Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Angels, wings sold separately

Eric Whitacre's Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, whose concert version received its New York premiere tonight at Carnegie Hall (presented by DCINY), is a cannily crafted mash-up. Mix together quasi-Biblical fantasy narrative, electronic beats, martial-arts dueling, cinematic choral writing, solidly written musical-theater numbers for an ensemble of seven soloists, and, yes, some derivative dialogue, and you might get something like what we saw tonight. It's the closest I've ever come to seeing a video-game soundtrack staged live. And thus, I found the experience fun but not very emotional. The world depicted is sort of like Lord of the Flies, if they'd had more organized leaders in the group. The heroine of the show, Exstasis, played by Whitacre's wife, Hila Plitmann, seeks to break free from the order imposed by Logos and find the wings that were plucked from the children years earlier when their parents locked them inside a fortress to protect them from the darkness outside and prevent them from flying away. The lyrics are imbued with themes of flight vs. strength, freedom vs. authority, of being alone, and keeping things together, and they are lyrical. It wasn't hard to imagine visual representations of many of the scenes. (I understand the more fully staged productions of this work have included Japanese-style anime.) Sadly, too much of the spoken dialogue is the kind you've heard so many times before in cheaply written cartoons and subpar action movies. That said, there was a charm and humor to many of the simple lines uttered by bass-baritone Rodolfo Nieto in the character of Gravitas. Overall, the soundscape Whitacre creates helps to make you forget about the shortcomings; the 400+ member chorus on stage tonight added to the epic feeling the show seeks to create.

This one-off concert performance elicited two standing ovations from an audience filled by many who knew the choristers, and the musical motif introduced by "What If" was catchy enough to inspire some whistling on the way out. The work did run for several weeks as a fully staged musical at the Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena in the summer of 2007, and won accolades from Variety for pulling off "stunning effects" that transcended the 99-seat house. Tonight's performance was less than 90 minutes without intermission, while that production ran two and a half hours, which leaves me wondering what was cut. I can see this piece finding an audience if it were to mount another long run, and it definitely deserves respect for its craftsmanship, even if I was left a little earthbound by the experience.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Whitacre on a grander scale

That Eric Whitacre concert performance I mentioned last month is tomorrow. The details: "Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings" (concert version - New York Premiere) at Carnegie Hall, 8pm, Tuesday June 15, 2010. I'll report back on my impressions within a few days.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Both sides of the moat

Before I lived here, I never stayed here very long. I don't think I ever spent the night in a New York City hotel room as a kid. There wasn't much reason to, as long as we had extended family living less than an hour away. And of course, this city was a more dangerous place when I was growing up, which I don't doubt might've had something to do with the desire not to spend too much time here, beyond the obligatory tourist spots. I don't remember the city providing much of an emotional pull, either. As a little kid who drew skyscrapers on graph paper and devised new transit systems, I had an interest, no doubt, but not the insistent kind of whisper that I know some people have about this place, before this place becomes theirs.

I'd probably trace my desire to live here first to the experience of another city: Manchester, England. Studying abroad there was the first time I gained the confidence needed to navigate an urban center on my own, and feel like the hubbub and noise was willing to open up and let me in and not crush me whole. Granted, Manchester is no Big Smoke or Big Apple, but most of the same elements are there on a smaller scale. Later, it was about knowing people who lived here, and seeing how they bent their little corners of it to accommodate a life.

And then six years and a few weeks ago, I was here. I still remember the feeling after I moved into my first Manhattan apartment, and my parents and girlfriend at the time had left me, and I was alone with the darkened, high-numbered city street and the clanking old Otis elevator and my keys to an apartment occupied by untold former souls. I felt a pang of fear. What was I getting myself into? You have to really want to live here, or you'll break under the weight, I'd been told. As someone who has at times let the winds of fate blow in to a vacuum of assertive will, I was afraid. But that feeling passed. Very quickly. So much so that I can't affix it to any other moment after that first night alone in the city. Now, it has become home and it is a part of me. When I visit the suburbs, it feels like I pass through an invisible film of time, back into the place of my youth. Except that so many of the things and people who populated that existence aren't the same. After a few days, I'm more than happy to return to my modest studio apartment with the big windows and the brownstones and the park not far and the passersby and the hybrid taxis and the whooshing buses and the moon and the sun.

When you are happy in a place like I am, you want to share that happiness with the people you love. But in coming here and making myself a part of it, I guess I have forgotten what it's like to be on the other side of the moat. NYC is still loud and dirty and expensive and crowded and too paved over and surrounded by water and hard to visit and hard to stay. Any one of those things would be enough to set a normal person on edge, but love is blind. Especially when you embrace a place so much as to begin seeing its traits, good and bad, in you. All of which is to say that I'm trying not to be offended or hurt or disappointed when sensing or knowing flat out that people I love don't really love the place I call home. I'm choosing to believe that there's a core that can be traced within me and understood by others' hearts that was, is and will be separate enough from this big hot mess of a city.