Sunday, May 03, 2009

E la Nave Va

Here's an opportunity to witness a number of frustrating things happening at once. The story itself is about Robert Wilson and some insane-sounding fashion people* doing a production of Freischutz which actually, now that I think about it, is maybe not frustrating but hilarious and wonderful. This may have to do with me giving precisely 3/8 of a damn about the opera in question and so not really caring what happens to it. Ok but then start reading the comments where it seems people have been waiting for an opportunity to continue, shall we say, ventilating affect over Sonnambula. Before it even comes up explicitly it is just so fucking clear where it's all going.

And then it's always a fairly short road to "why people gotta be mean to Verdi" i.e. the martyrdom of traditionalism vs. the encroaching evil of anything not faithful enough to The Composer's Intentions (as understood, of course, by whoever is moaning. By what process, oh do not ask.) Soon someone will use the word "Eurotrash." There might well be a corollary to Godwin's Law where for Hitler we substitute Bieito, unless he's been toppled from his iconicity of badness by Mary Zimmerman...

I'm torn, reading it, because I do hate it when people try and make themselves look however it is they're trying to make themselves look by saying "oh, I don't like opera! As if!" And then on the other hand, it still pisses me off that people take (for instance) Dessay's sort of snotty line on Sonnambula as a sign that she sits around at night rubbing her hands together, stroking her moustache of evil, trying to think how to destroy opera.

While I'm on about it, this is the reason I sometimes want to learn to love football and drop the whole opera thing (but ok, after 2012-2013 because Maria Stuarda, mmkay? obviously this will never work.) What I mean is, once upon a time, I found my crowd, people in Austin who thought opera was worth talking about and thinking about and who really seemed to love it. Only later would I discover that it serves some purpose for what would seem to be at least a large plurality of opera people that hovers between "proxy for less mediated modes of socialization" and something darker and more to be discussed in terms of object relations.

The best compliment anyone ever paid me on this shabby old blog was to say that I treated opera as though it were important without insisting on its nobility. I think I have the wording right. I took this to mean what I hoped it to mean: that it should be perfectly possible to discuss all this without the "naw, dude" posturing pointed out above, but also without sounding like the comic book guy on the Simpsons.

Hey that's all. I mostly just wanted to post the link and then I got to typing.

*It's true. I try to see the good in any project at whose heart is the beautification of life. But fashion just makes me sad and defensive.

12 comments:

armerjacquino said...

It may be unsurprising if I say that I agree with every last syllable of this.

Ernani Involami said...

I think you really hit the nail on the head with your parenthetic comment of The Composer's Intentions. I've always treated that phrase and 'traditional production' with a Godwin's lawesque reaction. Is it healthy to merge opera and the internet in such a manner?

L. Strether said...

I'm not sure I can articulate why, but I love this post.

JSU said...

I dunno, I'm at least as bored by the other half of the stale old modernist discourse: the you-should-know-better scolds who pretend that directors are somehow not performers subject to the same audience rights of approval and disapproval (and rightly so, for how many thousands put valuable time money and attention -- parts of our lives, as we say, that we'll never get back -- into the performers' hands each time?).

Funny thing is that *this* side's very overrepresentation in the press encourages the excesses of the offended.

Benjamin Rous said...

I also especially love people bringing up Callas as The Official Measure of dramatic coherence and plausibility: "If it was all good enough for Callas to make sense of..."

I think every production should be judged on its own terms: I'm not pro or anti Regie as such, I'm just against bad productions. There have been abstract productions that I have absolutely loved (W. Decker almost always, Carsen, even Wilson), but can also enjoy 'traditional' or non-conceptualized productions, such as the wonderful Nicholas Hytner Così from Glyndebourne.

Overall, people tend to agressively generalize matters when it comes to this subject, don't they?

Maury D'annato said...

Well I mean I hope I don't come off as dogmatically pro instead of dogmatically anti-anti. It's true, a bunch of my fave productions are big moody numbers with shifting colors in the background and not that many working kitchen sinks, but I thought about this, this morning on the A train. I love the Aida, the Cavalleria, the Cosi, a couple of other absolutely traditional productions. If I'm dogmatic in one thing, it's probably that I do imagine "the other side" hates anything and everything without an elephant, so to speak, you know?

Also I suppose I don't like the sense of entitlement I feel I hear among the kitchen sink crowd. I've paid to hear any number of things I don't care for. I wasn't ecstatic and I may even have been bitchy, but I try not to talk like the world is ending and I try not to act as if I've been personally wronged in a way that demands redress. I guess I should look back over what I've written at some point and see if I can fairly make this claim/expect the same of others.

Maury D'annato said...

L. Strether: glad you liked it, however inarticulatable the reason.

Ernani: the marriage of opera and the internet certainly has its pitfalls. I mean, the internet brings out the crazies no matter what the subject. Last decade's cartoon, updated, might say "on the internet, nobody knows you're a tenor;" this decade's, "I can't come to bed--somebody on the internet is wrong about who most movingly sings the words 'Ja, ja' near the end of Der Rosenkavalier."

JSU said...

Ack, looks like it ate my comment.

I didn't mean you, but I did mean pretty much every newspaper article on every controversy ever. "Let us now praise brave and enlightened bourgeois-shockers" is, at this point, utterly tired, advances understanding of the actual event exactly zero, and displaces actual thought.

Given that the ultra-pros get their say in the press everywhere, why not let the ultra-antis have a moment? I mean, I *am* glad that they're overestimating how much this stuff will take over here (American houses aren't and won't be German). Besides, the irrational ultras are actually relatively well-behaved on this subject. Just compare how little "*my* production or death!" there is out there compared to "*my* singer or death!"

Brian said...

More reasons I love reading your blog. I survived a "Patron preview" of the Met's new Lepage-directed Ring cycle last week. (http://outwestarts.blogspot.com/2009/05/stop-your-sobbing.html) The most surprising thing to me was how much strong reaction this admittedly "traditionalist" crowd had for a production that doesn't even exist yet, much less one they haven't seen. It's this "boogeyman" effect that drives me nuts - where the conversation becomes more about peoples' own internal neuroses more than even a simple reaction or assessment of what they've seen or haven't.

armerjacquino said...

Interesting twist on this whole thing this morning- there was a review of 'Lohengrin' at the ROH in Metro, a London freesheet, which ended 'it's ok if you close your eyes'. The standard anti-regie review, right? Except in this case, the reviewer was talking about the stultifying dullness and lack of acting in the 'traditional' production. It doesn't make much sense this way round, of course- unless the reviewer is so precious that he cannot bear to look at anything boring- but it tickled me to see that particular cliché crossing over, so to speak.

squirrel said...

I love this blog. Long Live Maury.

Will said...

"Iconicity of badness" is wonderful, Maury, really lovely.

I've written in a very similar tone about contemporary productions in relation to "the composer's intentions", in particular as regards sage design, my particular career path. People sometimes [willfully] forget that many "traditional" productions in the old days arrived D.O.A. on stage and that just because a tree looked like a tree didn't mean the production had anything of value to offer.

Benjamin has it right, I think--each production is a unique statement and needs to be seen and evaluated as such. And I do mean SEEN--"I don't have to see it to know it's going to be crap" does NOT work.