We just finished watching our DVRed copy of PBS's Friday night telecast of the Met's HD film of its new production of Michael Mayer's Regietheater (but NOT Eurotrash) reimagining of Verdi's Rigoletto which transports the setting of the opera from 16th-century Mantua to 1960s Las Vegas and does so with little or no strain at all if with but little point (not even the rewording of the subtitles to comport with the opera's new setting seemed a strain).This brought an annoyed eMail objection from a hugely experienced and perceptive mainstream classical music critic who wrote that Mayer's Regietheater staging "falsified the characters, locales and even props ('gun' instead of 'sword') to match the modern Vegas locale, and even added slang [to the "translated" subtitles]." When we responded, in part, by asking what the critic meant by "falsified the characters" the response was:
Start with Monterone as Muslim sheik. Or the virginal Gilda, who Rigoletto protects from the evil outside world and who leaves home only to go to church on Sundays, living atop a casino, which she has to traverse upon exiting the elevator. And do you think a sheik's curse would upset Don Rickles in 1950s [sic] Vegas? If someone took liberties like this with Wagner you'd be horrified.That last is, of course, perfectly true, and for good reason too: there's a fundamental difference in this regard between Wagner's stageworks and conventional Italian (or French) opera. As we wrote some few years ago (2004):
Might I suggest to [critics] in the critical press that before they next think of praising a Eurotrash Regietheater Wagner production they first consider that, although there would be no dramatic or aesthetic gain or benefit whatsoever from doing so, and while, depending on how skillfully it's done, it may do no real or fundamental violence to a conventional Italian opera like, say, Tosca with all the necessary time and place changes made to the sung text to have it take place in, say, turn-of-21st-century New York instead of turn-of-19th-century Rome — a 21st-century New York where, say, Cavaradossi is a programmer of software games, Scarpia a powerful and exploitative electronics venture capitalist, and Floria Tosca herself a flaming rock star and all that implies — the same sort of approach cannot be taken with any of Wagner's canonical works (those works from Holländer forward) and most particularly and most especially none of the great music-dramas after Lohengrin. If nothing else, taking that sort of approach with a Wagner opera or music-drama results in making concrete and "fixing" a particular aspect or reading of the work, thereby robbing it of the very thing — the essential characteristic — that establishes it as the transcendent work of art that it is: its power to resonate in multiple domains and at multiple levels of meaning all at once. Additionally, all Wagner's works, even one as early and immature as Holländer, have an organic unity of text, music, and mise en scène that will brook no deconstructionist or postmodern diddling without becoming grotesque caricatures of themselves at best, and perverse corruptions of their creator's dramatic and aesthetic vision always.We stand by what we wrote, then and now.