Tonight I went to the world premiere of the new opera by composer Elliot Goldenthal and director Julie Taymor, Grendel. The opera is based on the Beowolf legend, told from the perspective of the monster, Grendel. In this version, Grendel isn’t just some monster attacking men. Rather, he’s a misunderstood creature who just wants to live in peace. Oh well, sucks for him to be a monster then!
The staging of the opera was quite elaborate, and very well done. Taymor, who in the past has done The Lion King on Broadway, Titus and Frida, has a very simple yet versatile centerpiece as the main staging area. The computer controlled set had a malfunction the week before the premiere, so the premiere was delayed until tonight. (Otherwise, I would have gone on May 27.) The performances were all quite good, and the music was definitely the “progressive” type of Goldenthal that he’s done in the past with such works as Othello and Fire, Water, Paper. And while the lyrics are in English (with the occasional Old English(?) passages), the music doesn’t have any thematic material that returns. At least, none that I oculd hear! The resulting lack of cohesiveness (and sense of meandering) made the whole thing very frustrating. It almost felt as though they were trying to show the audience how modern, progressive, and intellecutal they were being, because it was so “above us”.
Prior to the three-hour spectacle, I bumped into Goldenthal and Taymor on the red carpet, which was nice since I hadn’t seen him in about three years. I also saw John Williams, who recognized me (yay!) and we spoke briefly about his Oscar nominations and how his year is going so far. That these brief encounters were what I took away from the evening should speak to the quality of the experience as a whole, but if you can handle wandering music that is really well done, Grendel might be the opera for you.