Thursday, December 08, 2005


Europera 5

Tonight, an opera.  I’ll preface things by saying that I really hate opera: That awful, nauseating, and unnatural yelping/singing; the tedious melodramatic plots; the haughty arrogance of many of its fans....Blech.  

Now, on that positive note, here we go!

Europera 5
This opera is a sort of scaled-down, traveling version of the other Europeras.  It features the same basic stuff, but in smaller scale:  two voices, a piano playing opera transcriptions, some randomized lighting, a television with a clock, and Victrola records of some seriously old operas.  For details you can consult the otherwise quite negative (and, in my opinion, nonsensical) essay on Cage’s Europeras here:
The author takes the well-worn road of dismissing Cage’s music as irrelevant, and focusing on the ideas, which to him are just not interesting (apparently, the Europeras are merely rehashes of 4’33”).  I posted the link to the Silence list, though no one said much about it (then again, no one says much in general on its name an unintended meaning!).  I think this was another of a large number of works where Cage used existing musical sources to create his own compositions, from the mix-and-match of Apartment House 1776 (which has the most in common with the Europeras, I think) to the subtractions of Some of “The Harmony of Maine” and even the various versions of Cheap Imitation.  Then there’s the collages of records in Landscape 5 and elsewhere  Such repurposing is a key theme Cage returned to again and again.  

Europera 5, like Four4, is sparse and even lonely.  The more you reflect on what you’re hearing, especially the Victrola performances (everyone involved in creating those recordings is almost certainly dead), the more of a lonely and almost frightening listening experience it becomes.  The variety of volume levels and the shifting positions of the singers mean that the performance is barely audible sometimes, and at others, very loud.  One ironic fact is that, being that I don’t know opera well and couldn’t understand the text even if I did, the piano often seems to accompany the singing pretty well, if unintentionally.  There’s also supposed to be the Truckera tape, a collage of opera music so densely layered as to resemble a truck passing by, but I didn’t hear very much from it; it doesn’t block out the sound as it does in some of the other Europeras.  

I cannot find the source where I read this, but I swear I once saw a requirement that the performance of Europera 5 should include a dusty old table lamp.  I was tempted to buy one to have on as I listened, because it would add to the atmosphere of the experience, and to the loneliness.  I’ll also clarify what I said earlier about how I feel about this and how I left about Four4: the loneliness here is primarily distance in time, a separation from others who are now dead.  In Four4, I felt a separation from essentially everything, a bleak and overpowering emptiness.  

I think Cage’s goal was to evoke the entire concept of European opera, especially as it seems to us (to me, anyway) in the 21st century, a distant, incomprehensible relic of the past.

i imagine cage felt the same way about opera that he felt about beethoven's symphonies. he said he thought they would be interesting if they were all played at the same time on top of one another.

the europera is another example of cage 'using' recordings to make a new music. he definitely loved multiplicity and density and layering. i always find it amazing that cage encompassed really maximalist and noisy music all the way to super sparse and 'silent' music.
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