- Yearning for the Presence: The Originating Process of the Opera Wunderzaichenby Uli Aumüller
In his unfavorable review of a public reading of several works by Mark Andre at the Manchester International Festival in 2011, Andrew Clements quipped, “No doubt Andre would use the sound of paint drying if it made one.” ( Guardian, 12 July 2011) I contend that the sound of drying paint, given the power that contemporary technology provides to transform sounds on the border of audibility into new sonic experiences, could well be a fascinating thing.
One of the central problems with Yearning for the Presenceis that the viewer is never given a chance to experience the sound of paint drying or much of anything else. Nominally a film about bringing a new opera, Mark Andre’s Wunderzaichen, to the [End Page 599]stage, the music is more often talked about than heard, more often justified than allowed to be its own advocate. One is left with the impression of performers and directors who struggled earnestly to appreciate what Andre had done, but the film never gives the viewer the chance to experience the same trajectory from befuddlement to enlightenment.
One thing that we learn about Andre’s music is that it is often quiet—so quiet that at one point the sound of a vacuum cleaner in an adjacent room creates an unworkable distraction for the performers. If that sounds like the stuff of drama, it only seems that way because there is so little drama in the film.
Director Uli Aumüller spends more time on the story of Wunderzaichen. The opera has something to do with Jesus, the Kabbalah, Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), who opposed the burning of Hebrew books, and Mary Magdalene. It has something to do with the Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airports. Identities, words, and actions are layered and seem to operate in multiple simultaneous timelines. But even here there is not enough for a viewer to conceive of the point or effect of the whole. Moreover, Aumüller fails to keep the promise made in the film’s title—that the “originating process” of the opera will be explored. One brief sequence showing Andre and others in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre doing some field recording cannot function as “origination” when the rest of the film is a rough assemblage of pre-performance rehearsal shots interspersed with moments focused on the supposed difficulty or interest of the piece.
This DVD cannot be recommended. It does not advocate clearly for Andre’s music generally or for Wunderzaichenspecifically. It does not valuably elucidate larger issues of what it means to create opera in the twenty-first century. It does not present the story of the opera or its creation clearly. It is not in itself particularly attractive as a film. Documentaries about the creation of opera are now often included as special features on DVDs of the operas; without having Wunderzaichenitself on this release, the appeal of this film will be limited. The disc’s single special feature is a rambling talk by one of the opera’s stage directors, Sergio Morabito, set in a gallery with the composer patiently listening and occasionally trying to get a word in. It could be mistaken for the film.