A “CD launch” or a “book launch” is a fascinating phenomenon. I say that even though, cough cough, I’ve never really been very fascinated by them.
Books and CDs are art objects we usually experience in private rather than as a public performed event. Launches are usually in some sense public, and performed. Forgive me, I am about to use a word that I use the way addicts use heroin. The launch is by definition multi-disciplinary or at least inter-disciplinary, thereby inviting us deeper or stripping away the veils on that realm of privacy. I suppose I usually rebel against this because I don’t want my experience launched or mediated, I want to find my own way.
Okay, maybe sometimes I am just plain wrong.
I attended a very different sort of launch, one that complements & facilitates the book in question. Lydia Perović’s novel Incidental Music –a book I haven’t finished, please note—can be understood on several levels. One of the important relationships in the book unfolds with a big meta-text as well. Romola is singer who lived through the Hungarian Uprising and has come to Canada; she’s losing her memory. As she encounters the much younger Petra, who offers her care, the story unfolds both in the present of their inter-actions, and in dazed operatic recollections of the old singer.
The behaviour is not pathologized –that is, not objectively labelled as a particular kind of dementia—but permitted to unfold with some ambiguity. It’s a very poetic device, luring us into the depths of Romola’s memory.
I believe that’s the superficial justification for the performances we saw in this launch, as part of the Gladstone Hotel’s THIS IS NOT A READING SERIES, although that doesn’t nearly sum up the resonances set up by the performances. In keeping with the eternal operatic question—concerning the relationship of words & music—the event was divided into Act One: La Musica and Act Two: Le Parole.
We began with a series of solos & duets between soprano Erin Bardua & mezzo-soprano Margaret Bardos, accompanied by pianist Christina Faye. The duets in particular make an excellent –and suggestive—pathway to access Incidental Music, a novel featuring more than one love relationship between women.
The ambiguities of these moments where a pair of women sing loving words, while they portray a male-female couple (one of the women in trousers) are deliciously suggestive. We heard duets from Contes d’Hoffmann, Béatrice et Bénédict, L’Incoronazione di Poppea and Idomeneo. In addition we heard solos from each of Chérubin, Alcina, Orfeo ed Euridice, an a capella Hungarian folk song and a song by Kurt Weill. I’m especially sorry i missed Bardua’s recent participation in The Threepenny Opera after hearing what she did with Weill.
In other words, Bardua, Bardos & Faye gave us a substantial concert experience, complete with wonderfully informal tongue-in-cheek commentary, as a kind of knowing prologue to the book itself. Under the circumstances, my title –incidental words—now makes some sense, as we were then eased into the discussion of the book, a Q & A between Jim Bartley & Perović.
I’ve read most of the book, and will post a review one of these days. I heartily recommend it, as a second generation Hungarian who can identify with its bittersweet exploration of Toronto from an exile’s point of view. The lesbian themes are new to me, but certainly fascinating, and the descriptions hauntingly beautiful. While it may be early to use such language, the novel suggests a utopian view, the city, the family, and the bedroom all as places where one seeks meaning if not transcendence.
As Bartley rightly observed, Perović’s achievement, writing in her second language (they invoked Conrad & Nabokov) is something extraordinary & rare. I expect big things from Perović.