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"!

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