[Baumgarten's] staging transposes Wartburg castle to an organic waste recycling plant and features a pregnant Venus living in a cage with giant tadpoles and furry, ape-like nymphs. The recycling-plant set, designed by Joep van Lieshout, remains largely unchanged through the opera’s three acts. It comprises a big green tank of nutrition (we’re told it’s a celery product), a blue tank of biogas (made from human excrement) and a long red storage cylinder of alcohol (distilled celery juice.) The program notes contain a detailed diagram explaining how this represents the full energy cycle from food and alcohol, through digestion and waste back to gas and energy.Sounds like the proper setting for Eurotrash.
Under his direction, actors ignored huge portions of the classical texts they performed, stripped naked, screamed their lines for the duration of five-hour productions, got drunk onstage, dropped out of character, conducted private fights, tossed paint at their public, saw a third of the audience walk out as they spoke two lines at an excruciatingly slow pace, may or may not have induced a theatergoer to drink urine, threw potato salad, immersed themselves in water, recited newspaper reports of Hitler’s last peacetime birthday party, told bad jokes, called the audience East German sellouts and appeared to but did not kill a mouse [onstage].Yes indeed. Herr Castorf sounds just about right as Katharina's choice. And the beat goes on and the hits just keep on comin'.
For many of us who came to love opera before Regietheater took hold, current notions of effective dramaturgy boggle the mind. When did the directors and impresarios decide that an opera was a random collection of notes, independent of its dramatic and visual elements — a mere musical shell, to be filled up with and bent out of shape by whatever modern hang-ups seem most likely to catch the public off guard? When did wild controversy, booing and academic apologias in the press replace straightforward storytelling as signs of theatrical prowess? When did "making people think" become the top priority in an art form once clearly intended to make them feel?When indeed. Nothing in the above linked article will come as news to regular readers of S&F (and we thank one of those readers for pointing us to this article as absent that heads-up we would not have known about it as we don't ordinarily read Opera News), but it does contain a key thought we don't recall ever articulating explicitly before; viz., that opera is an artform intended principally to make audiences feel, not think. That, in fact, is what opera — what music — is all about. Prior to our modern age, there's not a composer of opera (or of music generally, for that matter) who ever lived who thought otherwise. Whence, then, this perverse, noxious, and ass-backwards impulse to make opera audiences think first, feel after? We're not really sure, but that it's in some fundamental way bound intimately to our present-day scientific and technological modes of thought concerning all things — cosmic or terrestrial, sacred or profane, mystical or quotidian — is a certainty. Is that a step forward for art and for us as a species; a development to be applauded and welcomed rather than savaged and rejected? We confess we don’t really know the answer to that question, either. What we do know, however, is that in matters of art, and in matters of music most particularly, whenever the intellectual trumps the emotional — whenever the emotional is in some fundamental way conditional upon the intellectual — impoverishment is the ineluctable consequence. That, too, is a certainty.
Here's a suggestion by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman that, on its face, looks merely, um, eccentric, but whose underlying principle is pure evil.
Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.On which Mr. McManus comments approvingly, "Really get’s gears turning, doesn’t it?" Yes indeed. It certainly does. Bach simple(!)? And which Bach might that be? Offenbach? We get what Mr. Mingus was trying to say (and agree with it), but he ought to have been ashamed of himself (as ought Mr. McManus for his comment). Mozart would fit nicely as the referenced composer in that quote, but Bach? Lord preserve us all!
All the lights were turned low, so low that the congregation sat in a deep and solemn gloom. The funereal rustling of dresses and the low buzz of conversation began to die swiftly down, and presently not the ghost of a sound was left. This profound and increasingly impressive stillness endured for some time — the best preparation for music, spectacle, or speech conceivable. [...] Finally, out of darkness and distance and mystery soft rich notes rose upon the stillness, and from his grave the dead magician began to weave his spells about his disciples and steep their souls in his enchantments. There was something strangely impressive in the fancy which kept intruding itself that the composer was conscious in his grave of what was going on here, and that these divine sounds were the clothing of thoughts which were at this moment passing through his brain, and not recognized and familiar ones which had issued from it at some former time. [...] Yesterday the opera was "Tristan and Isolde." I have seen all sorts of audiences — at theaters, operas, concerts, lectures, sermons, funerals — but none which was twin to the Wagner audience of Bayreuth for fixed and reverential attention, absolute attention and petrified retention to the end of an act of the attitude assumed at the beginning of it. You detect no movement in the solid mass of heads and shoulders. You seem to sit with the dead in the gloom of a tomb. You know that they are being stirred to their profoundest depths; that there are times when they want to rise and wave handkerchiefs and shout their approbation, and times when tears are running down their faces, and it would be a relief to free their pent emotions in sobs or screams; yet you hear not one utterance till the curtain swings together and the closing strains have slowly faded out and died; then the dead rise with one impulse and shake the building with their applause. Every seat is full in the first act; there is not a vacant one in the last. If a man would be conspicuous, let him come here and retire from the house in the midst of an act. It would make him celebrated. [...] This opera of "Tristan and Isolde" last night broke the hearts of all witnesses who were of the faith, and I know of some who have heard of many who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the sane person in a community of the mad; sometimes I feel like the one blind man where all others see; the one groping savage in the college of the learned, and always, during service, I feel like a heretic in heaven. But by no means do I ever overlook or minify the fact that this is one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have never seen anything like this before. I have never seen anything so great and fine and real as this devotion.
I am amazed at all the hubbub concerning Don Carlo. Have we not all seen and heard this opera many times? What is there left of the story that we don’t already know. If we were to go see this opera again, don’t we go for the music and the singing? We all seem to agree that the music is glorious, then why would we want any of it cut? When I listen or see an opera I want all the music. These productions that make cuts, what are they accomplishing? Do you go to the opera not to listen to the music?To which our response is... If listening to the music were really what sophisticated operagoers go to the opera for, then composers of opera since its beginnings have squandered much of their time composing operas, and producers of opera much of theirs staging those operas. Composers of opera should instead have spent their time writing, say, symphonies with vocal parts like, for instance, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, and producers of opera should have spent theirs...well, looking for other work. The truth of the matter is that opera — genuine opera; opera as dramma per musica — is NOT about the music, nor is it about the singers (and we here exclude bel canto opera as that genre of opera is, by and large, not genuine opera at all but merely an elaborate showcase for singers). In the minds of opera composers, opera producers, and sophisticated operagoers, opera is first and foremost about the drama — or more correctly, about the music-drama; about dramma per musica; drama where the drama is made sensible or articulated through music supported by the armature of the text which armature provides those narrative and concrete details that music alone is incapable of providing, the whole or gestalt made visible by its acting out onstage. Wagner may have made all of that explicit both in his theoretical writings and in his stageworks the mature examples of which are a veritable apotheosis of opera as dramma per musica, but it is not his invention. Dramma per musica has been the ideal and the goal of opera from opera's very beginnings as a distinct artform in the late-16th, early-17th century the first fully developed example of which is usually attributed to Monteverdi and his L'Orfeo of 1607. That that ideal became corrupted early on and seemingly forever by 17th-century Italian theater owners and producers who, in their commercial greed, wantonly pandered to the sensibilities and appetites of the opera-going groundlings who couldn't have cared less about opera as dramma per musica and which opera-going groundlings, then as now, are always in the vast majority, doesn't alter the ideal one whit. And that's why "want[ing] all the music" is rarely the first consideration. Sometimes, when the dramma per musica has gone off-track by becoming bloated or obscured for reasons having little to do with the realization of the dramma per musica per se (we omit here those cases where the creator's own dramatic sense is defective or wanting as that's another discussion entirely), judicious cuts become necessary to free the work to be realized as its creator envisioned it in its ideal form absent all commercial or other compromise. Needless to say, the aesthetic judgment and operatic knowledge of the cutter is here paramount when the creator of the opera is no longer available for consultation or to do the work himself. Too often cuts are made for reasons commercial or practical which are compromises just as pernicious as the compromises which resulted in the dramma per musica going off-track by becoming bloated or obscured in the first place, and in such cases artistic disaster is almost certain to result, not to speak of a betrayal of the creator of the opera and of his creation. And so to sum up in brief: When practiced responsibly, "what [is] accomplish[ed] [or attempted to be accomplished] by productions that make cuts" is the freeing of the dramma per musica of its commercial or other compromises that have, in one way or another, hampered or prevented the work from being realized in its ideal form as its creator envisioned it. It's actually quite a noble task when done responsibly, circumspectly, and knowledgeably.
Part of the reason why Kushner is so admired by elite opinion makers is that he is, as Newsweek pointed out, the living embodiment of their unanimously held views on a wide range of political and social issues. [...] The supremely high esteem in which Kushner is held in bien-pensant circles was demonstrated in May when the board of trustees of the City University of New York voted to deny him an honorary degree, citing his belief that Israel was “founded in a program that, if you really want to be blunt about it, was ethnic cleansing. . . . I have a problem with the idea of a Jewish state. It would have been better if it never happened.” The response of the cultural establishment to the board’s decision was so reflexively and overwhelmingly negative that CUNY’s executive board voted a few days later to overrule it and confer the degree. As it happens, the uproar at CUNY took place at the end of a theater season during which Kushner was omnipresent. In October, the Signature Theatre Company mounted the first New York revival of Angels in America, which played to full houses throughout its long run. Seven months later, the Public Theater gave the New York premiere of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Kushner’s first new full-length play in a decade. But unlike the Angels revival, which was greeted with the usual lockstep praise, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide received unexpectedly mixed notices — albeit mostly of the cautious kind in which the reviewer takes care to make clear his otherwise extravagant admiration of the author. Even so, it was evident from the reviews that Kushner’s new play was felt to have fallen well short of Angels. In fact, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide and Angels are of a piece. Like Kushner’s other plays, they are the work of a flawed artist ill served by the indiscriminate esteem in which his work is held — and whose problematic style may at last have reached the point of diminishing critical returns.RTWT here.
In a rising tide of protest, opera-world stars are denouncing New York City Opera’s planned move from Lincoln Center and calling into question the company’s stewardship. Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Carlisle Floyd, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, Hal Prince and Frederica von Stade were among more than 120 singers, directors, composers and others who have agreed to have their names attached to an open letter criticizing the move, said Catherine Malfitano, the soprano and a former City Opera performer, who took the lead in writing it. The letter, which was released to The New York Times on Thursday, calls on the company’s board and management to reconsider the move from its longtime home at the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater). “To lose City Opera as a vital part of the Lincoln Center family would be felt as a personal loss to each and every one of us as well as to this great city,” the letter says, “and we find it unnecessary and unacceptable.”RTWT here.