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Day After

from Thursday, November10th of the year2011.

So, last night we premiered Dark Sisters! It went great. I was incredibly anxious. During dress rehearsals, I can wander around between seats, hide if something starts going wrong, text the director or the librettist little thoughts. The thing with the performance is that you have to sit still and behave like an adult, in the presence of people who won’t have seen the show before. There are so many little insane things that can go wrong: late seating, a mysterious smell. As at any opera, the music is punctuated by the tuberculitic ejaculations of people of a certain age. A watch announces that it’s 8:00: so soon after the beginning! we must have started 15 minutes late! All of these things are happening simultaneously, in a glacially slow hyper-reality. Right at the top of the show, a mysterious rhombus of projected light appears on a scrim. The supertitles go off for about five minutes. It’s one of those things where you start imagining everything else going wrong: singers falling off the stage, the piccolo player spontaneously combusting, the cables holding the screens contorting into serpentine glyphs and strangling the baritone. And what do you do? In a rehearsal, at the first sign of the Rhombus of Mysterie, you can anxiously run around and try to figure out where it’s coming from. In the show, it’s a torture chamber. Of the three-man video/scenic team, one was in the house as an audience member, one was running the show from the light-booth, and the other had already fled home to his family, and I couldn’t even make eye contact with the one in the hall, so instead I grabbed the librettist’s thigh and assumed the brace position. But then it went away; we are talking about a (maybe) two-second apparition here. But then something kind of miraculous happened, that hasn’t happened to me before: the singers were so on top of their game, and the conductor and orchestra so in sync with them, that I floated back into my body and actually watched the piece for the first time. Details I had forgotten about became clear, theretofore buried vocal nuances became precise, and the giant rhythmic footprint of the piece started to become visible. In a sense, it felt like a heightened moment of clarity after a near-accident or after one of those vertiginous shocks just before properly falling asleep. Very exciting! Everybody come see this thing!

Now I have the kind of daunting task of throwing myself immediately into another project: a cello concerto for the wonderful British cellist Oliver Coates and the formidable Britten Sinfonia. I also have to actively avoid reading reviews; it used to be easier before twitter, but now you get tagged in them by whoever runs social media for the papers, so you have to actively avoid clicking on things. There were a few English people who were trolling me by writing these screeds about how the time they spent in Two Boys is time they’ll never get back again, how really I am the most awful thing that ever happened and am indicative of a greater series of social problems, et cetera, and bury it in a link that seems innocent, so then you click, and have about twenty minutes of severe self-loathing followed by an awareness that some people really do wish other people ill. I’ve found that avoiding the entire structure is, for me, a healthier and more productive tack. I’m going to try to blog a bit more, too, and document the process of this concerto because it’s going to be sort of a Closed System, in the sense that I’m going to write it without too many distractions and in, miraculously, only four countries. It occurred to me that Dark Sisters had bits written in: Iceland, the Faroe Islands, New York, Vermont, Cambodia, Singapore, France (the CAMARGUE, outrageously), London, and some proof-reading even took place on a cruise ship near Cozumel (!).


  • you love Cozumel

  • Congratulations!
    P.S. I may spend the rest of the week trying to use “tuberculitic ejaculations” in as many different contexts as possible.

  • You had me at “tuberculitic ejaculations”.

  • What’s so outrageous about Camargue?! 🙂

  • Don’t click! Or keep a good review to hand as an antidote. When is this coming to London?

  • The thing about reviews is that they are not written for the artists, they are written for consumers. Look at the reviews Satyagraha received initially in New York. Here is the NYT from 1981: “There is no reason why Mr. Glass’s entire score could not have been composed and performed by computers, so unyielding are its pulsations and so tied to formula are its metric overlays.” Thirty years later there was little acknowledgement of that earlier disdain. Time decides. Critics are soon forgotten. They can only kill an artist’s spirit if the artist believes what is written. Unfortunately, that includes the good reviews too. They are the ones that can really break your will.

  • Besides the ejaculations (which could easily have been coming from someone very close to my age!)…I enjoyed the imagery of:

    “felt like a heightened moment of clarity after a near-accident or after one of those vertiginous shocks just before properly falling asleep.”

    If the opera was anywhere as good as your prose, it must have been fantastic.

    Funny about those critics…even as a math consultant they can make or break my day! As David would say, “Chin, chin!”

  • Bravo and congratulations! Grandfather’s comments above say it all. I can remember the good reviews from my youth stinging as much as the bad. So strange. One sage bit of advice I can recall was, “Listen to your music with your own ears, not others’. You’ll know what to do.” Anyway, that’s enough. Let’s hear more!

  • “so instead I grabbed the librettist’s thigh and assumed the brace position.” Excellent choice!
    I am with Elaine. If the opera even approaches the beauty of your prose… Perhaps reviewers are in a swivet because you a) write better than they and b) create provocatively beautify works of art. Let them eat cake.

    Are there plans to release–gasp–a recording for those of us geographically impaired? Say YES!!

  • Congratulations, Nico! I was so excited to see Dark Sister after you premiered excerpts of it at Le Poisson Rouge. I love, love, loved it and am eager to see it again. I found it to be modern, thought-provoking, emotional, visually stunning and uniquely yours.

  • Some of us wrote nice things about Two Boys as well!
    I still wonder about the point of writing very bad reviews in personal blogs. I have seen few things I didn’t like and I never thought in writing about them, just to avoid upsetting the performers; I only write on my blog about things I like (like, trying to share with other people about things I like).
    Your new opera sounds fascinating and I hope it will be on DVD at some point (I assume Two Boys will be filmed after being performed in New York).

  • I was at tonight’s performance and it was absolutely beautiful. I was very moved. And I heard not a single tuburculitic ejaculation.

  • Out of curiosity, when you reference “the giant rhythmic footprint of the piece”, are you referring to the accumulation of all of the notated (micro) rhythms, or the sense of structure that comes out across the whole work, via a Cowellian (macro) sense of the word?

    Hi — I mean, in this case, the macro one. If you think of pieces like Music for 18 Musicians, it has a really chilled out footprint – it’s like eleven big steps. It’s also about, I suppose, the GAIT of the thing — how quickly one thing turns into another. Also: the reason it takes forever for me to moderate comments on here is because I have (a) a lot of spammers that slip through the auto-thing and I have to manually approve all of them and (b) the structure of the wordpress means a little bit of digging is involved to find comments on things other than the thing that I just posted. So I thank you for your patience!

  • I can’t wait for the Cello Concerto! 🙂 I wish success! Wolfgang