Elephant Steps: A Fearful Radio Show
Take a tablespoon of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis, add a pinch of Leonard Bernstein and the performance troupe Mabou Mines, toss in a teaspoon of Arnold Schoenberg and the Beatles, sprinkle in some Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar, put a conductor at the front of the mixture, and one comes close to understanding "Elephant Steps: A Fearful Radio Show," a mixed-genre piece of theater that received its premiere at the Tanglewood Festival, and whose 1973 recording has now been digitally released for the first time by Masterworks Broadway.
Composer Stanley Silverman and librettist Richard Foreman created "Elephant Steps" in 1968, presenting an avant-garde work that mixed sound, light, movement, film and machinery into a revolutionary theatrical experience, both visually and aurally. Silverman had studied composition with Darius Milhaud, but also favored rock and roll; Foreman was a playwright with a Yale Drama degree who had studied with John Gassner, and would later form his own group, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater.
But Silverman acquired the funding to premiere an opera at Tanglewood, and he and Foreman found in each other the common artistic sensibilities to set about creating one of a half-dozen pieces that their teaming would generate.
The "contemporary opera" loosely examines a character named Hartman, hallucinogenically performed by Philip Steele, who would go on to play Joseph Buquet in "The Phantom of the Opera." He seeks out the spiritual influence of Reinhardt (spoiler alert: who never appears), takes us on a 65-minute journey through a smorgasbord of musical themes and locations, including the radio show referred to in the title.
The performers and ensemble are conducted by a young Michael Tilson Thomas, who even provides his own vocal talents as the "Archangel!" Thomas' effortless ability to navigate the various musical styles in the opera was merely a glimpse into what the conductor has achieved throughout his highly successful career.
"Elephant Steps: A Fearful Radio Show"
Stanley Silverman / Richard Foreman
CD and digital formats