Apropos our last entry, there was one interesting exchange that touched on a question we've not addressed directly on S&F but perhaps should have: the question of the legitimacy of our making critical comment on an opera production we've not seen either in the house, via DVD, or via the tu..., er, the LCD screen (yes, we were finally forced to dump our ten-year-old, 21" tube TV and replace it with a 32" LCD flat-screen HDTV as the former up and died on us and it would have been just plain stupid to replace it in kind today assuming such are still being manufactured for sale in the U.S.). A forum member had expressed regret that he'd missed seeing the Met's new Robert Lepage production of Das Rheingold and queried about the forthcoming Die Walküre to which query and expression of regret we responded intending to be helpful:
Musically, you didn't miss much with the Met's new Rheingold, and the Lepage staging got pretty much of a drubbing from the more knowledgeable and discriminating MSM critics (Alex Ross, Martin Bernheimer, and Anne Midgette). As for Die Walküre, I'm afraid it's a crap shoot as is the rest of the cycle vis-à-vis the staging unless Lepage gets his act together, and musically, well, I guess that's a crap shoot as well. Damn shame.Which brought this from another forum member:
Would I be correct in assuming that you have not seen any of the performances you so neatly trash?To which we replied:
If by "so neatly trash" you're referring to my comments on the stagings of specific Eurotrash productions, and if by "seen" you mean in the opera house, then, no, I've seen none and have no intention of ever seeing any of them in the opera house unless I'm paid serious money — up front and in cash — to do so. I have, of course, seen DVDs of some of them, but by no means all. Rightly or wrongly, I get the impression from your question that you think my not seeing the stagings in the flesh, so to speak, disqualifies me from commenting on them. Is that in fact your thinking?To which the forum member responded:
So basically you pronounce on something that you not only have not seen; Rheingold, but that no one has seen because it has not taken place, Walkure. I know you like to be taken seriously in your opinions, so this kind of approach helps us to understand your aspiration to being a reliable critic.To which we replied:
Ah! I see now. You really do think that someone is disqualified from pronouncing on anything about an opera production unless one has seen it either in the house or on DVD. Interesting.Well, should one be disqualified from pronouncing on anything about an opera production unless one has seen it either in the house or via DVD or video? Our answer is that it depends on what one is pronouncing upon. If one is making critical comment on a live performance musically, based only on hearing that performance via a good, well-miked audio feed or recording, then that seems to us a perfectly valid, if not optimum, source on which to base an informed critical assessment. How about the staging, then? Should one be disqualified from pronouncing on the staging unless one has seen it either in the house or via DVD or video? Again, our answer is it depends on what one is pronouncing upon. Obviously, one cannot pronounce any critical judgment upon the staging without having seen that staging in the house or via DVD or video — unless, that is, that staging is clear Eurotrash. Say what? And just how is that to be determined sight unseen or without seeing the staging in toto? Once again, it depends. Sometimes it can be and sometimes not. From a mere accurate physical description of an opera's staging, with or without benefit of production photos, it's sometimes possible to determine right off and with no possibility of being in error that a staging is clear Eurotrash. Such is the case, for instance, with the (in)famous 1976 Patrice Chéreau staging of Das Rheingold for the Bayreuther Festspiele (the first installment of the so-called "Centennial Ring), or the 2006 Francesca Zambello staging of the same work for the Washington National Opera (the first installment of the so-called "American Ring"). In such cases there's no point in actually witnessing the full production either in the theater or via DVD or video before making an assessment in the name of giving the staging a fair viewing. One, after all, does not have to eat a rotten egg to know it's rotten. Its mere stench at some remove is all that's required to make a definitive decision on the point. On the other hand and at the opposite extreme and also just for instance, it's quite impossible to determine from a mere physical description, even with scads of production photos, whether the 2009 Achim Freyer staging of Das Rheingold for the Los Angeles Opera is clear Eurotrash or a brilliantly reimagined staging of Wagner's own Konzept or neither of the above so richly and complexly layered is it visually. In such a case one can make no informed critical assessment of the staging except what we've above said without seeing that staging in toto at firsthand in the theater as not even a DVD or video of that staging will suffice as a source upon which to base an informed critical assessment. In fact, in this particular case, one would have to see the staging of the entire tetralogy in toto at firsthand in the theater before an informed critical assessment could be made of the staging of any one of the four music-dramas. All the above is, in brief, our official position on this question the principles of which position we've never once violated here or anywhere else for that matter. You may disagree with that position and its principles which is certainly your prerogative, but any such disagreement is your concern entirely and none of ours. So endeth the proclamation.