The Ojai Music Festival is known for its adventurous spirit, for its lust for risk — musically speaking.
In turn, Libbey Bowl audiences are known for their patience, and often they are rewarded with the unforgettable. When Steve Reich’s difficult "Four Organs" was premiered in New York in the early l970’s, a near-riot erupted. When played for the first time on the west coast In Ojai, the piece piqued interest and resulted in a recording (according to a story recounted by Mark Swed in today’s Los Angeles Times.)
Last Saturday night at Libbey Bowl the festival broke away from its celebration of the hypnotic music of Reich for an exploration into the outer limits of voice and music today. The evening began with a baffling piece in which one woman alone sang wordlessly against an array of electronica without a beat.
This was called En Echo, by Philippe Mandury, performed with preternatural calm by soprano Juliana Snapper, against a spectrum of electronic effects rendered by the unseen Miller Puckette.
But what followed was something else.
Described as a "spoken opera" by composer Michael Jarrell, "Cassandre" is actually a monologue with orchestral support, but most of all it’s a stunning piece of writing, drawn from the ancient myth of Cassandra, as written by one of the greatest of German writers today, the novelist Christa Wolf.
Barbara Sukowa, a compelling actress with a guttural voice, growled her way through an English translation of the monologue. Cassandra is a ruined woman. Once she was a princess, but now she has been brought low by a god.Because she refused Apollo, he spit into her mouth, and forever after she was cursed to speak the truth to all, but be believed by no one.
"Sounds like the Al Gore story," said one fellow in my section.
Indeed. Although Wolf, an East German, wrote her novel based on the myth in l983, It’s astonishing how up-to-date her words sound today. Cassandra begins by recounting what her enemies said of her:
Prophesizing disaster, you immortalize yourself. Your name will go on, and you know it.
She bitterly derides her own ineffectiveness.
Words die before pictures.
She points out the distracting power of war.
Not everyone could see the naked meaninglessness of these events.
From 2500 years in the past, she speaks to our unhappy plight in Iraq today.
You cannot win a war fought for a phantom.
And in conclusion, she bitterly warns her doubters.
Later, you will know as well as I that we had no chance against a world that needs heroes…if there is a later.
From Ken Hively at the LA Times, here’s a picture of conductor David Robertson and Sukowa, in her alarmingly martial outfit. As festival director Tom Morris promised, she "ate the stage."