News of Orango’s Premiere

An update on Orango, Shostakovich’s unfinished satirical opera about an ape-human hybrid:  The L.A. Times ran an article yesterday announcing that its prologue, completed by Gerard McBurney, will be premiered in December 2011 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, in a semi-staged concert produced by Peter Sellars.  Quite a high-profile introduction for the long-forgotten project.

The comments in the article by McBurney and Shostakovich scholar David Fanning (who damns Shostakovich’s manuscript pretty hard with faint praise) reinforce my expectation that the new music is going to sound much like Declared Dead and the composer’s other, also frequently ill-starred theatrical works of the early 1930s:  hastily drawn, a little bit chaotic, musically thin.  I do hope to make it to the show, though, schedule permitting — “sounds like Shostakovich” is enough for me, at the end of the day, and even mediocre music can make for gripping entertainment in concert in a way that recordings never quite can.

I’m intrigued, too, by what Sellars will bring to the project.  I know his work almost entirely through his collaborations with John Adams (also from a video production of Weill and Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins and from hearing him speak at length when he visited a seminar I was in in college) and I wonder how his characteristic humanism will play against the young Shostakovich’s music, whose satire (despite the towering exception of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) often lacks earnestness and whose overt political gestures are merely skin-deep.  I’m interested to see and hear what the artists will put together out of it; collectively they will have spent a lot more effort to bring the opera to the stage than did Shostakovich himself.


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