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Monday, February 11, 2013

Kyong Mee Choi, The Eternal Tao, DVD

We are in a mystical zone one more time today. A Taoist opera may not be the stuff of extraordinary action and drama, partially because Taoism has a "do nothing with a purpose" intent at times. Here in the 21st Century, after 100 years of modernism, we don't tend to find that off-putting, at least those who have been exposed to the arts of today in any measure of constancy.

Kyong Mee Choi has created such a work, The Eternal Tao, which combines voices and instruments with electronics, video, dance and enhanced lighting. A DVD of the opera has just become available (Ravello 7866) making it possible to see and hear the complete multimedia presentation.

The music has flow, microscopic detail and at times long clusters of sound that have some relation to works of Ligeti, Xenakis, and Penderecki. The music is not quite as abrasively avant and dissonant as some of the works by those mentioned above, but instead concentrates on oft-times mysteriously floating clouds of sound, other times slightly more pointed sound events that overlap.

The music seems well enough performed and the content of the libretto has to do with Lao Tze's masterwork, the Tao Te Ching. Slow movements of dancers, moody lighting, video juxtapositions of sometimes simple images--a piece of fruit for example--layer over the stage images of dance, the presence and performance of multiple and solo singers, the performance of the orchestra in the foreground. Multiple camera angles overlap at times creating a less literal video image than sheer documentary videos might strive for.

My main quibble with the video is that it is sometimes because of those various image collages difficult to get a feel for what the person in the audience (this is live) might actually be seeing. It is also for the same reason hard to gauge the immediate effect of the dancers on the audience, what the body of dancers look like from the spectator's panoramic glance. So in that sense I find it a little difficult to evaluate the full impact of the dances. They seem to be somewhat integrated, slow gestural movements that fit in with the multifaceted impossibility of describing or representing the Tao.

I will say this: the music/libretto portion of the opera works well. I suppose an actual seat in the performance arena would give me a better idea of the full effect. There are some things a TV screen can't quite represent. Perhaps that is the point?

Anyway, musically/contentually this is of genuine interest! I look forward to hearing more of Kyong Mee Choi and experiencing this opera again.