the loser

This is how “preaching to the choir” might look, I thought, as I sat in the mezzanine, completely enthralled by the story that baritone, Rod Gilfry — who was terrific in Anna Nicole — sang to us last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This was the world premiere of David Lang’s opera, the loser, based on a novel by Thomas Bernhard. Standing completely alone and exposed on a platform in the middle of the dark cavernous opera house, Gilfry’s character spun a tragic and often amusing story of what it was like to begin a career as a pianist — knowing he’d never be as talented as his friend and fellow student, Glenn Gould. Seating was limited only to the mezzanine level, and it was that intimacy that held my rapt attention the entire hour. (For once, the nose-bleed seats were the best seats!) The opera required constant and very deep listening, which was sometimes challenging when the musicians overpowered Gilfry’s normally clear, rich voice. The odd yet fascinating speech patterns added to the need to focus intently. Listening so deeply can be strenuous: my mind wanders for an instant, and I have lost a crucial thread in the narrative. Although I wanted to hear more of the story, an hour was enough just because of attention fatigue. I began the summer participating in David Lang’s world premier of the public domain, so it was fitting that my first BAM 2016 Next Wave Festival event was another Lang production. I left the theater reflecting on the existential angst the narrator of the story evoked. We tell ourselves such fictions to survive, I thought. What a strangely compelling performance, I thought. I really want to read the book, I thought.

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