Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Late entry

A little info on the most recent item to land on my Top 10 for 2009, Kyle Bartlett's "The Lost Child." I wasn't familiar with "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser," the Werner Herzog film that was a point of inspiration for Bartlett's opera; it's now on my Netflix queue, hopefully to arrive soon.

It's an unconventional opera, to say the least, featuring a flute-playing actor (or acting flutist) with electronic enhancements, an actor playing multiple roles who also sings, a percussionist, and a bevy of pre-recorded and altered sounds.

Bartlett set the tale in a futuristic surveillance society and portrayed the Hauser figure, Ana, herself. Ben Pierce played the Shadow Man, who brings Ana to Nuremberg; the Sector Manager; the Big Brother-ish figure of The Authority; and Doctor Nassar, who teaches Ana language and attempts to integrate her into society.

As Ana, Barlett convincingly expressed fear, doubt, anger, confusion, curiosity and rapture. After the show, she claimed to have just been making it up as she went along. She was similarly casual about her flute-playing, which drew heavily on extended techniques, including vocalizations, keyslaps, and pitch-bends.

The electronic elements mimicked firing synapses, disconnected thoughts and, during scenes of Ana's introduction to language, the acquisition of vocabulary. I could even detect stray German amid the fractured phrases and processed natural sounds, though I'm not sure if the phrase "Verstehen sie" is original to the Herzog film.

In short, the opera was compelling both musically and dramatically. The primordial elements - of exploring one's origins, or of acquiring language for the first time - echoed other, non-vocal works on the concert, particularly the violin-and-cello duet "Night Vision." Even simple elements, like changes in wardrobe or shifts in Bartlett's approach to her instrument (from unadorned notes to hissed and spat effects back to notes again), conveyed an unforced sense of significance. I don't have much else on my slate for the rest of the year, so "The Lost Child" will probably be the last concert I see in 2009 - and one of the best.

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