Lera Auerbach is, in a manner of puffing, the flavour of the month – maybe even the year – among composers. Born 39 years ago in Russia and trained in New York, she writes with what appears to be prolific compulsion and, most crucial, palpable success.
She is idealistic and original. Also, if one may judge by The Blind as presented at the Lincoln Center Festival, she sometimes blurs the lines separating invention and pretension, cleverness and preciosity.
It must be unfair to venture any sweeping assessment on what she labels an “anti-opera, or perhaps an a-cappella opera”. She tossed it off at 21 while a student at Aspen, inspired by the symbolist-existentialist philosophies of Maurice Maeterlinck, circa 1890. The score sat in a drawer for 17 years before being salvaged by the Berlin Kammeroper, followed by the Stanislavsky Theatre of Moscow.
The New York version is crucially different from its conventional predecessors. As directed by John La Bouchardière, the characters lost in a mythic forest are not the only sightless participants. The audience is sightless too. Yes, the patrons are blindfolded.
One person’s inspiration, alas, can be another’s gimmick. Auerbach claims to like the idea of opera in the dark. “By allowing other senses to take over,” she writes, “we can discover and enrich the understanding of who we really are.” With its action (and inaction) invisible, however, The Blind resembles a mere radio opera. And with one’s eyes covered for an hour, the ghost of Morpheus looms dangerously large.
Auerbach’s creation rambles and dabbles, often effectively, sometimes monotonously, in electronic distortion, stereophonic movement, stubborn droning and poignant sighing. It embraces ethereal harmony, religious nodding, explosive chant and pathetic recitative.
The musical performance, overseen by Julian Wachner, seemed appreciative. The audience seemed befuddled.
Still, The Blind as reconfigured for the “blind” appears to be thriving. And it does save companies the cost of scenery and costumes. Aficionados who missed it in Manhattan can hear – if not see – it soon in Trondheim, Norway.