Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Shalimar the Clown or Two Birds, One Stone: How Not To Sell A New Opera or Its Only Recording

Critics are an important part in selling a work, and despite the decline of printed media these days, many still retain the power to "make or break" a work. In fact, with most people struggling in an economy critics are often the central selling point for getting people on board with a work, or steering them clear and saving their hard-earned dollars for something that's a more sure bet.

So, it was with interst, I read Joe Cadigan's review of the recording of Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph's bew opera "Shalimar the Clown," based on Salman Rushdie's acclaimed novel of the same name, in February's Issue of Opera News. Unfortunately, I was left both confused and a little angry, that this was, the first, and only, negative review of this exciting new opera I've yet encountered. Oddly, the only negative in the same publication's review by Henry Stewart's after the premiere (both marvelous in detail, and punctuated by some humor), was how the opera should have been longer and developed over three instead of two acts. Stewart ended his writing, "Shalimar the Clown felt topical and thus urgent in a way that other very good recent American operas, such as Cold Mountain or JFK, have not. Contemporary relevance gives good music-drama an edge."

By contrast, Cadagin's review opens comparing the new opera unfavorably to the well loved, classic and repertory staple Pagliacci," complaining how Leoncavallo was able to sell his clown story in 70 minutes, while Perla unsuccessfully pads his out at over two hours and "over-ambitiuous."

Cadigan repeatedly complains how sprawling and overreaching the libretto is and how it "isn't able to strike that Verdian balance between the personal and the poltical . . . " going on again to compare it to Pagliacci and how Shalimar "is undermined by campy song and dance numbers . . . and how Joseph "doesn't treat (the subject matter) very seriously . . .complex social issues are oversimplified and rendered cartoonish . . ."

Of that same libretto, The Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein praised it writing "Joseph's taut libretto — 31 scenes, including a prologue and epilogue — to invest Rushdie's heartbreaking lament with the dramatic resonance of modern Shakespearean tragedy. If touches of Broadway kitsch inform Shalimar's love song, this is, on the whole, a most accomplished piece of music theater."

Mr. Cadagin calls Perla's music "reminiscent of other successful American composers who are regularly commissioned by larger opera houses; like Jake Heggie, Ricky Ian Gordon and Mark Adamo" all of who one can't help getting at least a whiff of disdain for when he writes how Shalimar's composer at least "sets himself apart from his colleagues by integrating a tinta of South Asian music."

Of the title role, Stewart writes, "Sean Panikkar continued to position himself as one of the stars of his generation. And, as far as I can imagine, this is his ideal role. Panikkar naturally possesses the requisite boyish charm, the goofy naïveté, for the young Noman, as well as the acting skill to darken it as he transforms into the killer Shalimar. His voice is unassailable—firm, sturdy and clear, and he employs it with maximum dramatic versatility."

Mr.Cadigan writes only how while Panikkar "displays a powerfu, Pavarotti-like tenor, his voice isn't suited to the role."

Almost every review I recall reading about this important new culture-crossing opera, has been positive. The aforementioned Mr. von Rhein opened his with: "Giuseppe Verdi knew a thing or two about creating powerful operas around credibly human characters thrown into violent conflict. So, as it turns out, does the creative team responsible for adapting Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown" for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis."

I don't blame Mr. Cadigan for finding fault with the work and with the performance, we all see and hear things with our own eyes, ears and in our own skins, and every highly praised work should have at least negative, or at least differing opinion of it, for an attempt to at least "balance" our views. Should it, however, be "the one" used to try to sell the recording of a highly praised work, particularly in an economy and industry where commercial audio recordings are ever diminishing? Maybe, I'm incorrect, but I don't think so.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,