Flies, French Critics, and The Worst Word in The Lexicon (Apologies to George Carlin)

Film composer (see: Lord of the Rings) Howard Shore has been commissioned by Placido Domingo (now director of the LA Opera) to write an opera (his first) based on David Cronenberg's 1986 film "The Fly". Coincidentally, the first-time director of the opera is...David Cronenberg. The opera premiered in France last week, and excerpts from the New York Times' Alan Riding are, uh, excerpted below.

The ultimate insult is included (not by Riding, rather by a French critic).

Trying to teach 'The Fly' to Soar Operatically

This week, in a co-production with Los Angeles Opera, “The Fly” had its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, with Mr. Cronenberg again directing, and Plácido Domingo conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Four more performances in the next week here will be followed by six performances in September at Los Angeles Opera.

Yeah, I summarized that information above. My bad.

The unveiling of a new opera is always a nail-biting occasion. To keep the genre alive, major houses make a point of commissioning new operas. But over the past half-century very few have entered the canon, with composers often trapped between the public’s yearning for melody and the critics’ preference for the innovative.

This last sentence is undermined by what transpires below. Also, it is not really my experience that critics prefer the innovative to melody. Also, this.

“Howard Shore has written an opera that goes with the story,” said Mr. Domingo, who as general director of Los Angeles Opera commissioned “The Fly” in 2005. “There are very moving moments, very melodic moments. But as the narrative advances, the orchestration becomes harder. Had he done it another way, it would not have worked.”

Okay, Mr Domingo liked it. That sounds promising...

At the premiere on Wednesday the audience responded warmly to the 2 hour 20 minute work, but French critics were less persuaded. Eric Dahan of Libération said Mr. Shore had “perhaps overestimated his ability to write a lyric work,” while Christian Merlin wrote in Le Figaro that the production “confirmed that cinema and theater, above all opera, are two very different arts.”

Yes, Mssr Merlin, theater (theatre) and opera are indeed, not the same thing. Good empirical skills. I should introduce you to my friend Empiricus!

In Le Monde, while praising the soloists, Renaud Machart described Mr. Shore’s score as that of “a moderately gifted pupil of Arnold Schoenberg.”

Good lord. Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits, Arnold Schoenberg.

The ultimate swear word/insult.

I expected better from the Le Monde critic.

[Edit: I forgot to link the NY Times article, link is now up and working.--SA]


Murderface said...

Yeah, I'm really surprised that it wasn't printed "Arnold Sch**nb*rg". I guess the NYT censor board got downsized, too.

Empiricus said...

Nice Carlin reference. And ditto.

Empiricus said...

By the way, where's the George Carlin tag?

Sator Arepo said...

Fuck. Fixed!

Nissim said...

Hey, I like what you're doing here, but this time I think you got the wrong villain. First, from his recent articles list, it appears that Alan Rich is an "arts journalist," and not a critic, which means he's in the business of promotion rather than assessment.

Because of your take-down of the Le Monde review, I thought I ought to read it. Turns out it's a highly critical but well-reasoned and well-supported review. Among other things, that Schoenberg line is in context - the next sentence mentions that the opera is essentially atonal. Plus, the real insult here is calling Shore a student composer, since, according to Machart the piece sounds like an exercise, and on top of that, it's poorly orchestrated. It's "doughy," and the orchestra often overwhelms the singers. That is, student mistakes.

The biggest problem with blaming Machart is that Mr. Rising saw "Schoenberg" and missed the real critique - that the music, instead of following its plot into nastiness and horror, remained "respectable." "And, as usual, 'respectable' is boring." In intelligent criticism, that's much more damning than uttering the ultimate composer-curse word.

The real fault here lies with Rising and the Times, the former for missing the real content of the Le Monde review; the latter for trying to cover the premiere without sending a critic.

Sator Arepo said...

Interesting. I suppose I had a knee-jerk reaction to using the "Schoenberg sucks/so do his students" insult...your further diligence is enlightening.