the music of the oppressors? it just seems royally fucked/dishonest/bad to me.

maybe the principle of the thing could be skewed to seem reasonable if the music itself werent so hilariously white...most egregious the penultimate rousing chorus, "100 years/we still ain't free/were marching to/montgomery" set to the most pompous white aristocratic theme i can imagine...the operatic and thus totally unvernacular diction on "ain't" alone was enough to make me cringe. what were these black actors thinking while singing this? did it really resonate? wynton marsalis (who i hate in so many ways, but goddamn hes a brilliant arranger and his opera on slavery was a fuck of a lot better than glass's) has famously critcized louis armstrong's later work as uncle toming, soulless concessions to a white consumer market...and while i cringe at even writing the term, i gotta admit its all that was running through my head watching these black men white-emote. (interestingly this chorus had quite a few white actors in it too, two right up front and the rest mostly staged towards the back, and i swear with very subtle ambiguous darkening makeup on. i guess cause racism makes us all not free. and the principals all cast according to strict white/black dichotomy, with the lone asian exception on stage lumped unceremoniously with the whites, portraying lees daughter. what?)

and what were these white authors thinking? there was some heavy white guilt going on onstage, thats for sure. and that im totally down with, cause they own it. the last scene, an aria based on a bigotry filled letter/black murder bragging account written by a ku klax klan leader in the 60's, was awesome, super uncomfortable and honest and astonishingly portrayed by phillip skinner in a wheelchair and a crazy ugly makeup job. white guilt gets such a bad rap, its such a pittance compared to all the luxuries of white privilege, but it can really get in there, and it was powerful to see that so lovingly/hatefully owned and dissected and displayed in all its distastefulness.


oh yeah, and supertitles are weird.
its in english!


on another note, i made my own pickles last week.
its easy!
they came out a little too salty, but i have high hopes for the next batch.
celery seed, dude.

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