Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Day Wrap-Up

Here is a little post on Christmas Day to talk about the "Messiah" experience, which is now finally finished (that’s seven performances over the course of three weeks). I had hoped to be able to blog throughout the entire process, but that did not become a reality as the show came to fruition. In all honesty I feel as if I have been running on not much more than adrenaline for the past two weeks.

Ultimately I think it would be fair to declare the piece a success. Baltimore audiences were big and enthusiastic (this happening at the last minute after weeks of depressingly low sales). The final show was just the perfect way to go out on - a full house that stood and applauded enthusiastically and with longevity. The orchestra played their best (ever) this past weekend and the soloists were dynamite.

It has been interesting coming through this "Messiah" after the "Acis" experience. I think the two works are similar in their ingenuity and artistic excellence. "Acis" was very different in that its intended effect was clear. The audience knew how they were to react and they were encouraged to respond as such. "Messiah" is a challenging piece. It is unexpected, unfamiliar. It jars people’s expectations of a piece they know so well. I don't think it leads the viewer to a specific and intended place. That is the result of art which wants the audience to bring their own historic consciousness to the performance - to respond to images with subjective meaning as opposed to dishing out objective meaning to them on a plate. There is no ultimate communal arrival point, and that makes for a final product where the audience is left to think for themselves. I have to admit that it isn't as satisfying for the performers, but I think it makes the work more important. It definitely differentiates AOT from other more traditional companies.

Being both conductor and director is an unusual, though not unprecedented, experience. Conducting on stage leads to the even more difficult situation of not being able to see the work in real time. From the video clips I have seen and from the photos, I think this turned out exactly as intended. I am immensely proud of the piece and the company for putting it up (and for the level of artistry). As one Baltimore musicologist said to us this weekend, it is a tremendously courageous piece. It pushes dramatic boundaries, defies the "law" which has fallen away in many arts, but somehow remains in opera, saying things must make sense (refer to the Post review which says "the work doesn't always make cogent sense", high praise indeed as far as I'm concerned), and challenges the tyranny of narrative.

I am now in rural Virginia and enjoying time with family before returning to Spain. I hope I'm not speaking too soon, but it looks like with this, the most expensive AOT production yet, we might have actually turned a profit. Now that is what I call a Christmas present.

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