One thing the Residents don’t do for their audience: make it easy. By design, this officially anonymous collective of artists has to be engaged on its own terms, unwilling as they are to concede to any comfortable expectation. This visit to LA saw the third and final live performance of their opera God In 3 Persons, an elaborate act of staging incorporating the visual projections of John Sanborn, the added vocals and instrumental stylings of Sivan Lioncub and several dancers on stage with “the singing Resident” as he tells the story of Mr. X, a travelling salesman and con artist, and his relationship with a pair of genderfluid conjoined twins.
When we spoke to Cryptic Corp. representative Homer Flynn before this show, he noted that this work, originally recorded in 1988, was the result of one of the members going through a period of “personal crisis,” taking a tremendous amount of negative energy and pouring it into the creation of this work. The result is certainly true to operatic tradition in tone, if not in structure. The text retains the same poetic cadence through its entire length (AAB CCB, etc), and unfolds through a series of songs. In Residents tradition, some of this music is beautiful, but kind of oddly beautiful with a sinister undercurrent. And when the sinister side comes to the fore, the Residents can be unnerving and upsetting like few other bands.
As a work of theater, it was highly compelling. Sanborn’s images on the rear screen, occasionally punctuated by projections on screens carried by the dancers, had the effect of amping up the surreality, but also the humanity, pulling us into this world and getting us to feel for these characters. In an inspired bit of casting, the non-binary/ genderqueer porn star Jiz Lee gives a powerful non-verbal onscreen performance as the Twins. Mr. X himself – who sure looks like the same person that has been at the mic for every Residents gig I ever saw, though this is of course unconfirmed – is the only character voice heard speaking from the stage, while Lioncub voices the twins and acts as the “chorus”.
Operas don’t tend to end well for their protagonists, and the tragic culmination of this one results in a scene that is horrifying even by these standards. If they were going for a real modern-operatic twist of the rusty knife, in the style of Lulu or Wozzeck, they achieved it. God In 3 Persons is a heavy work for the Residents, one they had dreamed of staging for decades, and seeing it realized with my own eyes made for a potent and unforgettable night out.