Sunday, July 24, 2011

Life Is Short, Art Is Long

In the last week, I've been to two operas, a rock concert by a (the?) legend of rock n' roll, and a jazz concert.
Let's talk about art.
First, the rock concert.
Bob Dylan and his band in Albuquerque. Before driving down, I do my homework. Check recent set lists and accompanying reviews. By all accounts, Bob is on a roll. Now 70, his shows of late have been energy filled, vocally edgy, full of passion.
Yeah, I know. And this is Bob Dylan I'm talking about.
So we drive to ABQ, make the hike to the funky little hatch-shell-like stage. Not a big crowd. Amazing. If Bob Dylan comes to my town, I'm gonna be there! But apparently, New Mexicans have something better to do.
The band comes out--grey suits, cool hats, looking good. Bob comes out. Little flat-brimmed hat, boots that make it look like he's wearing spats, dark pants with a strip up the side, a little-boy-lost jacket, some kind of shirt that sparkles when he speaks--little goatee. He looks good.
He sounds great! Rips through his songs. Terrific vocals, sharp elocution, a real poet's elocution, singing the words sharp and biting them off. The band is tight. And Bob! He comes out from behind the keyboard and sings! He croons! He sells the songs to the audience! He freakin' emotes!
No, he doesn't talk to us, but he looks at us! He grins at us! He dances around for us!
I've been to Dylan shows where you wonder if he's got a pulse! This 70-year old dude is rockin'!
Oh, and his Oscar is on stage with him. Very cool.
Not one encore, but two.
Great show. Amazing songs by an amazing song-writer, poet, recording artist, voice of our time.
Then a couple of nights later, at the Lensic, it's the kick off event of the New Mexico Jazz Festical, and Ms. Dee Dee Bridgewater, channeling Billie Holiday.
She's the un-Dylan.
Flirts with the audience. Gets propositioned by a guy in the audience! Appears to take him up on it! Flirts with the band, a brilliant quartet that can flat-out play jazz.
She sings beautifully, dances, shimmies, shakes, works it. She talks about her loves, her life, puts on a great show.
She's not Lady Day, but she does a great Lady Day. Even stops the let's-all-have-fun vibe long enough to do a deeply moving version of "Strange Fruit."
And then there's the Santa Fe Opera.
Two operas, in fact: Griselda and The Last Savage.
It's not cheap to go to the Santa Fe Opera, but it is a fun experience.
There's tail-gating before the opera in the parking lot; a fun talk before the opera to explain and describe the background of that night's performance; a beautiful setting; a terrific opera house.
And then there are Griselda and The Last Savage.
In talking about Griselda before the performance, director Peter Sellars called it "weird" Said he didn't understand one of the characters at all; said he'd but out a number of arias and substituted one that isn't in the opera; said he'd tried 30 or more different endings, and still wasn't sure about the ending we'd see that night.
Not a good sign: when the director says he doesn't understand his own characters, edits the opera, and doesn't like his own ending.
And indeed, it was a terrible opera.
All operas may be strange--this one was unintelligible. And given what a questionable opera it was to put it, you can credit Sellars for at least trying.
He was given a lemon to work with--and while he didn't produce lemonade, at least he produced a sliced lemon.
Then there was The Last Savage.
It's supposed to be a comedy. The director did everything with it except provide a laugh track.
There were three spit takes; one spoof of King Kong; one spoof of Chicago; a set and costumes that were pure TV sit-come.
More a Broadway show than an opera.
Which raises the question: Who do you hold responsible when art fails?
If Bob Dylan puts on a bad show, it's Bob Dylan's show and his responsibility.
If Dee Dee Bridgewater can't deliver Billie Holiday, it's on her (shiny, bald, beautiful) head.
But Griselda and The Last Savage?
Who do we hold accountable for something as big and complex and complicated as a bad opera?
The singers tried mightily to sing, act, emote, connect.
The orchestra played with great skill; the conductor tried to present a masterful combination.
The director, set creator, costume creator, arguably, tried to come up with smart, interesting interpretations.
But these were two terrible operas.
So is it the artistic director? Someone we never see, never interact with, never encounter? Who doesn't explain in the program his choices, the story behind, not the opera itself, but why he picked these operas for us to experience?
He is, in the jargon of our time, the curator.
But is curation an art? Or a job?
And how do you evaluate a curator? How do you review a curator?
How do you walk out on a curator?
Questions after a week of art.
A week that showed, once again, that life is short, and art is long.
And in the case of the Santa Fe Opera, the art right now is very, very, very long.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb