Monday, February 2, 2009

Review: Leave Me Alone!

[Harvey Pekar and Harvey Pekar.]

Leave Me Alone! A Jazz Opera in Two Acts
Streamed live from Oberlin College, January 31, 2009

Leave Me Alone! seems to me to add up to less than the sum of its parts, the parts being Harvey Pekar's libretto and Dan Plonsey's music (with additional words by the principals' spouses, Mantra Ben-ya'akova Plonsey and Joyce Brabner, and additional music by Josh Smith). Pekar's stated intention, to create an opera about the fate of the avant-garde and "the problems faced by turn of the 21st century artists in general," feels unrealized in performance: what I saw and heard on my laptop (in what appears to have been the opera's sole planned performance) is less an inquiry into artistic production and reception and more an examination of problems in the lives of Harvey Pekar and Dan Plonsey: day jobs, domestic quarrels over chores, opossums in the basement. The opera's final moments enact a squabble between the Plonseys over ibuprofen dosage. Earlier, a recorded telephone conversation between Pekar and Robert Crumb lets us hear Crumb's skepticism about whether the opera-in-progress is going to work. "A buck is a buck, man," says Pekar, who spends most of his time on stage sitting on a couch reading.

The four-singer cast works gamely, with movement and masks adding interest here and there. But the libretto — e.g., "Music is against system, even when employing systematic elements" — often leaves little room for expressive singing.

Bright moments: Dan Plonsey's music, with deep influences from Charles Mingus and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; Joyce Brabner's monologue, offering another perspective on the Pekar-Brabner household; and the work of the instrumentalists, particularly the tenor saxophonist, who contributed a volcanic, voluminous opening solo. (Was it Josh Smith? The credits are vague.)

[Corrections: Co-Musical Director Daniel Michalak notes that Dan Plonsey played the opening solo. (I wish I'd been able to see that!) And there were five singers in all.]

Leave Me Alone! (Real Time Opera)
Dan Plonsey (composer's site)

Related reading
All Harvey Pekar posts

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