Monday, October 18, 2010

Critical Perspective: The Ballad of Ricky and Ronny – A Pop Opera

Michael Thomas Taylor
October 14, 2010

For all its understated anomie, “The Ballad of Ricky and Ronny” is full of charm and surprises. Acerbic, surreal, post-modern, melancholic – all of these moods morph in and out of the duets, which are sung somewhere between Mozart’s recitative, Stephen Sondheim, and the sound of casual conversation over the radio. The music is minimalist, driving and suddenly delicate, the set a pristine kind of pop. And the poetry is deceptively capacious. Built out of the language of everyday love, it struck me at first as something like Ricky’s well-worn leather bag that can swallow anything you name it. But this morning when I woke up the words were hard and forefront in my mind, like ice-crystals on a window the morning after a snowstorm. In particular, I wondered about the obvious but unheard coarseness in so much of what we say to those we love and fuck, and about the inexplicable vulgarity we sometimes attach to our bodies. All the same, the overnight process of transpiration also starkly revealed some aspects of the show that I consider to be flaws. For these Belgian artists so conversant in a multilingual world, the supertitles were a lost opportunity. Why not make something of this additional dimension to language, rather than repeating the tired operatic convention of supertitles? And at times in the middle, I felt the construction became less taught. Twenty minutes of cuts might have done the piece some good. At some point I recall thinking: this ballad would make a memorable short film. Not to give anything away, but the film does come, though I think one could disagree about its merits. I’m still not sure of how to understand its – admittedly explicit – escape into a realm of visual fantasy, with its sudden translation into images (or projections?). But even if I don’t think it really fit as an ending to the ballad, I don’t regret the dislocation.

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