When I hear a line like, “Strangely enough I met Glenn on Monk’s Mountain, my childhood mountain, which is also called Suicide Mountain, since it is especially suited for suicide and every week at least three or four people throw themselves off it into the void,” and find myself, despite myself, laughing, I know I’m experiencing the misanthropic comedy of Thomas Bernhard. In this case I’m listening to the nameless narrator of Bernhard’s novel, The Loser, who, as many Canadian readers know, is obsessed with the Glenn mentioned above, last name Gould. Aside from pianistic virtuosity, though, this “Glenn” is ultimately fictional, serving as a paragon of perfection against which Bernhard’s frustrated narrator measures his own failures.
David Lang’s opera adaptation of the novel, sung by baritone Rod Gilfry, offers an outstanding musical correlative to Bernhard’s centri-fugal prose. The melodies, deceptively simple, gain complexity through gradual repetition and subtle layering over time, much like Bernhard’s text itself, and the minimalist accompaniment from the note-perfect Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble captures the inner echoes of the narrator’s solipsistic musings.
Considering Bernhard once wrote that “a prize is invariably only awarded by incompetent people who want to piss on your head,” it somehow feels wrong to apprise The Loser, but Lang, Gilfry and company’s interpretation is brilliant, deserving full praise. Can someone please convince them to perform it in Toronto, maybe at, say, Glenn Gould Studio…?