This is a book review for the Jazz Metal Opera The Story Of María Elena and Kilter’s Jazz-Metal Opera “La Suspendida

The book is already out, but the book reviews take a little longer to do as I read them from cover to cover before putting pen to metaphorical paper. My review is on the text only, although I do include the YouTube clip of part of the musical below. The subject matter of this unusual jazz, opera and metal fusion piece has been fused into a book by William Berger, the respected author and radio commentator.

I was taken by the opening where (and this is a rough misquote as I don’t have the text in front of me now) it says we don’t need to fear the dead it is the living who can fuck us over. How very true! The dead are, hopefully, at peace, it is the living with their twisted agendas who can seek to destroy us. The text also addresses fixations and takes the possessive partner to the limit. There is nothing worse in a relationship than that obsessive who thinks they own you, well just wait till you get a hook on this text!

While the opera has not been staged as a full-fledged production just yet, KILTER, Berger, and their collaborators hope to bring “La Suspendida” to life in a big way in the near future. In the book, it is explained how a young life lost is “like a theft” and I agree. A young life lost is a tragedy, when we lose someone in old age, they have had a fair chance of life. We then, in every circumstance, have to deal with the loss of our loved one, and I have always felt the tears we shed are really for ourselves as we have to find a way through life without them.

The writers breathe new life into the unsettling and extremely dark true story of an obsessive carer who kept the body of a deceased woman as a lover. This is not something I would normally dwell on, as it is not a comfortable subject…but dark subjects can bring out the best in creativity.  

“Tanzler’s inability to let go leads him to the unthinkable. He can’t let go, almost literally. But Maria Elena can’t let go either” (p. 55).

The rage within the story comes from Maria as she considers the unfairness of what has happened and struggles with the concept of her life’s too quick passing. In that sense, she is able to use Tanzier’s obsession to her advantage.

Librettist William Berger has provided a deep dive into the creation of the project in The Story of María Elena and Kilter’s Jazz Metal Opera “La Suspendida,” which constantly sets me thinking. “Everyone fucks the dead” (p. 27) and the comparisons made with the divas who never die. Vivien Leigh is forever young on my wall in her film version of Shaw’s Cleopatra, where she is immortal and beautiful. Then there is the painting of John Lennon from the White Album era that I had done, and my father’s memory is always there in my mind as I wish for him to be there next to me. So how do we deal with death? There is no simple answer, and “you are not original. You are merely desperate to cling to life and imagine we haven’t seen that before” (p. 28). It is certainly unusual material for a musical, but musicals can often provoke taboos. Look at the lyrics of “All You Wanna Do” in Six, a real favourite musical of mine. Yet how many of the younger members of the audience read the abuse in the lyrics?  Do we obsess over those we lose? I lost a son who was very young, and I sometimes pretend he is with me walking, and I hold his hand, I find myself talking to him gently. Obsession? Weird? Wrong? Or do we understand.

The book is now available and Silent Pendulum Records will also be distributing the soon-to-be-released cast recording.

Berger provides a deeper look into the production of the opera itself through the lens of personal essays from the opera’s composers and others involved in the project, and this really does add a lot to the book. The author gives readers an elaborate and complex backdrop for an opera that eschews norms in favour of providing the audience with a truly singular experience. The renowned author describes the character of María Elena as “an abused cadaver who is… finally able to take a stand for self-actualization and empowerment.” In this tragic character, Berger says he found the perfect leading role: “The amazing thing is that as we unpacked the musical and narrative  possibilities in this character, we realised we’d created the definitive diva role.”

She certainly can stand for herself, when she shadows tell her she cannot choose where she spends eternity, she replies,

“Oh I make the choice for my own destiny…I have supernatural forces of my own helping me maintain it, don’t I? I mean, first of all there’s this crazy man that’s in love with me.”

A positive message is there in the blackness, love never dies. Through space, time, and death, love does not die.

It had a bleak subject matter that almost put me off, but I loved the cover and wanted to read on. In a way, it brought me back to how I deal with loss, some of which I brought into the review. And it does resonate when you read that the “Taj Mahal is pornography in marble” (pp. 20 -21) and that Victoria shaved Prince Albert’s statue every day after he died (p. 20). So maybe the story helped, as perhaps we need to talk about death; after all, we all face it.

I will end with the thought the text poses as to whether loving with the soul is the same as loving with the flesh. I like books that pose questions; I like a read that makes me think – and this one does. I will look forward to the musical, and I’d say this book was an unexpected pleasure, a text with considerable shade where the light constantly breaks through.

By Mark C. Chambers

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