Pendleton Dottard’s “Hayek,” the tragic saga of a brilliant economist whose seminal writings were at first mistaken for Gothic romance novels, was given a rousing production last night at the Met.
Dottard, who is Jesse Helms Professor of Political Musicology at Pepperdine University, was commissioned 3 years ago to write the work by Lincoln Center’s chief benefactor, David H. Koch, after Mr. Koch read his doctoral thesis, “Dark Boogie: The Loin-Stirring Music of Swarthy People.”
A strong cast was led by the neo-tenor Anthony Balacon, singing notes this reviewer has never heard before, as the Austrian economist Friedrich August Hayek. Hayek’s rousing defense of free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought afforded Dottard and Balacon the chance to soar to heights of atonal dissonance so emotional that several liberal audience members collapsed and had to be given cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
As Hayek’s first wife, Helen, the mezzo-baritone Eloise Walloon was magnificent. Her voice, unusually deep for a woman, was poignantly expressive. Singing the haunting aria “You Dare Tell Me That Artificially Low Interest Rates Cause Capital Misallocation?” she brought a welcome hint of wanton sexuality to Dottard’s intricately desolate chord progressions.
Arthur Fonzarelli’s spare sets, all sinister shadows, ironic chiaroscuro and, for contrast, enormous phalluses spurting geysers of what appeared to be seminal fluid, set a tone of lyrical introspection for the evening.
The Met Orchestra’s beloved James Levine, still suffering from numerous health problems, conducted spiritedly from a hospital bed in the orchestra pit. Mr. Levine drew sympathetic applause when he got tangled in his oxygen line during the comic nocturne, “Ach, The Business Cycle, Always the Business Cycle,” yet still managed to convey Dottard’s puckish acerbity.
But the highlight of the evening was the climactic dream sequence in which Mr. Balacon as Hayek confronts arch-nemesis Karl Marx, ably sung by the Romanian bass, Robertu Popescu, in a debate arranged by the Gnomes of Zurich. Unable to refute Hayek’s theory on the inter-relations of non-permanent production goods and latent economic resources, Marx hurls himself into the Rhine and the principals and chorus burst into the exultant oratorio, “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead.”
One can but hope that the Met’s next production, Puccini’s “Il Economisto di Lammermoor,” his recently discovered opera based on the life of Adam Smith, is half as good as the exceptional “Hayek.”