Angelic Gay Messiah

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America sits comfortably in the grand tradition of American transcendentalism. Lines can be drawn from the play through Updike, Barnett Newman and the Beats, right back to Whitman, Ives and Thoreau. Eddying at the threshold of revelation, profane and full of life, lyrical and dying, his characters outline a daring vision of a new America crowned by a secular, mystic, gay pantheism.

Peter Eötvös’ operatic treatment was premiered in Paris in 2004, finally arriving in the UK last Friday in a concert performance given by the BBC SO under David Robertson at the Barbican. Much of the original cast, including David Adam Moore and Julia Migenes, reprised their multitasking roles. The original play lasts seven hours. The opera runs at about 130 minutes. Yet the latter never short-changes the alternately earthy and revelatory strains of the former; the play’s phantasmatic frame is ideally suited to the artifice of the operatic apparatus. Its visions and dramatic elisions transmute vividly into music; in sonifying the text through an idiomatic admixture of Broadway and high European modernist styles, Eötvös achieves a uniquely hued sensibility that allows the breadth of the original to somehow come through in only a fraction of the time.

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