MICHAEL GORDON, DAVID LANG & JULIA WOLFE: The Carbon Copy Building (A Comic-Strip Opera) – Singers: Theo Bleckmann, Tony Boutte, Katie Geissinger, Toby Twining; Music Director: Martin Goldray – Cantaloupe Records

by | Feb 24, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MICHAEL GORDON, DAVID LANG & JULIA WOLFE: The Carbon Copy Building (A Comic-Strip Opera) – Singers: Theo Bleckmann, Tony Boutte, Katie Geissinger, Toby Twining; Musicians: John Benthal, David Cossin, Martin Goldray, Bohdan Hilash; Music Director: Martin Goldray; Text and Drawings: Ben Katchor – Cantaloupe Records CA21038, 72:14 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:This is an underground opera inspired by the gritty, New York City-style wit of underground comic artist Ben Katchor, creator of the “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer” comic. His often humorous but also depressing view of urban life was made into a full-length operatic  stage work for four singers and four instrumentalists by a collaboration of the three director/composers of the avant Bang On a Can concert series. The Carbon Copy Building was named Best New American Work by the Village Voice in 2000, seven years later we finally have the CD, which is also an alternative package. It is a hard-bound small book illustrated comics-style by Katchor from from to back, with the entire libretto included along with stage directions and explanation which are not heard on the recording. It’s certainly more interesting visually than the normal opera libretto!

The story begins with the history of a beautiful seven-story Art Deco building having been constructed in NYC in l929, and of a “carbon copy building” which was put up six months later 20 blocks away by the same people.  The original building has been modernized and is still in good shape in a classy area, while the carbon copy building has been subdivided into tiny offices, has not been kept up and is a dump. One of the businesses in it is a copy shop; there is also an embalmer. One of the characters in the opera is a delivery boy whose hands and face are discolored from the carbon paper.

There is an obsessive attention to absurd details: One of the singers concerns herself about some dried gum found painted over under a bannister of the building’s stairway. She wonders if it was perhaps placed there by a delivery boy bringing hooch to an office in l929 or more recently by a Fed Ex delivery man, and whether it’s Juicy Fruit or something else. There is also a plot element about the desserts in restaurants which diners cannot finish, and which they therefore pay extra to have embalmed by the embalmer. Thus the Funeral March of the Unfinished Desserts. The music is a mix of minimalist and rock, not terribly atonal but occasionally patience-testing with repetition of harmonic progressions which are not as diatonic as, say, Philip Glass. Actually, I think I’ll look at Katchor’s texts and drawings again soon, while listening to some good jazz…

– John Sunier

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