On May 12th I saw POEtry, directed by Robert Wilson, music by Lou Reed, in the opera house in Amsterdam.

The piece is a kind of musical / rock opera, inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and performed by the German Thalia company and a five man rock band.

The sets and lighting by Wilson were gorgeous. The acting style was very stylized and dramatic, continuously reminding the viewer that "this is acting, this isn't real..." I wonder whether there was a Berthold Brecht influence at work here.

The music was OK, some rock and some ballads, but most of it was very, very, loud. I mean, the building was built so unamplified voices and instruments could be heard in the auditorium. But no, they just rolled in the sound equipment. I hate it when they do that. Also, amplifying voices on stage means that you can no longer hear who says or sings what, which creates an additional distance between the performers and the audience.

The lyrics seemed very much at odds with Poe's work and with anything happening on stage. For example - Ligeia, returned from the dead, singing to her lover: "Why didn't you call on me... why didn't you call?" Good grief.

There was one scene that worked for me. The stage is bathing in blue light. In the background structures resembling waves can be seen. On the waves three female figures seem to be floating. They speak about dark light from the sea, sunken palaces, death and destruction. Sometimes it's just one voice, sometimes two or three. Their voices are light and gentle, supported by a continuous synthesizer tone from the band, like they're physically supported by the waves. Sometimes, in the middle of their text, they sing a word or a phrase. The singing is light and non-dramatic and seems to flow naturally from their speaking voices and the text. It's magic.

Unfortunately, this was the exception. For most of the performance, the various elements stubbornly refused to merge into one coherent whole. I left in the interval.

Link opens in new window Information about the performance on Lou Reed's website

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