My Year of Opera: September

Ok, the digest version of this blog seems to be here to stay. I’ll do my best. September was a bit of a whirl, I don’t quite remember what order I saw these but I’ll do my best. Didn’t I just say that?

Petitgirard: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man

Watched this on the Naxos Video Library and wasn’t terribly impressed. The first act was not compelling to me, mainly because I couldn’t latch in to anyone. Am I supposed to feel for the huckster? Is it his world that I care about? The conflict with the doctor could have been really interesting and I think if it came first that strife could have really driven the drama. As it was, I never found a hook into the story. The staging was really lame, too. Lots of people just standing around, saying who they were and why they are there. This was telling, not showing. Dull.

Bellini: Norma

I watched a lot of “standing around while singing” operas this month. I think, if you are going to have minimal stage action, bel canto is the way to go. This was an older production from Toronto in 1981 with Joan Sutherland as Norma. The story is pretty straight ahead, of course, and the setting has just about nothing to do with the basic idea of love and death and sacrifice and murder and all the standards you’d expect from opera stories. I like this opera and really enjoy listening to bel canto rep so this was enjoyable.

Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

I was pretty hard on Elektra when I watched it a while ago. To be fair, I thought watching a Strauss opera that wasn’t steeped in Expressionism might change my mind. Sadly, this was a non-staged version of the one-act version given in concert from the 60s. Beverly Sills was in it but it really didn’t engage me. Maybe if I saw a real staging of the opera I would be more into it but I didn’t care for this setting. Some nice ensemble writing with the 3 sisters, though.

Puccini: Turandot

I watched the “from the Forbidden City” version of this many years ago and thought it was dreadful. Last night I watched the MET version from the 80s which was pretty bad ass. The opera sounded a lot weirder to me than I remember and the lush visuals were really good. This opera could be a bunch of people standing around but there was enough musical and dramatic tension that it worked.

This month was big for me coming to terms with action and staging. For my tastes, drama needs to be clear. Action has to be inherent in the plot. I’ve seen a lot of staging that has to artificially add motion (those meaningless dancers in Doctor Atomic, for example) and I just don’t care for it. While I have no objection to concert staging of things and some works can be successful that way, I’d rather just listen to an opera than watch people stand there while singing. Whatever stories I stage, I want there to be motion and direction inherent in the story and music.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    When I took playwriting (all of last year), my teacher harped on the dialogue begging for action. This is something that is inherently lacking in a large amount of opera. It becomes a lot of “Ok, here’s the plan. I’m going to tell you everything about it. Then I’m gonna sing about it as I’m doing it, describing pretty much exactly what I’m doing. Then, I’ll explain the outcomes as well. I’m walking toward the door. the door. It is so large, how will I open it?!?”

    When you state the exact action, or, say, have an aria that has words that don’t beg action (what actions are innate when you sing a song about being sad?), you have to devise action. And that can make the blocking seem contrived.

    It creates quite the dilemma, that’s ever so fun to figure out new musical and theatrical ideas to overcome.

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