Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tip of the Tongue Taking a Trip

Promotional image for the film, Lolita (1997)

The Hammer Museum is doing a series of performances called "Sing Your Favorite Book" which is being held in conjunction with the current "Ed Ruscha: On the Road" exhibit. A few weeks back, I was able to attend Jessica Basta's reading of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. I really didn't know what to expect. The concept seemed primed for failure; librettists work hard to shape literary pieces into musical works. How likely is a performer to improvise a quality result?

On the other hand, Jessica Basta has a beautiful voice and a solid improvisational sensibility. Moreover, Lolita has many passages that lend themselves to quotation and dramatic presentation. The goal wasn't to recite the entire novel, but to sing select passages from it. That's got potential.

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

The performance was held in the Ruscha galleries. It was a bit surreal, listening to the singing while looking at quotes from Kerouac' On the Road, contextualized over Ruscha's images. As expected Basta's voice and improvisation skills delivered on the rich potential of the text. It was a satisfying performance.

I found it interesting how she developed recurrent themes and tonal signifiers throughout the performance. Her style drifted from passage to passage, from a medievalesque plainchant to operatic recitative to traditional folk balladeering. And yet, the performance progressed in a coherent manner, almost like an avante-garde lieder cycle.

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

The next performance in this series will be on August 4, in which Tany Ling will be performing selections from Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Hmm, I have doubts about the text, but it ought to be an interesting show.

Here's a vid of Jeremy Irons reading Lolita:

An interesting novel.

Sarah Rogozen of the Daily Bruin was there to cover the event. She has a sound clip and some photos that you can check out at the Bruin website.

Here's a link to the Hammer Museum website.

Here's a link to Jessica Basta's website.

And here's Lolita's Wikipedia page.


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