For a social moralist like Frederic Rzewski there is probably nothing better he could do than promote and perform his 1982 “Antigone-Legend,” the work featured by Monday Evening Concerts at the Bing Theater of the County Museum of Art.
“Anyone who uses violence against his enemy/Will turn and use violence against his own people.” This quotation from Sophocles’ ancient tale is one that Rzewski uses in his program note to sum up the original storyteller’s wisdom. In the light of recent world events, he might have written it yesterday.
Yet the performance--endured in a stifling hall that felt like a sauna--failed to deliver maximum agitprop value. Whether the blame falls to the stringent anti-theatrics of Swiss-born Bernhard Ambros Batschelet, who enacted the drama via his prop-decor, or whether Rzewski intended the physical representation to be so reduced is unknown.
Since the composer chose Bertolt Brecht’s poem as the text of his serious, avant-garde Singspiel , one can partly assume that he also wanted to keep spectacle to a minimum. As it turned out, the score--played by pianist Rzewski and sung by soprano Carol Plantamura--far outweighed the contribution of performance artist Batschelet, who was left to move somnolently among his plaster masks, posters and chairs.
Fortunately, audience members could follow the 189-line text supplied by the management. Had that not been the case, however, one would have had to take on faith the specifics implied in the static vision on stage.
Plantamura could not make her words intelligible much of the time, due to the stress of high-decibel vocal declamation. And the piano part, in Rzewski’s typically dense, percussive, agitated style, gradually dominated. Both gave intense and virtuosic performances.