Saturday, October 21, 2006


Professor Gossett establishes three categories of production: traditional, displaced and radical or what the Germans call Konzept. Displaced just means you have moved it from its expected setting and time, much the way Verdi moved Un Ballo in Maschera to Boston. A concept opera is our full-fledged Eurotrash. It is curious that the operas I have seen recently fall into all three categories.

LA presented Don Carlo in a visually vivid but basically traditional setting. The characters dressed in period costumes which might be considered Spanish, and the Gothic arches of the movable modules that made up the set at least suggested an earlier period. There was a concept at work in the Caravaggio reproductions, but this was not powerful enough to drag the production from the traditional category.

Manon from LA displaced her from Paris in the nineteenth century to Paris in the twentieth century, but she was still basically the same girl. Costume changes aren't enough to make it a concept.

I think the New York City Opera presentation of Semele qualifies as a radical or concept interpretation. We are displaced from the far away mythical past to the 1960's, to be sure, but the characters are transfomed into a virtual newsreel by involving historical figures. This is definitely a concept, and it was shocking how well it worked, how easy it was to believe in the JFK/MM/Jackie triangle and its fatal result.

We Americans still prefer traditional settings, but can be persuaded to accept a displacement as long as we still feel at home. I have been promoting the idea that the production explains the opera regardless of which of the three categories it falls in. I accept the concept when it explains the action.

In San Francisco I saw a Konzept production of Busoni's Doktor Faust where Faust was some kind of computer operator in a factory. People came and went for no apparent reason. I had a violent negative reaction to it because it failed utterly in my idea that the production explains the opera. Nothing in it made any sense at all, and none of the actions were explained. The production won an award in Germany where, perhaps, the plot of this opera may be known, as it certainly was not by me.

It was fascinating to learn that concept opera in Germany extended all the way back to the 1920's. An arguement could be made that modernism was German, a statement that completely flies in the face of my previous statements that it came from the Ballet Russe. I have digressed, as usual. In the twentieth century leadership came from the French and Germans, with a brief interruption ....

Ahem. The chapter on staging is not fuddy-duddy at all. Forgive me.

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