Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rules are Meant to be Broken?

I got my season renewal packet for Opera Theatre of St. Louis this week.   I get (have) to sit through The Marriage of Figaro  yet again.  But that’s ok, I like Figaro.  Usually.   And I get to see Eugene Onegin again.  I saw it so long ago I barely remember it.   Then there is an Isaac Mizrahi  designed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.   I love Sondheim and will be exciting to see what OTSL does with it.  Last, but certainly not least, there will be the world premiere of The Golden Ticket,  an operatic version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  

A couple of months ago OTSL announced:

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Opera Theatre a $1 million grant - OTSL's largest-ever production grant - to support a three-year cycle of contemporary works beginning in 2010:

• the world premiere of The Golden Ticket in 2010, with music by Peter Ash and libretto by Donald Sturrock, based on Roald Dahl's beloved classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory;

• a new production of John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer in 2011, which will be the opera's first staged production in the United States in 20 years;

• a world premiere commission for the 2012 season.

All very exciting!  

In the meantime I also was reading Ten Rules for Stage Directors which were specifically aimed at opera productions.   I agree with most but not all of them.   Or, at least, I think there may be occasional exceptions to a few of them.  For instance, Rule No. 1:

DON’T STAGE THE OVERTURE.

In general I agree.  Except that the most memorable La Traviata I’ve seen (I’ve seen it four, maybe five, times) was Opera Theatre’s 2001 production starring Mary Dunleavy.   And in that production Violetta was on stage during the overture.  She was laying on the stage and then slowly pulled herself up and got dressed.     I can’t say why it was effective – perhaps because we were seeing the “real” Violetta before she put on her party face.  But it was very effective.  Simple.  But effective.

or what about Rule 8:

UPDATED IS OUTDATED.

I agree.  Setting Operas in time periods other than the period for which they were intended generally doesn’t work.  It is generally distracting.  But I thought  last summer’s production of Mozart’s Il Re Pastore worked really well – much better than if it had actually been set in Ancient Greece.   By setting it in a early 1900’s country house complete with servants and dinner guests, all of whom were “putting on” Il Re Pastore the production did distract from the original Il Re Pastore.   But that was good – because the original is boring to we in the 21’st century.  Most opera seria is boring.   A lot of people standing around as they, one by one, sing arias about mythological heroes.  Even Mozart’s glorious music can’t save the audience from boredom.  But by setting the production in another time and place – it gave the audience something to do in addition to listening to Mozart’s glorious music.  And that was good. 

On the other hand, for all of the above reasons I agree with rule no. 5 without qualification:

YOU CAN’T DO MOZART WITHOUT BENCHES.

Right.  Because there is nothing more boring than watching people standing around singing.   You must give them something to do.  Let them walk around, let them sit down. 

It will be interesting to see if OTSL breaks any of the rules next season.