Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Discussion found in my email:
DC: Maybe Pamela R's eurotrash operas weren't all that bad. The Financial Times has a revue of Bavarian State Opera's ''Rigoletto" set in outer space -- a production designed to appeal to younger audiences -- and based on "Planet of the Apes". The Duke of Mantua is a gorilla, Monterone is an orangutan and there is a mixed simian chorus. Gilda is got up like Princess Leia and she dies in a plastic garbage bag. Tito Beltran sang the duke, but it couldn't be heard very well through his hairy mask. The audience showed the good taste to boo the performance.

Dr B: This all starts out innocently enough.
KC: Leave it to the Germans to come up with wacko ideas.
Perhaps they just can't stop their compulsion for tinkering?

BC: is there any chance we could drop "Eurotrash" as a critical term? I doubt it can be adequately defined and I think name-calling gets in the way of clear thought.
I do like the idea of audiences booing, though.

Dr. B: and now the plot thickens.
KR: BC wrote: "is there any chance we could drop "Eurotrash" as a critical term?"

My answer: NO! at least not from my perspective, and here it is:

It seems to me that some European directors, in a move to say something new in their version of old classics, have explored this new concept as a way of tagging the old plots as non-important to today's modern and very conflicted world. Ambiguity is the rule, and so operas should reflect that movement. Trovatore in non-traditional dress, and with a plaster-of-Paris head plunked stage left means that we should get it that while the plot lines of jealousy and delayed revenge are OK, it's an old story...life sometimes sucks, and we need to get on with it because...because...well, I (the director) am just tired of this old plot.

Verdi and his librettists, Cammarano and Bardare were not tired of this old plot. To them it rang with intensity and meaning. The plot was the message, and all else existed simply to further that end......(and to make a little money, Certo!).

In short, the concept of Eurotrash trivializes the great masterworks of opera, while seeming to serve them by not messing with the original language, but while thoroughly messing with everything else on the stage. To some of us, that is a gross insult, and to ward off criticism of their policies, directors have fallen back on certain tactics used by some of our current world leaders, which say in no uncertain terms, if you criticize our methods, there is something basically wrong with you.

Pamela Rosenberg proposed the bringing of the Eurotrash concept to San Francisco, which the San Franciscans refused to buy. Some could say it was a noble experiment, but it didn't sell. Lotfi Mansouri always said San Franciscans were too provincial and culturally naive to really appreciate opera, and he is gone (but not soon enough!). Maybe San Francisco could be a bastion of old-hat, traditional opera, and for my part, what could be wrong in that?

The term "Eurotrash" is a pejorative, but it also describes a whole concept of performing opera. Anyone familiar with opera knows what it is, and the fact that no one has really come up with another word to replace it seems, to me, to indicate that it serves well in its descriptive role.

.......But that's just my idea......I'm sure no one else has another.....

Dr. B: So then these two guys ( BC and DE) start their own arguement:

BC: So what you're saying is, all productions of, say, "Aida" have to conform to whatever Verdi and his librettist and impresario staged during V's lifetime: no electric lights, for starters, just candles, no instruments made after whenever Verdi died...same sets, same costumes. Anything else risks "insulting the intention of the original creators," because, how would we know? For "Walkure," you'd have to have real horses on stage-things that eat grass and poop and whinny, not pictures of horses on shields, not carnival-ride hobby horses hanging from the ceilings-because Wagner's libretto calls for...got it...pferden. Nnnnn? Anything else might insult Richard W. All Bach and Handel played on original instruments with tiny orchestras-never mind that our halls are gigantic now. Well, it's a point of view. Neville Mariner (I think) has made a pretty decent career out of exactly that attitude, and taught some valuable musical lessons thereby. But, ojalla!, what a harsh standard, How f*ng boring if every opera, play, dance piece, whatever had to be frozen in time: always the same set for, oh, I don't know, Carmen. No films made in the streets of Sevilla. West Side Story, it can't be Puerto Ricans vs. African Americans (the names don't work for Black folks, but never mind), oh, no, it always has to be whites (and Poles, at that). No concert versions of anything that was originally staged. The "Otello" I played in-nope: we only used 2 trombones and one trumpet (probably was 3 and 2 in the score) plus a CD of the fanfares. Pretty harsh, pretty damned harsh.

DE: I don’t recall saying anything about stage mechanisms---I was talking about the artistic intentions of the creators. For example, when Janacek tells us that Kata'a throws herself into the Volga, and that the villagers gather around her drowned body (after it is dragged out of the river)--so Kostalnicka can give her final cynical statement--I think the intent is pretty clear. I think this is part of what the opera is about. I think having the soprano flop into an inch of water on the stage--after two hours of completely naturalistic stage-craft--lovely stage-craft--is just silly--and having two guys in scrub suits wheel a stainless-steel gurney onto the stage and haul her out is just plain abominable--it interferes with the singing--and the feeling of the music--and is not there to advance the ideas of the creator.--but to insult and shock the audience. This is not my idea---this is what the famous German directors say about their work. Shock and awe indeed.
Weimar--and beware what comes next Mind you--I have no problem with folks doing this in their own theaters--I just don't want it done in a theater where I not only paid for a ticket but gave lots of money to the company.

BC: I wasn't crazy about that scene in KK, either; and didn't like the last tableau in Cosi, either, though it took one trivial plot device way too seriously (then, again, it made me think: Mozart treated war as a joke or prank--it wasn't clear there really was a war for those yoyos to go off to--but in this day and age can we really even THINK about war that way?...). the second part of your criticism, yeah, sure, I respect that. but the first part, like I say, how are we to know? saying "original intention" means you can't reinterpret anything, because you might just possibly maybe it could happen we can't be too careful--reinterpret anything.

DE: Yes indeed--there is a danger in trying to decide what the "original intent" was in many works of art--that's why we have art critics---to tell us that. But to cavil at that problem, is to evade the main point---. An Analogy would be too complain that we cannot tell how much saturated fat is really harmful, so why try to set any limits? I say--everyone can (or should ) agree that in general, for most folks, reducing saturated fat in the diet is a good idea--and I reject the diets which tell us to scarf up all the saturated fat we can find. I feel the same way (in general) about revisiting works of art. Finding new ways to present them is great--so long as one doesn't stomp all over the art. We can spend the next decade arguing over what is "stompimg"--and what is "interpretation"--and eventually we can become art critics!!!

Dr. B: Back to the main arguement.

DC: I agree with BC in a way. I'm guilty of using the term ET as a catch-all to describe production concepts so weird that they are alien to the opera or play involved. Maybe we need a new label for a production -- costumes, sets, lighting, stage directions -- so bizarre that it compromises the story and detracts from the beauty of the music. I am not against innovative productions, as such, because art has to have some meaning for today's audience; however, I don't think using icons from German Expressionism or tired old movies is an answer.

Dr. B: Isn’t this fun! My rather wet-blanket comment: “My opinion. I think the phenomenon is more important and more interesting than what you call it. Calling it Eurotrash is descriptive but also dismissive.” See previous entry on “the composers wishes.”

One more:
KC: Well, Eurotrash has such a wonderfully cheesy ring to it. One hates to abandon it wholesale.

But one man's trash is another woman's treasure (e.g.the modern-dress Alcina of 2002) so the term does leave a lot to be desired in the way of specific qualification.

And does it always have to apply to an outre take on a classic or can it apply to a new production?

Last season's Le Grand Macabre comes to mind as a candidate for the term whenever the thing was written.

Dr. B: Well, Herb Cain certainly would have used it. I loved Alcina, too, and it was definitely a pure example of Eurotrash.

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