The Bonfire of the Vanities: The Opera


We were excited to attend the premiere performance of friend Stefania de Kennesey’s new opera the other night, her long awaited adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. The first person we saw when we walked in the door was Mr. Wolfe himself (he’s easy to spot in that immaculate white suit). I’d love to have told him how much The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and the novel in question all meant to me…but he was sitting towards the front…and I was sitting in the very back — know what I mean?

Bonfire is the quintessential ’80s literary property and to put it mildly it didn’t get justice from Hollywood, so we had high hopes for the stage adaptation. I happen to love Stefania’s music as well as her philosophy of art, which makes her an excellent match for Wolfe. They both have an aesthetic of populism and accessibility, a notion of the artist as a kind of public servant (as opposed to an obscurantist or elitist of some sort). As predicted, I loved her music for the new opera, and found it surprisingly pop sounding, even more than I would have anticipated. I also enjoyed the brisk, lively staging of her collaborator Michael Bergmann as well as his funny, even earthy lyrics. The three hours playing time (short for an opera) flew by.

An attempt has been made to update the story to 2015. I’m not sure if the transplantation has been completely successful, or if such a thing is even possible. So much has changed in (almost) 30 years, and we’re at an especially sensitive juncture at present on the issue of race, which is so central to this satire. But much applause to de Kennessey and Bergmann for grappling with the myriad difficult ideas the book contains, and converting it into wonderful new art. I loved the CRAFT of the two principal artists and would love to see an entire season of operas like this; many, many seasons, in fact. Learn more about the Bonfire opera here:

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