One of the landmarks of this forgotten New York was the Binibon, a 24 hour joint at 2nd and 5th, a scene hangout back in the late 70s-early 80s. It’s also the title and subject of Sharp’s opera, with a libretto by Jack Womack. The Binibon is where Jack Henry Abbott, back in the City due in no small part to Norman Mailer’s slumming, encountered waiter Richard Adan, and soon after stabbed him to death. Sharp and Womack’s Binibon is based around this tragedy, follows a narrative of personal memories and regrets through a handful of characters, including Abbott, culminating in the event that the piece represents as a symbol of the end of an era. The murder, and the closing of the Binibon, happened in 1981, well before the riot, but like I said, the struggle had been lost by 1988, perhaps the opera explains the beginning of the end.
This is an excellent piece. It features long, spoken narration, but straight forward, not in the manner of Robert Ashley. There is singing too, but it’s a real opera regardless of the balance between speaking and singing. Sharp’s music supports the text beautifully and tells the story in its own way. Womack’s libretto is tough-guy-romantic in style, a bit clichéd but saved by its sincerity. The band; guitar, saxophone, clarinet, bass, drums, percussion and electronics, is great, because it’s all Elliott Sharp – he makes and plays all the music, a rich melange of punk, jazz, rock, beautifully heavy early hip-hop beats. It’s forceful, expertly colored and judged, always interesting. This is a truly impressive work on CD, involving, fascinating, emotionally powerful, one of the most accomplished new, non-standard operas I’ve heard in a long time.