Monday, March 29, 2010


I write a little more on my "other blog" about "Giulio Cesare" here.

Trying something new...

As most of you readers can figure out, I'm not the best at keeping the blog as up-to-date as I would like. I'm also not the slickest kid on the block when it comes to technology. BUT, I'm going to try something new. Orchestra London, with whom I'm directing a production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" this summer, has asked me to document the process via video blogs, or rather VLOGS (which I can't decide if I love or hate as a piece of terminology). I spent hours, that hopefully won't have to be repeated next time, yesterday figuring out how to do this, and I made my first one which I'm going to post here. If the process goes well, it is something I'd like to continue and do more often on this blog for AOT pieces (I will incidentally cross-post all my "Cesare" video here since "Cesare" is in Baltimore's future as well...though I'm not telling...).

Maybe I'll figure out podcasts one day!

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Ok, I'm super busy and STILL want to contribute to this post. I have so many things to write about, from my trip to the American Cemetary in Normandy (a profoundly moving experience), to Afghanistan, to the "Lighthouse"...tons. But in the meantime here is a fantastic short video by Patsy Rodenburg on why we do theater.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Addendum to the last post:

I thought the Synopsis for "Intermezzo" might be interesting to some of you...sounds like great drama huh?

Setting: Vienna and Grundlsee during a 1920’s winter

The conductor Robert Storch is about to conduct a concert one night. Christine, his wife, feels under-appreciated and dislikes the fact that his work keeps him away during the evenings. Christine goes to a winter resort and meets Baron Lummer, with whom she enjoys a flirtation. Baron Lummer is revealed as a destitute nobleman in search of a loan. At one point, Christine receives a letter apparently addressed to her husband, and opens it. It turns out to be a love letter to him from a young lady, Mitzi Meyer. Christine is furious and intends then to divorce Storch.

Robert and his friends, including the conductor Stroh, play cards one evening, and talk about Christine’s mercurial personality. Christine has mailed a letter to Robert to say that she is leaving him. She visits a notary to try to obtain a divorce. However, the notary suspects that her real motivation is her relationship with Baron Lummer. Stroh and Storch eventually figure out that Mitzi Meyer had confused their names, and actually intended the love letter for Stroh. Christine is apprised of this situation, and she and Storch reconcile.

City Opera Announces:

So...their 2010-2011 Season

I have to admit I'm a bit surprised and perplexed. Once again it is only 5 shows, but that doesn't bother me (in fact, 5 shows is the perfect number as AOT watchers will soon learn...nudge-nudge wink-wink). And, it is the same pattern as this year (I think, the Times wasn't completely clear on this), 1 new production and 4 old productions. That is disappointing, but understandable with the money problems these days. And, the 1 new production is by Christopher Alden, which is a big disappointment; not because he isn't good (his "Don Giovanni" was a big success there, so clearly people like him), but if they are only to offer 1 new production, it should be a different perspective (I think that is the job of a cultural institution like City Opera). And, from a company that had, I thought, clearly articulated their goal to offer extremes of the repertoire (early and later), it is an incredibly conservative and, dear I say it, "bourgeois" season. Get this:

"A Quite Place" - Leonard Bernstein (Christopher Alden production)
"Intermezzo" - Richard Strauss
"Elixer of Love" - Donizetti (Jonathan Miller production)
"La Machine de l'Etre"/"Erwartung"/"Neither" - Zorn/Shoenberg/Feldman
"Seance on a Wet Afternoon" - Stephen Schwartz


First of all, the Bernstein. Actually this is a great, or at least an interesting piece. It is based on the shorter opera, and gem of a piece, "Trouble in Tahiti", but expands upon the domestic story to also include a grown-up gay son, and digs more deeply into their lives and relationships. It is great music that deserves to be explored further and, though theatrically it is mundane and soap-opera style, this is an understandable choice. What I don't get it why Christopher Alden? Personally I think Christopher Alden is the lesser of the two Alden brothers (his brother David Alden is more active in the European scene and, even though he is the definition of an enfant terrible, his production are brilliant and thoughtful). Christopher Alden's work tends to just be strange and provocative for the sake of provoking. Most of all, there just isn't any dramaturgical work or actual directing of singers there. This can work I think for contemporary opera, or works with less cultural specificity like Handel, typically unstaged works like Bach oratorios, and some would argue Mozart (though I thought his "Don Giovanni" was be kind). "A Quiet Place" is uber-specific, it is melodrama, and I can't imagine why choose Chris Alden for it....

The next two, "Intermezzo" and "Elixer of Love" are the most strange. "Intermezzo" is the weakest of all the Strauss operas from that period (perhaps because he wrote the libretto himself...and a poet he was not). Put alongside "Rosenkavalier" or "Capriccio" it just can't hold up. Some great music, but not drama worth watching (though I do prefer it to "Arabella"). Then "Elixer"...well, "Elixer" is just drivel. It is tuneful, but makes "Barber of Seville" look like a Shakespearian play, so little depth it has. It is just so fluffy as to make me hard pressed to jusitfy its existence. Furthermore, Jonathan Miller, though an immensely gifted director, is about as conservative as they come. Which brings me to a larger point about these two productions. These are shows one could easily see at the Met, 200 feet from City Opera, in better productions with better singers. That is the nature of the beast. I thought the whole point was that City Opera finally realized, now that the Met is showing signs of a pulse and bringing in productions that are interesting to watch, they need to produce operas you can't see at the Met. Why would anyone go to see Donizetti or Strauss at City Opera if they could see them at the Met? Jonathan Miller may be talented, but he is a Met style director, not a City Opera that is differentiating itself enough to survive.

Okay, the triple bill is interesting contemporary music. I'll return to that. And then "Seance on a Wet Afternoon". This is a new opera by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of many brilliant musical theater pieces including "Godspell", "Pippen", and "Wicked", and also of the Disney score to "Pocohantas". He is not, however, an opera composer. And, having heard this piece in Santa Barbara, let me say it again, he is NOT an opera composer. Unlike the Berstein that opens the season, I don't think this is fit for the stage of City Opera. Which brings me to the contemporary music question. City Opera, and I know this from Ed Yim, the talented creative force in the Artistic Administration there, was going to make contemporary music a focus of theirs. So, what is contemporary here? Bernstein...yes, okay, but not really. I had been thinking of Messiaen or Ligeti or even Adams...but Bernstein? Great music, but not challenging at all. And Stephen Schwartz? Same and even more so. So the only truly contemporary music is the triple-bill, but they can't even give an entire program to a challenging contemporary opera?

The other focus of City Opera (we were told this is where George Steel's true passion was) was going to be early music. The earliest thing here is Donizetti!!!! No Handel, not even Mozart. This season, I have to say, is playing it SO safe as to be utterly boring. It makes me so nostalgic for the days when we thought, or tricked ourselves into hoping, that Mortier was going to take over. Ah..."St. Francois"..."Einstein on the Beach"..."Brokeback Mountain"..."Rappresentatione di Animo e di Corpo"..I think with this sort of uber-conservative programming, they are putting the noose around their necks. And, I have to say, the AOT season for next year looks MUCH more interesting than this. Can't wait to tell you all about that.

I'm probably not making any friends here...I LOVE City Opera. I want them to do more than survive, and I think they more potential than the Met to produce interesting and important work. I respect and admire George Steel, and his is not a job I would want. I just don't understand these choices...I think they are drinking the cool-aid of cultural lowest-common-denominator. It doesn't seem like George Steel or Ed Yim, who I know gravitate more towards works of depth and profound strength. This seems like a dangerous path for City Opera to go down, but I hope they can make it work.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Check this out....

It isn't clear if this will be for an AOT production yet, but here is what wunderkind designer Ryan Wineinger is working on for my upcoming Giulio Cesare with Orchestra London in London, Ontario (though it does have its own Thames).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

At and Not-At the Opera

In the midst of everything else I have watched a lot of opera this week(end). I never did report of the DNO's "Il Prigioniero" and "Bluebeard's Castle" last week, and then this weekend I've watched DVD's of "Tamerlano", "Dido and Aeneas", "Castor et Paloux", and "Don Giovanni". Not enough to give a full report of each, but I'll give my general thoughts...of course I watch everything through the guise of a director, so that is my main interest.

The DNO, unforunately, was the only live viewing out of all of these. "Il Prigioniero" is an amazing piece from the 1940s by Luigi Dallapiccola. It tells the story of a prisoner of the Spanish inquisition that is given hope by is warden that "this" will all be over soon. Then the warden leaves the door to his cell open and the prisoner, taking it as a sign, decides to escape. We see him make his way through the chambers of the inquisition till he finally breaks into fresh air, and the arms of the warden...who is turns out is the grand inquisitor. You can guess how it ends, but the message is that the cruelest from of torture is hope. I have always wanted to see this live, and it was thrilling. The production, by Peter Stein, had a very nice design, with coup-de-theatre at the end (even though, at the final dress, there were stil LOTS of technical problems...Heins Mulder, Artistic Director of the DNO, tells me this is because they programmed just way too many pieces this year and there isn't enough time for rehearsal). All in all, it was OK, not great. "Bluebeard's Castle", by Bartok, is one of my favorite pieces and I reported on the breathtaking production in Barcelona two years ago. This one, however, felt strangely like a highschool musical, and I won't say much beyond that. The brass in the house, however, was shattering (literally to the ears, and figuratively to the imagination).

Yesterday I started with the "Tamerlano" of Graham Vick with Paul Mcreesh conducting the orchestra of the Teatro Real in Madrid, staring Placido Domingo (this is not the same production of "Tamerlano" Domingo did two years ago at WNO). It was pretty terrible, VERY boring. Domingo's singing was good but tired, and the orchestra had tuning problems that made it hard to even concentrate on the style issues. It was all very spare and decadent at the same time, and afterward I felt a bit sick and dirty.

Then on Pierre Audi's "Castor et Paloux" or Rameau. This is an amazing piece with tremendous music. I don't like Audi's directing, in fact I don't think he does direct. He is more of a window dresser creating pretty pictures and, at the very least, there is absolutely no dramaturgy going on. It was basically the same here, but the set was glorious (a sort of 3-D representation of the Gemini constellation) and the dancing was superb, as was the lighting. I couldn't help liking it...though it got old fast. The costume were a little space agey for my taste.

I ended last night on an up note, Peter Brook's "Don Giovanni". There was absolutely no concept. There was no set. There were no props. It was the type of spare that isn't just for appearances, but really is getting to the basics of theater. The fact remains that Brook doesn't need any of that. He is just a great director. His direction was seamless, ever bit of action and dialogue made sense, there was always a reaction, and things had an energy and a dynamism that I loved.

This morning I watched the choreographer Wayne McGregor's "Dido and Aeneas" from the ROH. "Dido" is the first piece I ever directed, and it is appearing on next year's season following a string of performances this summer in it is something I have a lot of opinions about. This was visually beautiful. It was spare, but the piece is so direct that that worked for me. The dancing was fantastic, he is more than a gifted choreographer. A director, however, he is NOT. Why is it that company's think that just because someone can direct a movie, or paint a picture, or design clothes, or choreograph dancers they can direct opera. Do we really have so little respect for our genre that we think people with no training in opera can just jump in and do a good job (for heaven's sake! now Mark Morris is directing regularly, as well as conducting, Issac Mizrahi is directing at Opera Theater of Saint Louis, William Kentridge is directing at the MET,...ugh). These are great artists, but they haven't trained as directors, let alone opera directors. this production, it showed. The concepts, dramaturgy, and especially performances were utterly lacking.

Now...I'm off to work on my own projects. This week is dedicated to "Jephtha"!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"The Prisoner" indeed...

I was going to write today about going to see "Il Prigionero" and "Bluebeard's Castle" yesterday at the Netherlands Opera, directed by Peter Stein. I'm not going to because something much more disturbing than luke-warm stage direction has happened here in the Netherlands.

Yesterday Dutch MP Geert Wilders won a larger share of the vote here than ever. I don't understand, I'm really at a loss. In American it has become popular now to throw around analogies of Nazi Germany, and compare political figures to Hitler. Honestly it has started to lose its meaning. This man, however, really, in tangible and literal ways, embodies the beliefs and policies of Hitler and the early Nazi party. He over-compensates for weak mental faculties and several disturbed psychology with hate speech against the Islamic world that for some inexplicable reason is resonating with the people of Holland. He wants a permanent ban on all mosques that preach in arabic, and a five year ban (surely we can't trust it would end after five years...) on the builidng of any mosque of Islamic school. He wants a ban on all immigration from non-Western countries, and all Muslim immigrants returned to their native countries. But, most striking, he wants the first clause of the Dutch constitution changed to indicate the superiority of Western, Christian, and Jewish cultures over Islamic culture, which he calls retarded. This rhetoric and his demeanor come closer to Hitler than anything witnessed since that time. And he is winning, people love him here (he was the 2009 politician of the year!). He is so clearly not mentally equipped with context, intelligence, compassion, or even stability, and yet...

I don't know. I'm very sad and very frustrated today.