Category: Lolita (3)
Modern theater is not the ideal way to tell a story. With the ease and ability to travel through time and space offered by film, the traditional narrative isn’t served by the limitations of performing live. So why bother with the medium? If theater’s audience capacity and practical storytelling ability is so hindered, what’s the point?
Lolita: An Imagined Opera indirectly answers that question. Joji Inc., the company behind Lolita, clearly has little interest in narrative. Their concern is largely aesthetic and psychological, combining video, a live actor, two dancers, and a chamber ensemble to engulf the audience in its disturbed protagonist’s mind.
I don’t know what the experience of Lolita was like for those poor souls in the audience unfamiliar with the source material, but it must not have been easy. Composer Joshua Fineberg and director/designer Jim Clayburgh seem to have little interest in telling a linear, coherent story. And honestly, that’s fine by me. Anyone who wants to know the story can seek out Nabokov’s original text or see the Stanley Kubrick or Adrian Lyne film versions.
Lolita is intense. It never lets go. Protagonist/pedophile Humbert Humbert surrounds the audience. He picks at us, at our assumptions. Articulating my thoughts on Lolita is difficult, since it’s less an intellectual pursuit then an emotional experience. Sure, an understanding of Nabokov’s prose deepens the experience, but nothing I say can translate the way I felt, watching Humbert’s face in close-up, the musicians plugging away at conflicting tones, two dancers silhouetting the titular nymphet literally inside Humbert’s head.
Technically, the piece was an accomplishment. Taking theater/opera to another level, videographer Kurt D’Haeseleer, Fineberg, and Clayburgh deserve credit for pulling it off. Johanne Saunier’s choreography was well suited to the performance and absolutely essential. And François Beukelaers, the lone actor, took us deep into the recesses of a place I certainly didn’t think I’d want to go.
Kubrick made Lolita a sort-of comedy. Lyne went the route of a straight-up romantic drama. By tossing aside almost everything but a faint outline from the source material, this production seems to have gotten to the heart of Lolita. I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit Humbert’s consciousness for a night, even though it’s a place I never want to visit again.
David Clarke is an undergraduate in MSU’s English department.
High up in the Austrian Cultural Forum (ACF) in Manhattan, composer Joshua Fineberg gazed over a laptop near the glass wall. Argento Chamber Ensemble took their seats: five string players, two flutists, and clarinet. With Joanna Chao’s piano alongside Fineberg, conductor Michel Galante called this first rehearsal of Lolita to order. There was space in the white chamber for a couple of visitors, but only just—an intimacy appropriate to Fineberg’s “imagined opera,” in which Nabokov’s most familiar creation, pedophile Humbert Humbert, makes fresh tracks amidst spectral orchestration and startlingly generative voice electronics. After warming up in the rhythmic minefield of Lolita’s final passage, Argento readied for an initial run-through of Fineberg’s 70-minute opus.
It seemed an accurate setting, as the sleek, spine-width ACF building became a rare icon of progressive architecture at its opening in midtown in 2002, while over the past decade Argento has been establishing a lauded position in new music. Their mission is to play composers who advance compositional knowledge and test new forms (the New York Times glowingly reviewed their recent concert of Georg Friedrich Haas’s music). With Joshua Fineberg, specifically with Lolita, his first evening-length work, Argento has their eager, able hands full. Read more »
Minor recollection from personal history: Something weird happened to me when I first read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita years ago. I found myself identifying wholeheartedly with the novel’s flamboyant, honey-tongued narrator, Humbert Humbert. So persuasive and vivid was the worldview he elaborated, in such witty, high-flown language, I began to see the world through his eyes. And it was exhilarating. No, I didn’t set off in search of some pliable, underage “nymphet” to enthrall and transport across state lines. But so ardently did Humbert state his case, I became a temporary convert. His mesh of lyrical prose ensnared my reason; everywhere society seemed a fleshly wasteland of morality-annihilating temptations, where the man who fancied himself a worldly aesthete could justify lurid pursuits, as long as he used “a fancy prose style.” It wasn’t perversion, you see; it was poetry.
Soon after, of course, I felt pretty foolish. It’s just a novel, after all. Read more »