We have in Santa Monica, America, all over the developed world that is climate disastrous, a pleasure problem that we dare not address. Of course, we have to find solutions. But should we give up dairy products and almonds, let alone meat? Our cell phone? Much of our digital life Netflix-Spotify-Facebook-Instagram-Google-Apple-Amazon-bitcoin? Vacation abroad? Cars? And pretty much the rest of what we’re convinced makes life worth living?
Despite all the noble speeches promised by COP26, the climate change conference to be held in Glasgow next month, we still inevitably have our heads in the sand.
Which brings us to “Sun & Sea”. The Lithuanian opera-installation caused a sensation at the Venice Biennale two years ago and is currently wrapping up an American tour at Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It is an opera for a few. Lasting one hour, it is given five times a night, accommodating an audience of only 102 people for each performance. Tickets at $ 25 for the 15 performances from Thursday to Saturday sold out in minutes. Oddly enough, a work on the horrors of global warming would be the hottest ticket in town.
Ultimately, what makes “Sun & Sea” horrible is that a relaxing day at the beach is not represented with the terrors of climate change, but with their apparent lack. It’s an opera about caring but not doing, about environmental boredom, which may well turn out to be our biggest threat.
Production required considerable effort, much of which has its own carbon footprint. Three institutions have collaborated admirably: the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, the Hammer Museum and the MOCA, which brought tons of sand to its Geffen Contemporary space in Little Tokyo. On this show, a few dozen bathers on their towels. They have their books, phones, games, popcorn, and other snacks. They sunbathe, parade and snuggle up in their bikinis, boxers and so on. A surfer dons a wetsuit. The children are running. The couples are in love or simply together, the public invited to analyze their dynamics.
It’s a rainbow beach. You couldn’t ask for a better representation of age, body type, race, sexual orientation, and personality. The gaze is drawn to the panorama, which seems to promise a utopian society. At the same time, the eye is drawn to the individuals, each appearing to be someone you would like to meet.
We will meet them, but not in the typical opera fashion, in which an audience is called into an unfamiliar environment. “Sun & Sea”, as influenced as it may be by Pina Bausch and Robert Wilson, operates at a greater psychological distance than a front stage allows (even from nosebleed seats). We stand on a high perch. We are the gods who scrutinize the beach below as its inhabitants blithely predict their own destruction. We are not omnipotent gods, just fools who set everything in motion, watching the process for our own amusement.
On the distributed libretto, the three creators of the opera – Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte – do not bother to distinguish their roles. They are respectively director, librettist and composer. It is decidedly meant to be an opera by the threes, and not, as would be typical for an opera, “Sun & Sea” by Lapelyte.
The reason could be discovered by purchasing the recording of “Sun & Sea” on Band Camp. The music sounds deceptively simple, so intriguing. Electronic accompaniment is minimalism at its most mundane mundane appearance – Satie or Philip Glass reduced to beginner rhythms and harmonies. This is apparently part of Lapelyte’s devious plan. Cutting to the bone, she puts her music ingeniously under the skin.
The characters on the beach are a rambling bunch. A few are actively enjoying themselves. Most, however, lie down and cook, bask and ruminate. It is noon. The light is so direct and intense that no level of sunscreen is likely to be recommended by dermatologists. You have to scan the faces of each bather in the 23 short numbers – whether they are solos, chorus ensemble numbers – to determine who sings, which is a brilliant way to force the watcher to always have it. an overview.
The vocal settings are also simple, again with qualities of Glass and Satie, along with notes of Robert Ashley, Broadway, elementary pop song and plainsong. We hear a muse “siren” on the strange drowning of her ex. A wealthy woman boasts of taking her child (who looks bored to tears) on expensive tour packages to the world’s great beaches. Her workaholic husband is determined to keep his cool, unlikely as that may sound. A philosopher’s commentary sounds like a parody of a philosopher’s commentary. Someone is sharing an uncooked dream. A complainant has her litanies. Much of this text is ironic, funny, artfully observant, and eminently chantable.
Most sing mainly for and for themselves egotistical. Holidaymakers’ choirs, even when they provide a welcome counterpoint, are the flattest statements of all, warnings against the tide, notes on the airport.
Yet a barely perceptible collective clue of the grim permeates. These beach goers know that the sands of Santa Monica will be gone and the pier will be underwater due to rising sea levels. The grandchildren of children on the beach may well not have of beach.
Do they care? How could they not? But to be carefree, they have to pretend not to care about their disconnect between song and text. They continue their slightly catchy melodies, their dreary recitatives, their predictable cadences, while making mistakes.
We also like each other. The cast is magnificent, revealing as many accents and vocal types as there are bodies and beings. Along with the touring singers, members of LA’s excellent vocal group Toality participate, adding a welcome local zing. Every vocal presence made me happy to hear.
There is still that word. Pleasure. The extraordinary thing about “Sun & Sea” is not its commentary on those pedestrian bathers lounging and doing nothing, but its declaration about all of us and, perhaps, the lucky few who are lucky enough to see this work. amazing, blissful at our success in snagging tickets. We take pleasure in being entertained and scandalized in a moralistic way, in chuckling about the need to be better without being better.
I burned a few gallons of carbon-spitting gasoline while driving alone through traffic to and from the Geffen Contemporary while listening to the news about the horrific oil spill in Huntington Beach and the horrific Alisal fire.
“Sun & Sea” is as devastating as it needs to be.