Michael Nyman’s opera, “Facing Goya” is basically a reworking
of his 1987 opera, “Vital Statistics,” which concerns the theory
of “scientific racism” during the 19th Century. “Facing Goya”
deals with issues of “higher” and “lower” races, as well as
various attempts to measure and isolate artistic genius.
The five singers (two sopranos, a contralto, a tenor, and
a baritone) each sing different characters, who change
over historical time.
Whatever. For me anyway, this was probably the most
maddeningly frustrating, repetitive opera score I’ve heard.
Written in a “minimalist” style (I believe that Nyman was the
first composer to coin the term), the instrumentation bears
marked similarities to that which is typically used by Philip Glass
(1937 – ) in his ensemble, including about eight string and eight
wind instruments, and the strong presence of saxophones.
“Facing Goya” also employs a bass guitar and an electric guitar.
I found it irritating that Nyman obviously felt that he must
“dumb down” to Pop sensibilities here. Robert Worley’s
interesting essay in the accompanying booklet refers to
this music as “open and accessible.” That may be, but
hammering home diatonic harmony chords ad infinitum
doesn’t do it for me, and I found it impossible to resist doing
something else while listening, which I consider to be a cardinal sin.
Having heard another one of Nyman’s operas (“The Man Who
Mistook His Wife For a Hat”) years ago, I suppose that I knew
what I was in for when embarking upon this listening
“adventure.” Sometimes, this is the price you pay in an effort
to “broaden” yourself. In keeping with my efforts at
“self edification,” I can’t say that I regret hearing this piece,
but I certainly won’t actively pursue Nyman’s music in the
future. It just seems to try my patience too much!
Nyman (1944 – ) is a noted critic and writer on music, and
didn’t really begin composing until the 1970’s. He has
apparently stated that opera is his favorite compositional
genre. Perhaps he is best known as a composer of film
scores (most notably the 1993 film, “The Piano”), which is
another trait he shares with Philip Glass.
As far as the performances in this recording are concerned,
I’m sure that they have that “definitive” quality I always
appreciate, since Nyman is featured here conducting his own
band. Ergo, I can’t blame my displeasure on a “bad
performance.” The recorded sound was also just fine.
However, this is probably the least favorite opera that
I can ever remember hearing, and those are my
“thoughts” on this music.