Wednesday evening was very interesting. I went to Calixto Bieito's newest production at the historic Teatro Romea that he runs here in Barcelona. For those of you who don't know of Bieito he is an EXTREMELY controversial theater director doing opera in ways that offend a lot of people. He did the "Abduction" in Berlin last year with real prostitutes that started that neo-con crtique of state-sponsored arts and director led productions. He also did a very famous "Ballo in Maschera" set in a series of bathrooms and a "Wozzec" set in an industrial space, feet of mud, and almost completely nude (some men in an aroused state even). Now, I don't really have an opinion on him. The fact that he is controversial doesn't make me feel one way or the other - it does seem like a lot of it is for shock value, but I have also been controverisal so I will wait to form an opinion. I have never seen his operas so I can't comment. Joan Matabosch who runs Liceu has told me great things about his work and I respect Joan a great deal. On the other hand a good friend that plays in the Liceu orchestra says terrible things about him.
This production was a theater piece (though billed as an opera it had limited music) based on the ancient Catalan piece of literature "Tirant lo Blanco". This is a very famous text referred to by Cervantes. This take on it was essentially abstract with a blind women playing the organ off to the side and basically imagining the story in her mind. I didn't catch the whole thing becuause I was late to it and had to leave early to make it to Liceu. What I did see though included a half-naked youth bound-up and walked around on a dog collar, another almost naked man spray the audience with water, a women breast feed said naked man on stage, rabbits cooked onstage and feed to the audience, and an invalidic man fed his own urine. NOW, I absolutely cannot say whether I liked it or whether it made sense, and I urge all of you not to make any judgements based on what I just wrote about it. I do not know the original text, and this was all in Catalan so I couldn't understand any of it. It could have made perfect sense. Who knows, plus I missed most of it. That said, this was a dress rehearsal and I was there with my friend who studies with one of the actors. The theater (a very compelling transformed historic space) was packed with highschool students, a class trip a think! I couldn't believe this, and like the work or not, it is clearly this early experience with truly challenging theater that makes European society understand SO much better the importance of theater and all the arts in society (I should also say this lack of a fear of showing young people the naked human body and sexual references probably also leads to better mental health in Europe when it comes to issues of sexuality that are completely taboo in the US).
I literally ran from that performance around the corner to catch a production of "Elektra" at Liceu. This was a good performance...the orchestra sounded fantastic, the singers did an okay job (acting not great), and the production was interesting and worked in concept (the details didn't always work...again bad acting) until the end where Elektra survives and does NOT dance herself to an ecstatic death...I missed that and kind of think it the point of the whole opera. It was a very modern production, not Bieito, but still director led. The Liceu however, was PACKED to capacity. This wasn't an opening night, no huge names in the cast, and "Elektra" is not a particularly popular work. Even more, I would say the average age was under 40.
I realize that I am going out on a limb here, but there seems to me an obvious connection between a class trip to see some of the most controversial and challenging theater being presented in Europe today (good or band), and an opera house practically sold out with average aged people to a modern production of a not terribly accessible opera. Hmm.... NOW TAKE THAT those that have suggested regieteatre is killing opera in Europe - sold out for no other reason than people enjoy going to the opera, and several ovations for a production well liked.