Monday, June 17, 2013

Opera Staging Madness

Lorin Maazel posted the following short essay to his Facebook page this

"Opera Staging Madness (Part Three)

What can be done to safeguard an endangered art form?

If it is believed that an opera audience can be cowed into tolerating any
abuse of text and music for fear of seeming to be old-fashioned,
conservative, recidivist (who wants to be thought of as not with it, not up to
speed, uncool), the manipulators, axe-grinders and mafiosi, given a free hand,
cheerfully assault the art form.

One of the challenges for an opera house General Manager is to sell out the
house. The ultimate say-so rests with the audience. If their beloved world of
opera is being degraded and ridiculed (not too long ago. a stage director who
publicly derided the art form of opera, staged one, with the cast dressed as
monkeys), what to do? Boo? Certainly not.

The singers and musicians do their best under trying circumstances and their
work should be respected.

What then?

Follow the example of a gentleman who, after the First act of a Shakespeare
play presented at an international festival and directed by someone who proudly 
said he had never read one and
engaged non-professionals to "act", stood up and said in a ringing
voce "George, let's go". All but thirty people left the theater.

You won't get your money back but if the General Manger reads on Facebook
often enough that the Opera House he/she is managing is losing its audience,
he/she will soon change course.

 Another suggested action is pre-emptive in nature:

if you read that a new production at your favorite opera house will be given
of La Boheme set in a Nepalese fish market with the Sex Pistols in the
orchestra pit conducted by Sarah Palin, don't go.

 - Lorin Maazel"

One problem is that sometimes it's a surprise.  The Kennedy Center website to
this day features a picture of a girl on horseback in 19th century military garb,
but their 2007 production of La Fille du Regiment was transported to WWII,
leaving the audience to debate why the villagers were afraid of being liberated.

Since the popular works are nearly all out of copyright protection, updating
can't be stopped.  It seems to me that the best way to deal with unorthodox
productions is to campaign for voluntary disclosure by opera houses.  Little
symbols should be added to all promotional material if the setting is to be
shifted as to time or place.  If Nazis are added, a symbol should show the
silhouette of a little man with a paintbrush mustache.
Voluntary disclosure by opera houses where _Konzept_ stagings are involved
is thinking in the right direction. But using "little symbols" is not the
way to do it. The way to do it is for opera houses to cease the fraudulent
practice of representing such stagings as a new staging or "interpretation"
of whatever opera is involved. Such stagings are no such thing. In each case
they're an entirely *new* work concocted by the Regie who has hijacked the
text and music of the original opera to serve his new work's purpose.

Maazel's solution to doing away with such malignancies is, again, thinking
in the right direction but, ultimately, the wrong way to go because too iffy
and not immediately decisive. The right way to go is for singers and
musicians to screw their courage to the sticking-place and refuse to
participate is such butcheries. As singers and musicians are the sine qua
non - literally - of any opera performance such action on their part would
be both concrete and immediately decisive and there's not a bloody thing the
Regie butcher can do about it. He's terminally fucked and his show will
simply never go on.


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