OK. Fine, so I've posted maybe once in the entire LALSD thread. But you know what, i'm from there. So suck it, Trebec.
I encourage anyone who's down here to check out LA Opera's production of Grendel. It sources a book of the same title which looks at the Beowulf saga from a different perspective. From what i've gleamed (haven't read the book), all of it, including the opera, is almost exclusively concerned with Grendel's state of mind and problems before Beowulf arrives, hung on some choice comments from big G from the original work. So it isn't some coy retelling of the same story to get some chuckles out of lit geeks, but instead uses the classic epic to explore different philosophical and dramatic dimensions.
In terms of music, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that there are amazing contemporary composers out there. The bad news is that i'm talking about John Adams, and not Elliot Goldenthal. He's competent and he keeps things compelling. Good vocal ranges from the artists save it from being a bore.
The problem with the singing though is that the libretto is sparse, overly repetitive and is written to contain almost no human interaction. When there is some between characters, even in choruses, things brighten up immensely. I think it was a conscious choice to present Grendel as an outsider, maybe influenced by Julie Taymor.
And yet it was still fun to watch and I don't want my three hours back. The set was like three million dollars, and it was three million dollars well spent. Puppetry, lavish stages, an amazing setpiece with Denyce Graves as a Dragon with three singers doing coloraturra (sp!) out of her tail, great costumes. This production uses choreography and dancers in the most creative, effective and sensual manner i've ever seen. Instead of essentially being a sort of 'music video' to pre-established music and conventions that older productions have by necessity (the etheral, wispy flower dances of Parsifal or the slapstick of a Verdi, or the incomprehensible postmodern crap the Ring gets half the time), this has been integrated fully into the production, adding percussion to the music and becoming a key dramatic component. It felt a lot like a musical--probably Taymor at work again, since she's the one that made The Lion King a broadway hit. That's good, because it's fun to watch, but i think overall it's more of a musical than an opera; the music is not of sufficient quality to stand on its own.
It is probably still worth a listen if it comes out on RCA or something, and it is DEFINATELY worth getting student rush tickets to see it while its in LA.
It is consuming when the piece is considered in context with drawing on Beowulf, its stage production, the amazing talent of a really renowned cast and