Opera Lover to Peter Gelb: More Eurotrash Please!
As the Metropolitan Opera totters into the final act of its increasingly dreary season, one has to wonder what happened to all that daring theatricality we were promised. The Met seems to have fallen into a formula of staging timid, tradition-bound productions, which give us an updated or slightly avant-garde mise-en-scène, but provide little in the way of illuminating the story.
When Peter Gelb assumed his position as the new general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, he spoke of his mission to usher in a new era of bold, daring theatrical innovation that would add a jolt of excitement to opera.
I dearly hoped for some audaciously shocking productions, replete with political themes, bold new perspectives, and exciting reinterpretations of familiar characters.
Alas, we have been subjected to an endless barrage of empty-headed productions; big on polish and spectacle, but utterly lacking in substance. These productions don’t excavate the text of an opera in an attempt to find new relevance; rather, they give us slightly modernized sets with novel bits of stage business. Everything looks new, but what transpires before the audience is really just the same old hokum.
What, pray tell, is the significance of Robert LePage’s graceless, lumbering set for his new Ring Cycle? Is there a reason the singers are only visible from the waste-up during the first third of “Die Walküre?” Is Mr. LePage making some kind of statement on the insignificance of the gods and their trivial doings? My guess is Mr. LePage would prefer that you not concern yourself with such matters as you watch the maladroit set lurch through its near six hours of ungainly configurations.
At the risk of offending the Met’s audience, could we take more risks with our opera? Could we be more offensive…dare I say, more German?
I don’t mind setting Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette during, say, the L.A. riots to incorporate race-relations into the tale of star-crossed lovers. It is not necessarily a crime to strip Alfredo and Violetta of their traditional, sumptuous Parisian trappings to turn ‘Traviata’ into an intimate chamber drama.
It is time for someone to shake the Metropolitan Opera’s stuffy audience out of their complacency. Gelb has been catering to middlebrow tastes for too long, and it is time to start treating opera more like exciting theater. The opera world will be a more courageous place for it.
One reason I started blogging is that I wanted to engage in the diversity of opinions about art. I don’t think that one critic represents the voice of truth. It would be ridiculous of me to pretend that what I say is the only way to think about something, since there’s plenty of evidence that other people think differently (not least in the comments I receive).
In fact, criticism today is all about diversity of opinion. If a new musical opens, I try to read every article about it, because this helps me to form a more complete picture of the range of thought about it. Today, viewing a spectrum of different opinions is the norm.
What I find regrettable, in this endeavor, is the tendency to divide into camps and brand as idiots anyone who has a different opinion. I was not enamored with “Die Walkure” (though I really hoped I would be). goofin, liked it a lot, and she elaborated still more reasons why she liked it. I found goofin’s opinions to be among the most interesting about the piece. (Yes, we disagreed, and yet we Facebooked about the opera, and both managed to avoid thinking the other was an idiot.)
In fact, we observed a few of the same things about the opera, and found that we were in agreement over many of the most crucial aspects of the production (namely: Deborah Voigt and Bryn Terfel’s incredibly moving performances).
It’s for that reason that I encourage all readers to post their own reviews. The point of criticism is to foster discussion, appreciation, thought — not to seize on a couple of points and use them to further one’s own predetermined agenda. Goofin’s posts didn’t make me change my mind about “The Machine,” but it gave me a real understanding of what the piece had done for her and why she liked it. Indeed, some of my most interesting conversations about music have been with people who had a different view than I did. Interestingly enough, We both agreed that “Die Walkure” would work if the whole god element was removed. In the end, we concurred that “Die Walkure” is much closer to Eugen O’Neil than J.R.R. Tolkien.
It would be pretty sad, and limiting, if people shut out other opinions thinking they might challenge someone or make them look bad. Seeing the spectrum of opinion is part of the fun; it makes the piece more interesting for everybody. A new work, in particular, is in the position of the blind men and the elephant: everyone who was there can give his or her own piece of the experience, and readers, seeing them all together, can try to amalgamate them into a larger, and more accurate, picture.
Yet another anonymous user admonished me for a recent post of Angela Meade being interviewed about why she loves singing “Casta Diva.” I wanted to use this as an opportunity to discuss the relationship singers have with certain characters and music. Why does a singer choose a song or a character? The most intelligent and passionate singers can speak eloquently about what drives their choices. I posted an interview with Renee Fleming on singing the Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier,” and why she adores this part. Ms. Fleming stated that it was the universality of time and the Marschallin’s awareness of how quickly it moves, that spoke to her personally as a woman. That’s the sort of response I would expect from a great artist in a high-profile interview.
Nonetheless, this user admonished me for “hating on” (an expression that needs to be retired today) Ms. Meade for “answering questions in an interview.” This statement was not only woefully glib, but inaccurate as well. Clearly this user missed the whole point of my article. I wanted to know what, specifically, in the text, gave Meade a “special connection” with the aria as she had stated. She simply rattled off a list of her favorite singers and claimed she really didn’t know why she felt a connection with the aria. There didn’t seem to be much to justify her “special connection” to this famous aria and I was disappointed by this.
Furthermore, the user challenged me to list the rep that I sing (despite the fact that I’m not a singer) and “enlighten” my followers with the “profound connection” I have to my choices. This is exactly the kind of nasty, unnecessary vitriol that needs to stop. I have absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Meade, which is what makes this user’s rants so exasperating. I, at NO point, mentioned or implied my superiority to Ms. Meade, because that would be beyond ludicrous. I am simply a critic offering my viewpoint. I am not a rising international opera star singing a bel canto staple as my calling-card.
This user also seemed to miss the fact that I praised Ms. Meade’s singing and said that “fine things were headed her way.” It’s time we all grew up and started engaging in intelligent discussions, not knee-jerk personal attacks just because we disagree with a person’s point of view.