In the air again, this time back to Dairyland. I tend to watch in-flight movies with the sound off; I find movies are usually much more entertaining when I get to develop my own narrative. So, in that spirit, TSR presents:
Graham Vick’s Tannhäuser
The Silent Film Version
A gaggle of women in Eileen Fisher sheaths and some half-dressed men run into a train station, which is positioned amid a field of 'aa, to reenact Janet Jackson’s Control video. They hop rhythmically as the sharp shards of cooled lava cut their bare feet. A redhead wrapped in a sheet assumes a wide stance to straddle a large man. He rises to practice strumming an air harp, ignoring the large, unwieldy harp behind him. A ring of fire sprouts up surrounding the redhead and the air harpist. [Perhaps this is where the Love is a burning thing and it makes a fiery ring cabaletta appears? –Ed.] The woman terrifies the man by opening up her sheet to flash him. The harp falls over on a child who has materialized.
Two people in black undress the child who has been crushed by the harp. They turn him horizontal and pass him through a hole in the tree growing in the train station. [There's a hole in the tree. Why’s a tree in the station? –Ed.] Suddenly the air harpist is surrounded by half-naked men crawling through the hall. Semi-legible English words like HATE and LECHERY and REDRUM are written in red on their fleshy torsos. A horse arrives, accompanied by clothed men carrying dead animals. The men sneer, then smile. The horse walks away, and the men stab the already dead animals.
A lady in blue runs around the hall, opening up the windows and airing out the funk left by the animals. She develops vertigo from spinning around too much, and falls onto the lava. The air harpist returns and gathers with the lady in blue around the large harp, which has been painted silver. The hall fills with a horde of Blue Nuns and gentlemen with swords. Each man walks downstage individually and stops to gaze up at what I imagine is the train schedule (invisible to the audience). A half dozen men sit a circle in a roped off VIP area, with the lady in blue and the harp. A few stand and face the invisible schedule, but do not play the harp. The air harpist also stands and does not play the harp, but many around him suddenly feel a need to touch themselves in private places or crawl on the ground or dry hump the harp. Everyone becomes agitated and the VIP area is dismantled. The air harpist leaves, perhaps to catch a train to the Air Harp World Championships in Rome.
The lady in blue is still in the atrium, sitting on the ground. In a flash she’s surrounded by the half-naked red-word men, who run in, wave their arms a bit, and run out again through the same door. She reaches out to a gentleman who has also been sitting around waiting; he strangles her. One of the people in black who has been sitting at the back of the hall walks over, the lady in blue stands up, and they exit, leaving her blue shawl on the ground as a picnic blanket. The air harpist returns, but given his disheveled state, clearly he did not win in Rome and is quite irritated by it. The redhead from Act I is carried in horizontally aloft by more half-naked men, accompanied by the Eileen Fisher women who either hold the front hem of their skirts in their teeth (showing us their coochies) or wrap the backs of their skirts around their heads like shawls (showing us their bums).
Suddenly the Wartburg Strangler gestures dramatically as the word “Elisabeth!” is projected above the stage, and all of the fluorescent lights in the terminal are turned on simultaneously. The redhead is carried out of the terminal. The coochie women are sucked into the lava. Clothed children surround the tree, which then grows unnaturally green leaves. Half-naked pre-pubescent boys emerge from the lava where the coochie women disappeared, with semi-legible words like PEACE and KIND and I SYMBOLIZE INNOCENCE AND REDEMPTION, GET IT? GET IT? are written in red on their torsos, words which are not washed off by the rain coming down through the train station’s broken skylights.
(So what were you saying, vf?)
I have to admit, it's been a long time since I've laughed so heartily at the opera. When the kids started coming out of the ground, I was literally wiping the tears from my eyes.
NB: Peter Seiffert is fantastic throughout; his strength amazingly never falters and somehow he manages to kick it up a notch for the Act III Rome monologue. The whole experience was worth it just for him. And the horse (of course, of course).
Credit where it's due: Johnny Cash reference by heather wings