Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A big opera problem

Finally saw Twilight of the Gods, the conclusion of the DC Ring. After being sick for the first performance of it.

And most of it was as powerful as the best of what had gone before. One of many stage pictures that stays with me: The Rhinemaidens, at the start of Act 3, trying to clean debris from what's left of the river, picking up debris, discarded bottles and the like, putting it in garbage bags.

Or trying to do all that. Too much debris to cope with. Makes so much sense. If the world is despoiled, after Alberich renounces love (a creation myth, in effect, about the emergence of evil in the world) — if the world is despoiled, wouldn't nature be desperately wounded?

Tbings that didn't work so well

Francesca's Zambello's staging — which went to the heart of the piece whenever her deepest thinking could be enacted on stage — seemed to fall apart when there was no concept to animate the action. Siegmund and Sieglinde, Alberich and the Rhinemaidens…the staging seemed aimless.

And there were problems beyond that, problems I fear are endemic in opera. These were problems with physical action on stage. In Rhinegold, Fafner kills Fasolt. He swung his cudgel more or less obediently, as if that's what he'd been told to do. And Fasolt obediently falls dead.

But there was no violence in that. No horror, no overpowering strenth.

Likewise when Hagen kills Siegfried. No horror, no violence. No anger, no rage.

Or when Siegmund, with the greatest effort of his life, pulls the sword from the tree. No surging strenth, no exaltation, none of that embodied in any way physically. Likewise when Siegfried forges his sword. Not nearly physical enough.

Alberich and the Rhinemaidens. He chases them in the river, loses his balance on the rocks. Or, anyway, that's what he says is happening. His motions were serene, grounded. He pantomimed slipping on the rocks, just a bit, but didn't make it seem remotely real.

Endemic problem

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Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and US tenor Franco Farina.

Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and US tenor Franco Farina.

As I said, I think these problems are endemic in opera performances. Lack of real physicality, unconvincing action on stage.

More in my next post about why I think this is a huge problem, why it undermines any claim we make that opera is high art. It wasn't bad enough to undermine the DC Ring, but…well, let me put it this way.

If we can't in opera do what every flim, every good theater production, even the silliest sitcom on TV can pull off, making what we're seeing look plausible, then how — in the world of 2016 — can we claim to be doing something great? Don't we just look silly, incomplete, inept?

As I said, more coming. Including how we can fix this problem. Won't be easy. But can be done! 

Original Content: A big opera problem

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