“Opera will pretend that it is written down, immutable, and immortal—that it has the status, the absoluteness, of law. But do not believe the ruse. Opera is an ideal, unattainable condition, projected on the culture’s scrim like Oz above the poppies…To this day, I grow morose and lethargic when I contemplate opera’s utopian task of uniting words with music, as if I were pushing against a mountain with my palm.”
Opera is emotionally and materially complicated with abstractions of idealism and theatricality of form. The Godfather I, II, and III, The Sopranos (and others). Koestenbaum writing that opera is an “unattainable condition” could mean that it is an inaccessible, symptomatic state of being, rather than an artform. This description grates against typical understandings of opera…but provides an entryway into discussion. Inaccessibility. Impossible sounds are released; they emanate out of a singer’s mouth and the house is completely filled, threatened…with breath? It’s hybrid; not only words, but also music…not only score, but also theatre. Where does it go? I want to put it somewhere(s) ambiguous. See Strauss’s Capriccio; A Conversation Piece for Music, 1942 The inherent notion of coupling (the libretto and the score’s abusive yet passionate marriage is powerful…so compelling that it has the ability to take suffering and loss and exorcise them outward, overwhelming the interior illuminations in the listener– because opera always goes BIG). Listening to Puccini’s Madam Butterfly or Saint-Saens’s Samson et Dalila…which is better while stoned? Which is worse? The space of the opera house is open but holds its own privacy. The curtain is a performer itself. Seats, stage, set, aisles, mezzanines, bathrooms; glamorously aged men and women acting their own attentive parts; classy, secretive, patrician, decadent. The expert and the non-expert: wrongness, interpretation, knowing and unknowing. See Jonathan Miller’s production of Janácek’s Jenufa in 2006. The allure of opera and the premise for this show lays in the burden of unknowability, in our attempts to reconcile schisms between what we lack, what we want and the abstractions that follow.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a zine with writing by Lia Trinka-Browner and Itza Vilaboy and an illustration by Matt Wycoff.