Monday, March 14, 2005

Reinterpreting opera

I have some problems with the term Eurotrash.

It implies that it’s never ok to reinterpret an opera, to recast it into another era, for example. I won’t go as far as my friends who seemed to be saying that they were appalled that anyone would think of doing such a thing. My criteria are much narrower: I just want it to work.

The way people view opera changes through the passage of time. If you look at drawings of costumes and sets from the Baroque, you see that the people on the stage look a lot more like the people in the audience than they look like the characters they’re playing. So how exactly would we go about observing the “composer’s wishes?” (The composer “wished” to achieve money and recognition.) Should General Horne have worn a tall wig instead of a tall helmet—observing the composer’s wishes by making everyone look Baroque? Or would it be just as logical for Julius Caesar to dress like Saddam Hussein—observing the composer’s wishes by making the actors contemporary with the audience? The only solution completely unrelated to the composer’s wishes would be to make Julius Caesar look genuinely Roman.

Wikipedia: "The plot of Alcina concerns the sixth and seventh cantos of Orlando furioso, which tell of a knight, Ruggiero, enslaved by the sorceress Alcina. Bradamante, Ruggiero's fiancée, and her companion Melisso rescues Ruggiero by breaking Alcina's enchantments, in the process freeing her former lovers whom she had turned into beasts, rocks, waves, and sand."

By the end of the infamous Alcina production, where Alcina is constantly changing her very modern garments, we were sure that the vamping heroine was a slut. I thought it successfully communicated the plot of the opera, and did it almost as well as Pocket Opera’s comic narrative between the arias. Pocket Opera is a by now ancient San Francisco tradition.

What we mean when we are arguing is that we want the opera to stay the way it was when we were young. This is a wish we are doomed not to have fulfilled. It is not the composer’s wishes we want answered—it is our own.

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