Friday, February 23, 2007

Lost Aria

If you’re like me, if you saw David Lynch’s Lost Highway in theater, you did not leave thinking what a great opera it would make—more like “what did I just see?” That means we are not like composer Olga Neuwirth whose opera based on Lost Highway will be performed at the Miller Theatre tonight and tomorrow night.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Lynch’s work. I was a huge Twin Peaks fan, and I was fine with Mulholland Drive, which is not exactly the most straight forward of narratives. Highway however, struck me self-indulgent in its narrative games. Frankly, it would difficult to tell if the opera is faithful to original story. Newsweek’s review of the European production by Robert Hilferty has some helpful explanation:

"'Lost Highway’ dramatizes a peculiar mental disorder know as "psychogenic fugue"--that's probably why audiences and critics didn't now what to make of it at first (and still don't). In this state, the subject utterly forgets his or her past life and takes on a new identity somewhere else.

That's what happens to jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (played by Bill Pullman in the movie)--although Lynch has no interest in signaling or explaining this clearly.”

According to my blurry memory of the film, the jazz is limited to a brief club scene of Pullman’s character blowing in a very free style. Most of the score consisted of rather unsettling orchestrations by Angelo Badalamenti. Hilferty’s review suggests Neuwirth score has similar qualities:

"The music is a phantasmagoric interplay of live and pre-recorded sound, electronics and ghostly fragments of Monteverdi, Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, jazz and God-knows-what. . . The only traditional "aria"-if you can call it that--is given to the seedy pornographer Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia in the film), performed by unorthodox vocalist David Moss. Switching hysterically from high falsetto notes to growling bass tones, Moss pummels a man to death (for smoking, no less) by the strength of his words alone."

Hilferty’s notice was actually quite positive, but he clearly wanted readers to know what to expect. I won’t be reviewing it, as the Miller’s run has sold out, probably almost immediately thanks to Lynch’s fans. I will remain skeptical, but curious. According to the Miller mailer, the NEA partly funded the production. Again, I don’t want to prejudge a work I have not seen, but this does sound like the sort of postmodern hipster projects the agency has moved away from funding under this administration.