Friday, July 07, 2006

Review of Grendel

In keeping with my reputation as a Revolutionary yet Professorial Academic, it will be my policy to publish only pre-emptive reviews on this blog - that is, reviews of music that are not tainted by the experience of having already heard it.

Elliot Goldenthal's opera, GRENDEL, will be performed at the Lincoln Center Festival next week, directed by his longtime copulator/collaborator Julie Taymor, former director of Walt Disney films such as Herbie the Love Bug.
GRENDEL is based on the ancient Greek myth of Beowulf which was recently adapted into a more obscure story by the modernist writer and sometimes conductor John Eliot Gardner. The new version is told from the point of view of the monster.

Musically, the opera ventures into territory previously off limits to even the most schizophrenic composers. There are shrill flute passages and seizure-inducing rumblings of timpani and basso profundis. Ordinary composers would have the common sense to avoid mixing such extremes of register, but Goldenthal (who has worked with bearded women and castrati in Europe) does not shy away from psychotic orchestrations.

In the end, Goldenthal's orchestrations are what prevent GRENDEL from becoming the masterpiece it should be. If only he had considered the calming timbres of TANDY computers, he may have tugged at our heartstrings a bit more. As it stands now, GRENDEL is a tour de force of ugliness and gore, and it comes across like a grainy film shot on the floor of a slaughterhouse.
While Julie "Circle of Life" Taymor's staging does provide some relief - at one point in the opera, GRENDEL quite literally releases a dove into the audience, punctuated with harp glissandi and Chinese gongs that suggest a rather pranksterish, benevolent monster - her lioness touch is not enough to save the nearly seven-hour-long opera from its own misery. With nothing beautiful to hold onto, the audience is left to fight the crowds in a state of blank emptiness. I'd suggest leaving about five minutes before the opera finishes in order to beat the crowds.


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2:19 AM  

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