Financial Times, 12. November 2003
Opera: Lost Highway
Steirischer Herbst Festival, Graz
One audience member at the world premiere of Lost Highwaycomplained that the opera didn't differ significantly from the David Lynch film on which it is based, but that's one of its beauties: a maddeningly complex source is distilled and clarified and, in the process, something entirely new emerges.
It's a simple masochistic love story: Fred will do anything to win Renee's love. Through an anonymously delivered videotape, he discovers he has killed her. Awaiting execution, he transforms himself into Pete so that he can try again. Renee's Doppelganger, Alice, leads Pete to commit murder, and the cycle continues: there is no exit ramp off the lost highway. The libretto (spoken, whispered, sung, and intoned in Sprechgesang) has been lifted virtually verbatim from Lynch's screenplay by Elfriede Jelinek and composer Olga Neuwirth, and, as in the film, much of the text is delivered in an artificially hollow manner.
Neuwirth's innovation comes with the psychological layers added by her wildly original sonic landscape. Fred and Renee may talk about nothing, but the subliminal music paints their emotional upheaval. The mindboggling writing for odious, flamboyant gangster Mr Eddy (tailormade for wild man David Moss) sounds like a hybrid of Little Richard and a Pentecostal zealot trapped in the body of a professional wrestler. Director Joachim Schloemer defies physics as characters appear simultaneously in different parts of Jens Kilian's stunning labyrinthine set.
Among an astoundingly perfect cast, curvaceous, crystalline-voiced Constance Hauman throws so much sex around the stage as Renee/ Alice it borders on illegal. Every time I ponder the work's minor flaws, I am overwhelmed by its merits. Lost Highway entertains, challenges our perceptions of opera, and demands to be experienced.
© 2011 Joachim Schloemer