Thursday, November 09, 2006

Not the way to make people like opera

Let's start out with a caveat, shall we? As an appetizer, with toast points? I just re-read my subject line and tilted my head in that way that means: huh? Did I write that? Here's the thing. I don't think you can make people like opera. I think there are people that like opera and people that think it's boring, and that's fine. Much as I think it would make me a well rounded individual, I have given up on ever liking baseball. But what opera on late night tv could possibly do is reach a few people that have never given it much thought one way or another and might enjoy it. And that's worth doing. And I seriously doubt that happened last night.

Please tell me Bartlett Sher was not responsible for the look of the Letterman scena last night, or the choice of rep. That would be a dark foreboding, indeed.

First they pick a Rossini scene-ender, i.e. the part of the opera where everyone stops being funny or even lifelike and shuffles up to the footlights to stand in place and sing. Maybe this was so they didn't have to risk a comic scene going over like a lead balloon, but the side effect was that everyone sang in ensemble and nobody got to do any singing you or I couldn't get away with. Awful, boring, not the face of opera the world needs to see.

Then, insult to injury, everyone is dressed in powdered wigs whose semantic content, if wigs can speak, is "opera is dead." I mean, I'm fine with wigs-'n-bustles productions once in a while but context is important. Really, I think if they were going to do a scene with nothing going on, they should have had everyone just dress nice for the camera and let 'em sing. Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, and Peter Mattei are all extremely photogenic. Not to encourage cheezily dressed down opera (no Il Divo if you please) but ach, the whole thing just seemed so static and uninviting.

Of course my idea of a good time is for them to do Act II of the Robert Wilson Lohengrin. No, seriously, though...there have to be some 3-minute scenes that would come off better, or maybe they could even spring for a whole aria. I think part of the problem is that it's Il Barbiere they chose, and as much fun as it can be, it's kind of inherently dowdy and the cast and director and everyone else will always be struggling with that.

Better ideas, according to me:
1) a little snippet, even with some awkard arranged ending, from Butterfly. Maybe there's not room enough on the stage, and the run is (almost?) over, but they really used it as the driving force behind the whole season, and p.s. it is beautiful, and beautiful in an unforbidding way
2) for god's sake, the obvious choice: find an evening when Villazon and Trebbers are free and slap them up there on a bit of scaffolding to sing "O soave fanciulla." Um, and send him to a threading salon the night before. That's just a little friendly advice from my eyebrows to his.
3) people hate subtitles, so why not a scene from the Met's new production of Vanessa. Sorry, we all ended up in my fantasy world for a minute there. HINT HINT NONSUBLIMINAL HINT TO MET VANESSA VANESSA VANESSA.

Next up: Il Barbiere di Letterman, on Friday.
Reinstated from deleted version of this entry: tip of hat to Letterman for more or less unsmilingly shredding Bill O'Reilly the other night.


Mark said...

"I think part of the problem is that it's Il Barbiere they chose, and as much fun as it can be, it's kind of inherently dowdy and the cast and director and everyone else will always be struggling with that."

I agree!! In the accepted canon of masterpieces, Barbiere is the least fun of the bunch as near as I can tell. Una voce poco fa is great and all that but in the end I know I am going to be undernourished and underamused whenever I see this piece. How ironic that it's a comedy. There are more laughs in William Tell (maybe I exaggerate a little there, but maybe not).

Chalkenteros said...

Yeah I actually stayed up for that. It was repellant. Ditch the dusty wigs, the subtitles, and the ensemble. Showcase the stars and let them just pour forth a glorious sound.

Jamie Oliver was cute tho.

Stela Maria Krazelberg von und zu Brabant said...

I could be wrong, but something tells me that between what the Met had planned to present and what the Letterman producers actually allowed on the show would make a very entertaining 5 act opera.

Maury D'annato said...

You're probably right, S.M.K.v/zB.

Campbell Vertesi said...

I disagree about Barber not providing good fodder for Letterman. You could definitely put on an excerpts schtick for 10 minutes that shows off tunes the whole audience knows. Largo, Calunnia, the shaving scene...

You can do a lot with Barber, but they didn't. It was bad enough that one has to wonder if it was intentional sabotage.