GLASS (b.1937) Waiting for the Barbarians (2005)
- Richard Salter; Colonel Joll - Eugene Perry; Warrant
Officer Mandel - Michael Tews; Barbarian Girl
- Elvira Soukop; Cook - Kelly God; Star - Marisca Mulder;
Old Man - Andreas Mitschke; Guards/Soldiers - Peter Umstadt,
Máté Sólyom–Nagy, Manuel Meyer; Small Girl - Grit Redlich.
Openchor des Theaters Erfurt, Philharmonisches Orchester
Erfurt/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. 10 September 2005, Theater Erfurt, DDD ORANGE
MOUNTAIN MUSIC OMM0039 [72:10 + 61:32]
remember sitting in the Coliseum in 1985 or 1986 attending
the première British production of Glass’s Akhnaten.
I could not help wondering, as the music unfolded in very
obvious paragraphs, where was the exciting composer of Strung
Out (1967), Music in Fifths and Music in
Similar Motion (both 1969), not to mention the magnificent Einstein
On The Beach (1975/1976), the fairly recently released
LP called Glassworks, or the superb film score Koyaanisqatsi (1981/1983).
As the opera unfolded over some three hours a growing sense
of ennui crept over me as I found that whilst some of the
various sections were quite stunning, the parts simply
didn’t make a satisfying whole. The ever repeating broken
triads, which had seemed so exciting in the pieces mentioned
above, became stale and clichéd as the violas plodded on
and on in the same way – seemingly without break. As we
left the theatre we reached the exit door which was closed,
and, as I was at the front, with a sizeable crowd behind
me, eager to get out, I shouted, “it’s locked, there’s
another bloody act!” and loud screams were audible. Whilst
I am sure that there were other reasons for the screams – not
being able to get out, what if there is a fire etc – the
audience was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of
having to sit through more of the very same. And I can
well understand that feeling.
then I have been disappointed with almost everything I
have heard by Glass, The Light (1987), the Saxophone
Quartet Concerto (1995), the later Quartets, but the Violin
Concerto did impress. It’s easy to understand my dissatisfaction
with Glass’s work. It seems that he hasn’t had anything
new to say for some time. His musical language is very
limited and as a composer he hasn’t really progressed.
what of this recent opera? Based on a novel by J M Coetzee,
and with a libretto by Christopher Hampton, it tells of
a civil servant who runs a tiny frontier garrison town,
who ignores the threat of war with the “barbarians”, a
tribe of nomads. He witnesses the torture and cruel and
illegal treatment of prisoners and starts to display sympathy
with them. He is branded a traitor and becomes the victim
of public disapprobation and torture.
the usual, well known, accompaniment, Glass fills over
two hours with gestures and music which are too well known
to us to be excitingly interesting. The vocal lines exist
above a continuous flow of the usual kind of music Glass
writes, slow or medium paced, fairly static. It’s all so
dull. Then, about half way through the second disk – the Prologue
to Scene 4 – there’s some very exciting drumming. The
tempo speeds up and things start to move. But it’s short-lived
and we’re back where we were before we’ve had time to really
enjoy the change in pace.
me, this work is a disappointment for it fails to do the
things which make music interesting. Where are the obvious
things such as a beginning, a middle and an end, a sense
of logical progression from start to finish, harmonies
and melodies which are, if not freshly minted, then take
a new look at established forms. But who am I to say these
things? Die–hard Glass fans will gobble this stuff up and
enthuse loudly about how their hero is pushing back the
boundaries of opera and music theatre. I shall return to
my old Chatham Square LP of Music in Fifths and Music
in Similar Motion and lament that Glass could have
led the world in composition, with the elemental and vital
pieces written for his own group.
recording is of a live performance and I am sure that the
performances are very good – with Russell Davies in charge
it’s impossible for them not to be. However the bottom
line is do we really care? I am afraid that I don’t because
I’ve heard it all before.
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