Monday, June 12, 2006

The Birth Of An American Opera Sub-Genre: The Hollywood Special-Effects Opera

"Art isn't easy. Opera isn't easy. And new opera is practically impossible. But the long and winding road to Elliot Goldenthal's "Grendel" has been one for the books.

Nearly two decades in the making, this opera conceived by Goldenthal and director Julie Taymor finally — after a 12-day delay due to finicky computer technology — had its premiere Thursday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. And this much can be said without qualification: It is the most ambitious, spectacular and successful new opera yet from Los Angeles Opera.

Then again, before Thursday, the company had in its 20-year history managed to mount only three premieres — Aulis Sallinen's dreary "Kullervo," Tobias Picker's inconsequential "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and Deborah Dratell's incompetent "Nicholas and Alexandra" — each more disappointing than the last.

So with "Grendel," which is subtitled "Transcendence of the Great Big Bad," the cycle has been broken, if the great big bad not exactly transcended. The opera accomplishes little through words or music, but there is quite a bit to look at....

Taymor and Goldenthal are, at their best, makers of engrossing epic, mythic theater and movies. Taymor's fame rests on her Broadway production of "The Lion King" and her ability to pull something universal from many theater traditions, particularly Indonesian puppetry. Goldenthal, a longtime Taymor collaborator and a successful film composer in his own right, is a musical chameleon, often able to pull exactly the right kind of music out of a vast stylistic hat for whatever a scene demands.

Taymor and Goldenthal are a power couple, and "Grendel" is their power opera." ...

Mark Swed "'Grendel' is a milestone, of sorts, for L.A. Opera" Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2006,0,

Denyce Graves as the Dragon in “Grendel,” which had its belated premiere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles.

And here's a novel idea... Why don't American operatic super-stars star in new American operas on an annual basis?

Photo credit: (c) Lori Shepler LAT via With thanks.


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