Saturday, October 18, 2014


My background was in both music and theater.  I have never felt the desire to choose between them.  My first great operatic love was the Marschalin of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who was fully an actress and a musician.

I feel very strongly that opera is becoming a theatrical medium.  This is validated for me by this wonderful week in opera.

First Anna Netrebko invigorates a bizarre production of Macbeth by sheer force of will.  No one acts with such overwhelming energy, both in her voice and in her body.  Perhaps it is she who defines this new theatricality.  This opera is moved in time. 

Then on Wednesday comes the astounding Handel comedy Partenope which is not merely moved to the 1920s but is also transformed into an homage to the great art period of Paris.  The strongest influencing artist would seem to be the photographer Man Ray, someone we see not nearly enough of.  I understand that the giant photo mural in the last act is by Man Ray, though I could not find a copy of it on line. 

And now today is a new production of Le Nozze di Figaro where the producer is first and foremost a great theatrical director.  It is also moved to the twentieth century with Spanish style mixed with modernism.  For the first time I see Susannah in what to our eyes is a wedding dress.  At last a real wedding.  When she changes costumes with Susannah, the countess wears the wedding dress and reveals herself to her husband by raising her veil.

It is only suitable that Isabel Leonard, the most real of all Cherubino actresses, would grace this production.  Richard Eyre also brought us last season's Werther and the great Carmen with Elīna Garanča and Alagna.

Opera is becoming a theatrical genre.  It is all very well to complain about the productions where everything is moved to modern times, but these are the people who produce opera today.  If not them, then who?

The opera for this week is the opera of the future.

P.S.  I am biased toward acting, something seen only occasionally in the past.  Scenery and costumes are less interesting to me.


Anonymous said...

These bizarre productions are a way to make interesting an opera one has heard too many times. Whenever I hear an opera I don't know really well, it's so amazing. I listened to the new Macbeth on youtube, and I noticed right away that Netrebko was miscast and not singing very well, but I loved it because the opera is new to me. This is the awful truth. Turning music over to tone-deaf producers is a mistake. The fans like me crave beautiful new music, and there is plenty of it. Why have I only recently discovered Graun? Because it's more important to art directors to tart up the millionth production of Traviata, instead of reviving great operas people haven't heard yet.

Anonymous said...

But hasn't opera always been theatre? Singers have been praised for their acting talents (or chastised for the lack thereof) from the get-go. The rest is just trends, which seem to balance between park and bark and natural interactions.

I'm rather curious about the Man Ray Partenope.

Dr.B said...

To first comment--Partenope cannot possibly be an opera heard too many times.
To the second comment--Many of the greatest singers of the past could not act their way out of a paper bag. This doesn't happen today.