Boob and Penis Drawings, Doll Houses, Bright Fire and the "Unspeakable Home"

Mary HK Choi: Hi Seth! How are you feeling today?

Seth Colter Walls: both within and without the state of being connected / the Internet makes me feel online

Mary: Of course this is where you begin. I’d have started with the Saint Joseph Domaine Laurent Betton with the peppery finish that we murdered last night at Bar Boulud.

Seth: Oh sorry, HK, my mind is still a touch scrambled from the last of the three short “operas” we saw last night. As you know, the libretto for the last one was written by Samuel Beckett. The rhythms are still a bit in my head. But let’s start at the beginning.

Seth: As everyone has been properly notified, City Opera is currently presenting a night of three short, modern one-act operas, which are being rubric’ed under the heading of “Monodramas”–on account of how there is only one singer per piece. (All sopranos, as it happens.) You can read several quite favorable standard-issue operatic reviews in the Times and in the Post (and in another town’s Post) if you’d like–though what follows will be more of a user-experience conversation for the non-specialist.

Mary: And I went in totally cold. I do not have the recordings, LIKE YOU DO.

Seth: Truth–or at least for the two that HAVE been been recorded. And so here is the point where we say the titles and composers. First off was John Zorn’s “La Machine de l’etre” (The Machine of Being), written in 2000, and which was 10 minutes long, only. Plotless. Also: wordless. Just emotive sounds from the soprano over a gnarly orchestra. And it’s meant to be based, somehow, on the late drawings of Antonin Artaud.

Mary: Very KTHXBAI. And it was just a GANG of burqua’d ladies.

Seth: Right. At beginning of this piece, dozens upon dozens of people on stage were in burquas. And the two kind of mannequin-ish actors, dressed up in tuxy-duds, who served as our “guides” to all three works and who stood out in front of the curtain before the lights went down…

Mary: They looked like they were in some sort of synth band!

Seth: Yes, they were very Crystal Sleigh Pink Nothings…

Mary: Yeah, the super hot lady one with bangs and 5″ patent leather heels. And the dude.

Seth: Right. He’s always going to be called “the dude,” when standing next to her.

Mary: And they went around undressing everyone: the soprano, a man in a scarlet suit… before the music even started.

Seth: The whole thing played very much like performance art? But they also gave some odd “structure” to the the night’s disparate pieces.

Mary: The thing about the whole performance art bit was that at times it was almost like a comedy skit–poking fun of EXACTLY something like that. BUT it was all too well done and strangely pleasing in other respects.

Seth: Yes, the audience was supposed to laugh a bit, at the beginning and in-between the pieces. Some slight comic relief amid all the keening, angsty abstraction of the modernist musics.

Mary: The audience laughed because they played so much with the planes of interest. Like the focal points altering jarringly from the projected artwork to the background to the sherpas who move around on the foreground. You laughed because moments were absurd.

Seth: TONS of data to process. Here’s also where we describe more concretely to people that one of the burqa’d ladies in the Zorn piece had a huge thought-bubble screen above her head, onto which animations based on Artaud’s work were projected.

Mary: Some of the women in burquas looked like nuns, though, when they were skittering about. And the drawings looked like aboriginal boobies.

Seth: And penises… which is why I thought the burqua/nun thing was interesting. And also why the whole conceit of “dressing/undressing” the participants before the first two operas was key. Just the notion of the sheathed self versus the revealed/vulnerable self being the emotional nexus between these works that are otherwise quite dissimilar. And and the reason that we don’t get any dressing/undressing in the third act is because the MIND/PERSONA IS UNKNOWABLE TO ITSELF, hullo Beckett!

Mary: Hmm… the thing is some of the burqua’dnuns had mad personality while totally covered. BUT you know that’s funny you say that, about vulnerability, it’s like all the nuns were space aliens, right? And the audience is an invading space ship, and we’re way more powerful than them.

Seth: Uh…?

Mary: And the undressed singing lady head nun or den mother or whatever looked panicked! Like she was making up excuses to us, to protect all the other nuns who were helpless

Seth: Yes, she was gesturing to the animations, to the crazy penises and boobs projected into their speech bubbles, as if to explain their essential legitimacy to us as thoughts.

Mary: But she was also the only one really looking at us. There was something very beseeching about it. Like she was asking us to spare them

Seth: And explain their brains to us.

Mary: It was a weird feeling, and none of us were getting it.

Seth: Which, obviously, was why it was wordless

Mary: RIGHT.

Seth: How cool was the fire at the end?

Mary: It was gonzo. Right so there was a huge speech bubble that they showed the animation on, and then they set it on fire. OR rather, it went up in flames. And it was SO FUCKING BRIGHT.

Seth: How do they make fire so bright that you have to close your eyes, even from that distance? And don’t forget the other dude in the red suit also had a competing thought bubble, but his went away and then he was vacummed up into the ceiling. AS ONE DOES in this show. So much flying.

Mary: I was worried for their lumbar support. But I also loved it. Also we forgot the lingerie lady with the t-straps.

Seth: She had a super-kinetic and disjointed dance.

Mary: YES, broken doll club dance w/splayed hands and good hair movement.

Seth: This all happened in 10 minutes!

Mary: It was crazed.

Seth: Correct. And then there was a brief multimedia interlude that came before Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (Expectation, or Anticipation, or Waiting — people do fight over this), from 1909–which in some ways was the most straightforward, most “plotted” thing of the night. In brief: a woman in the woods is looking for her lover, who is late to meet her.

Mary: A total wackjob woman, btw. I mean she is basically straight up making out with a dead man.

Seth: She comes across a dead body (it’s him!) and mistakes it for a tree trunk at first. Later she realizes he’s dead, but then keeps wondering about the “other woman” homeboy had been seeing of late.

Mary: That’s what made her totally nuts! Well, you know I felt deeply for the animated interstitials, because they felt good on my brain and as though I was DUMB high on very good marijuana. AND reminded me of the BEST kenzo floral prints from the 70s.

Seth: That was video art of the seasons changing in the woods, courtesy of Jennifer Steinkamp. Thought it was a bit long. But it was a nice way to disguise the need to have a 5-minute set change after the Zorn piece.

Mary: What did YOU think of the second one?

Seth: I thought it was the least successful staging of the night. Like all the stage business revealed the director’s lack of trust regarding what actually happens in the piece.

Mary: So she sees her dead lover, is maaaaaybe making out with him the whole time, and talking to him about how sad she is, and how desperately she loved him.

Seth: After killing him and forgetting it.

Mary: And THEN she gets PISSED! Because she DECIDES he was having an affair with some chick with “white arms.” I also noticed this was the production with an Asian lady in it.

Seth: Meantime: so many rose petals falling onto the stage from above.

Mary: Gorgeous rose petals.

Seth: Too many?

Mary: Yes. And then we think maybe she killed him. BUT also I really like their little empire waist dresses, with the pretty little balloon cap sleeves, AND there was a super pretty doll house in that one too. OK so let’s get to your favorite, the LAST ONE.

Seth: Morton Feldman’s NEITHER!

Mary: The #disco one.

Seth: Describe the set?

Mary: It looked like the walls were covered in fish scales

Seth: I feel like this was opera as it would be staged at Club Silencio from Mullholland Drive?

Mary: Without a doubt. I LOVED the disco balls that were just spinning mirrored boxes.

Seth: Very General Zod. And also they reflected this refracted pinwheel morph-zone of intense colordrom, right?

Mary: YES. The reflections off them shits were really uncomfortable in a way I liked.

Seth: But viz a viz the sheathing and unsheathing of the women in the first two, there was no getting INSIDE the woman in the final piece.

Mary: Oh none. We were in it, but there was no inside to be had.

Seth: The boxes spinning all around her were the antithesis of the doll house (look inside), and the animations (look inside my head).

Mary: YES. I mean, it starts off elegant and beautiful … and then…

Seth: A bit disturbed and keening and repetitive, but rhythmically varied. And sometimes very softly played. To the point where when a new phrase or momentum was created out of the pointalistically realized orchestration… your hair was just blown back.

Mary: And the words!

Seth: “to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow / from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither”

Mary: Bro: “UNSPEAKABLE HOME”!

Seth: The final words!

Mary: By then, you’re like, WERD. CHURCH.

Seth: One other moment? When once of the dancer woman is trying to hold onto the man who is flying away, and she’s holding onto his shoes?

Mary: Very no strings attached/*NSYNC (not Portman-Kutcher).

Seth: LOLLL … anyway, it reminded me of the protagonist in opera number 2 holding onto the dead body that had weirdly risen, undead-like, at the end.

Mary: YES.

Seth: I thought it was a nice callback, just as the boxes that were animated in the first piece were the disco boxes in the last piece. I think the director, Michael Counts, did a great job “tying” together these pieces thematically without putting too much of a BUTTON on the whole deal.

Mary: Agreed. Man those disco boxes were crazy feeling on the brain. But that’s the thing. That piece JUST ENDED. It was like being sprung form a sensory deprivation tank into times square. What did we call it?

Seth: That you are refreshed, but also kind of dazed that you elected to sleep with all the lights on and windows open.

Mary: And slightly headachey.

Seth: And still in your SKINNY JEANS.

Mary: And needing to pee. BUT, in a good way that you should pay money to go do.

Seth: $12 tickets and $25 tickets remain for all the remaining presentations of “Monodramas” — which is cheaper than all the things we ate and drank afterward. Otherwise: did the music ever become beautiful to you? Or did it stay space alien-y the whole time?

Mary: It was beautiful the whole time, and space alieny the whole time

Seth: DUALITY, BITCHES. Also, parts of this night contained some of the most exciting opera-making I have seen on any NYC stage this season.

Mary: It was uncomfortably beautiful–and draws you into its crazy immediately. It’s like a really hot crying chick.

Seth: Again: LYNCH.

Mary: VERY VERY LYNCH. Importantly so.

Seth: I wonder what we’ll see next?

Mary: First we have to go to our jobs again, though.

[EXUENT ALL, TO MEETINGS]


Seth Colter Walls and Mary HK Choi are a mite sluggish today.