The San Franciso Opera

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You know that signature Phillip Glass sound? That "Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo" music that makes everything seem imminent and profound? His creepy, nervous, layered strings and synths make for the perfect documentary soundracks (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) -- you always feel that something dramatic is about to happen. The man could make waiting in line at the DMV sound suspenseful.

The San Francisco Opera recently debuted Phillip Glass' Appotomax, an opera about the end of the civil war and the legacy it leaves. Phillip Glass + US history + old timey costumes? Damn, that makes me want to geek out.

As expected, the opera was scored with the signature Phillip Glass sound, except instead of documentary footage, there were dismelodic, angular arias sung on top of the score by big ladies in bigger dresses.

  The costumes are wonderfully true to the 1860's, but set is abstract and modern, sparse and industrial. The opera opens with a man shoveling body parts out of a cart and ends with (fake) dead horses being strung to the ceiling.

I liked the opera more than my friends did, which is weird because I don't care for opera usually. I guess my friends were expecting The Magic Flute, and The Magic Flute it was not. I loved the creepy, somber tone, and the abstract storytelling. One highlight was the most creative set change I've ever seen, with the Appotomax courthouse being sacked after the war that was both a practical way of changing the set as well a vivid, wordless way of conveying of pain and waste.

Where the opera fails is that at some point, the melodramitic warblings of "soorroowwwfull" becomes so overbearing that it's starts feeling like a funeral that you want to laugh at, but you know you'd go to hell for laughing. I did like the 1800's (-sounding?) war tunes that interspersed throughout, though.

In the end, it made me cry (well, no, it really didn't, but there were many parts that were genuinely powerful and heartwrenching), it made me laugh (albeit inappropriately) and it made me think. Props to you, Mr. Glass. Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo.

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