This was the first opera for which I should’ve packed earplugs. But it’s not that the singing or the musical compositions (by Brooklyn-based Anthony Gatto) were horrific. For various unfortunate reasons, the music had to be amplified. And for much of the show, one of the characters, a mezzo-soprano named Rachel Calloway, was being very badly miked — not unlike an overexposed photo, her sound assumed a muddy quality wherein much of the detail (enunciation and whatnot) was lost. The worst of it, however — I spent the entire first act recoiling from her over amplified operatic voice.
Thankfully — mercifully! — these issues were resolved during intermission. I was better able to absorb this idiosyncratic chamber opera during its second half. However, I saw another abuse of modern technology, and eventually found it equally distracting: The set design (by Chris Larson) incorporated a life-sized house. Characters would occasionally disappear into this house — however, director Jay Scheib made sure the audience could follow them thanks to a stationary camera he planted in what appeared to be the dining room. I’ve seen avant-garde directors attempt this trick time and again: The performers were then charged with unnaturally draping themselves before the camera — in a few instances, they even stared into the lens of the thing and made funny faces. Frankly, this is an antiquated, boring and even adolescent use of the medium. It reminds me of my wide-eyed visits to Best Buy circa 1986. Live video seemed to be new then. My hyperactive siblings and I were all too happy to ham it up before the cameras.
All of this was unfortunate because, as I said in my preview last week, “The Making of Americans” was one of the most highly anticipated performance events to come along in a while.
“The Making of Americans,” which was commissioned by the Walker Art Center, ran for one weekend only. For more information, visit the Walker online.