Friday, July 4, 2008

Fly Press

It's interesting watching the press try to grapple with The Fly. Critics are notoriously tough on new operas, so I pretty well expected them to head in with nails sharpened, teeth bared. And while some of the obligatory low-level grumbling has been present, in the main it seems like first audiences are still absorbing the piece, still sorting it through in their minds. 

Both Cronenberg and Shore have brought something to the opera world that has upset its linear hegemony here. They have such strongly individual aesthetics that writers are unable to fall back on their critical cushions and toss about cliches to pigeonhole this as a progeny of the Italian school, or the German school. The score employs an advanced tonality that is largely of Shore's invention-- a system of chromatic tonality that's built off a flexible consideration of intervalic relationships, but which is, again, not slaved to any pre-existing school of thought. (Shame on Renaud Machart in Le Monde who attempted to peg Shore as a disciple of Shoenberg, which is inaccurate both stylistically and technically.) And bring up Cronenberg and you're sure to hear "body horror" mentioned in short order, because there's at least a filmic heritage there, even if it's entirely of Cronenberg's creation. But again, it doesn't fall in line with a particular opera camp, and it's giving them fits.

I'm not defending the The Fly against any sort of negative press, I'm simply decrying the lack of thoughtful press, positive or negative. Well, maybe not "decrying"... Maybe "lamenting." This is a thoroughly evocative and engaging piece, but it simply has to be encountered on its own terms. This isn't the Howard Shore of The Lord of the Rings, or The Aviator, or Silence of the Lambs. This isn't the Cronenberg of Videodrome, or M Butterfly, or A History of Violence. And really, this isn't the Shore/Cronenberg collaboration of the 1984 film The Fly. The effectiveness of this piece should be based on neither the prior works of its creators nor the norms of the opera world. This this The Fly, an opera of 2008. Let it soar or sink by its own merits.

In all honestly, however, I suppose it's not too surprising to find the press fumbling with the premiere just out of the gate. The Fly is not exactly an operatic bon-bon. It simply may be that this grizzly feast takes a while to digest. And that is not a bad thing.

I'm creating this post in the hope that readers can post links to whatever thoughtful reviews/press coverage they find out there.(I thought this piece in the International Herald Tribune was, if not entirely probing, at least pretty thorough in its coverage.) And, of course, the handful of you that will actually attend the Paris performances are more than welcome to post your own thoughts. Be brave. Be very brave!

It's funny, I constantly feel the need to apologize for covering The Fly on a Music of LOTR blog, but let's face it: Shore departed Middle-earth to work on this opera, and he'll be returning to The Hobbit shortly after its debut. His work on The Fly likely has had and will have a great influence on his Rings music. Perhaps not in style or technique, but in the kind of gestures and drama that he'll wield. It's an interesting relationship--though I guess I'm leaning on the same sort of fabricated lineage that I'm grumbling about above to justify myself. Ah well! In the end, The Fly is a stunning piece from a composer we're all interested in, so perhaps that's justification enough.
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