Saturday, December 17, 2005

AmTrag 2: Back to AmTrag

Second time around, some part of me was deliberately trying to keep expectations in check. My memories of the premiere now hazy in light of the high stakes and far flung post-show discussion, I was ready to have a pretty different experience than the fairly thrilling first night. And in some senses I did.

If Picker ever revises this, the first 40 minutes could use some work...stringing together such a complicated exposition sequence means a lot of different musical idioms get test-driven and the cohesion pays a price. Moreover, the conversation scenes during the first section tend to spin their wheels both musically and dramatically.

But 40 minutes in, the piece really does hit a stride (J says its the introduction of Sondra Finchley, the best drawn character in the show, that helps). The New York aria is a little stilted, but great to listen to nonetheless, and the final party/impregnation sequence was just as exciting as it was the first time around.

But the second Act is really the main event here, and it did not disappoint. The emotional journey portrayed between the second Act curtain and Roberta's death is just wonderfully put together--ingenious pacing combined with a score that plumbs every shade of dread and hope to be found in the story plus a series of very different but very memorable set pieces: the Sondra/Roberta duet, the stunning church chorus, Clyde's chilling murder aria, and the drowning scene itself. The big courtroom scene didn't bother me as much as it did at the premiere. Although its still not very interesting to listen to (and much fun was made fun of the oar song, again) its useful as a narrative pivot to ensure we have been alienated from the earlier world enough to really focus down on the intimate final scenes.

I know Picker took some flack after the premiere for having written 'just' a melodrama. And its true, but not in a pejorative sense. At its best, Picker's music is capable of describing a vast universe of emotion and fine-grained internal conflicts--i.e., what's necessary to explore the inner life of a character like Clyde. Melodrama in the sense that its primary concern is an emotional landscape, but here one of endless ambiguities and insights.

Random notes

1. Cast still great. Gunn interesting to listen to but the voice never bowls you over, Racette maybe even better than last time, Zajick...I'll just let J handle that one. Two more raves and he gets a free coffee from the fan club. Susan Graham's cover, Kristen Chavez, turned out splendidly. An extremely pleasing, sweet, mellow sound, she's also a great performer, and had obviously really worked with this music. She easily held her own with the cast...I'd love to see her elsewhere.

2. Racette stunt double underwater blender effect still silly. This time, it mainly bothered me because it distracts you from the orchestra at a moment when the orchestra should be taking over and completing the emotional arc of the scene. But instead you're all, how'd they do that? I know its cool, but that's a less is more moment.

3. Ugh. Stop with all the "dreams this" and "dreams that" language in the libretto. It starts to sound like The Little Mermaid.

4. Gotta love that James Conlon.

5. He hit her with the oar! Oar! Hit! Her! With! Oar!

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