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'love fail'

Marie de France writing the Lais
David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion, which won the composer the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, is a significant work that still haunts me. For the most part, Lang's other compositions have failed to move me in the same way as that one piece, but the hope for an experience like listening to Match Girl made the performance of Lang's new vocal work, love fail, on Wednesday night an easy recommendation. The work was initially described as having a libretto drawn from the lais of Marie de France, some of the most beautiful works in Old French that I have ever studied, but the lais, it turns out, are only tangentially related to the libretto of love fail. The story is, more or less, that of Tristan and Isolde, one of Marie's most memorable subjects, but Lang has tarted it up with adaptations of Gottfried von Strasbourg and other medieval authors, as well as the decidedly modern, and somewhat banal, words of American writer Lydia Davis. This mingled approach does exactly what I felt Match Girl avoided, "keeping thoughts of the eternal at arm's length" -- namely, did not do what made the earlier work great.

Ultimately the work failed to make a profound statement, in favor of a few silly jokes that belittled the mythology of the Tristan legend. If the goal was to draw the medieval legend into a contemporary perspective, it made the story into a bit of a dreary routine, while also raising interesting questions about what the day-to-day relationship of lovers like Tristan and Isolde could have been like. What did they possibly talk about? The video projection shown behind the performers reinforced the fakeness, the banality of this approach to the legend, with models posed in chincy, Hollywood-epic costumes and makeup, glancing uncomfortably at the camera rather than each other.

Other Articles:

Nico Muhly, David Lang (interview) (BOMB Magazine, Winter 2013)

Anne Midgette, Anonymous 4 takes on David Lang’s ‘Love Fail’ at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, November 30)

---, ‘Love Fail’: A crossover star’s star-crossed lovers (Washington Post, November 24)
This is doubly regrettable since what was going on in front of the screen was so alluring. The four ladies of Anonymous 4, a vocal ensemble we have long admired, sat like modern incarnations of Marie de France in specially designed chairs and matching pupitres. Although there were some vocal scratches and strains, perhaps made more noticeable by the amplification of the voices, they gave this relatively simple, meditative, and repetitive music more than what it probably deserved. The tuning and balance were extraordinary, with each of the singers also contributing some percussive touches -- on bells, bass drum, cymbal, woodblock, and so on -- that enhanced the work's ascetic qualities. The amplification was necessary for Lang's conception of the piece, which used filters and sonic manipulation of the singing to create different textures. The most successful movement, somewhat oddly, was the opening section ("he was and she was"), a repetition of the qualities of the lovers ("he was a resourceful man, she was lovely" and so on) that cast an entrancing quality like a magical spell, punctuated by the lowest voice's telegraph-like repetition of the word "was." The promise of that opening, sadly, did not pan out.

This performance will be repeated next week (December 6 to 8) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Fortas Chamber Music series continues with a concert by the Fine Arts Quartet next month (December 11, 7:30 pm), with music by Haydn, Schubert, and Zimbalist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the projections were definitely a minus, and distracted from the performance.

The guy with the crude Dr. Spock-like eye makeup was the worst.
I kept looking for pointy ears.

That said, the 4 performers were wonderful and well adapted to Lang's minimalism. I am not a fan of amplified music, but Lang's twisted were interesting.

I look forward the Glimmerglass staging of Little Match Girl next summer.