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Classical Music

Who's Up for Some Opera Porn?

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Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 3:30 AM

Sex and opera go together like peanut butter and chocolate, believe it or not. After all, opera plots revolve around one character trying to remove another's clothes. That and what happens to those characters after coitus has transpired.

Rest assured, then, that an opera featuring tell-all diarist Anais Nin as the main character will involve plenty of sexual shenanigans. As part of the LA Philharmonic's Green Umbrella series tomorrow night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Louis Andriessen's one-act musical drama Anais Nin certainly delivers on that front. Nin blows Antonin Artaud's mind, and then him. (Or maybe it's the other way around). And then there's the part where she drives Henry Miller crazy with lust.

Nothing too crazy so far, at least as far as operas go. But how many librettos feature a sado-masochistic scene with a character's psychoanalyst? Or a daughter's tender seduction of her father -- in this case, composer Joaquin Nin?

Traditional dramatic treatment of incest requires that tragedy befall the perpetrators, but Anais Nin provides no such divine justice. Andriessen's treatment of the subject matter is more ambiguous, making the work all the more unsettling.

This is not the first time Andriessen -- the winner of the 2011 Grawemeyer Prize in Composition for his La Commedia (heard on the Green Umbrella series last year) -- has dealt with taboo subjects. His opera Rosa involves the love of a composer for a horse, and we're not talking Horse Whisperer kind of love. One of the great operas of the late 20th century, Rosa is not likely to receive a production in the U.S. because of its bestiality.

Anais Nin was written for Cristina Zavalloni, a singer seen more often in jazz halls than on concert stages. She's been a muse for Andriessen, premiering in three of his previous works, including La Commedia. Her stage presence is as uncannily strong as her sense of pitch, and she is an ideal interpreter of Andriessen's vocal works. Nin's male lovers are portrayed on film and recordings, so the dramatic focus remains on Anais.

Two more works by Andriessen will be heard on tomorrow night's program, both involving favored interpreters of Andriessen's music, by Dutch conductor Reinbert de Leuuw and violinist Monica Germino. In La Giro Germino portrays the 18th-century contralto who inspired Vivaldi, Anna Giro. Germino's part requires her to speak, sing, and play the violin.

Life is a soundtrack to four purely visual films by artist Marijke van Warmerdam.

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