Thursday, June 29, 2006


I am reading the chapter on minimalist opera from The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-century Opera. I thought perhaps I should find out what they are trying to do before I began criticizing minimalist opera. Oops. Too late.

Any discussion of minimalist opera must begin with Philip Glass. My exposure to Glass opera is limited to Satyagraha, a work I considered extremely successful. It had a narrative structure, something Glass is not supposed to want, which consisted of events in the life of Ghandi during his time in South Africa. Events were staged in a traditional way, except there was a great deal of repetition. In one scene the action was repeated three times, the third time with the furniture removed. Instead of sitting on chairs, they sat on air.

The text was in Sanskrit and had nothing to do with the dramatized action. Perhaps this is what is meant by the destruction of narrative structure that Glass likes to talk about.

Glass is trying to alter your perception of time through the use of simplicity and repetition. In Satyagraha I thought it enhanced the spiritual content and induced a trance-like state. If you allowed yourself to let go and enter the trance state, it was a wonderful experience. Sometimes this worked for me, and sometimes it didn't. Sometimes I just wanted to run screaming from the room. It altered my perception of time by making everything seem to take a very long time. Sometimes it was just painfully boring.

So how can something be extremely successful and excruciatingly, painfully boring at the same time? I think I assumed that was the intention.

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