May 22nd, 2012

silhouetted cowboys

How not to stage an opera

Okay, so I'm not the biggest Mozart fan in the world (give me Puccini and Verdi and Donizetti any day), but I do rather enjoy Don Giovanni. It's very funny, has great music, and the lead character goes to hell, usually in a big, giant flame-out. But it's a long opera, has a lot of stand-around-and-sing... but last year I saw Simon Keenlyside sing the role live, and I realized Don Giovanni didn't have to feel long or boring. It could be energetic and full of life, and even the stand-around-and-sing parts could be filled with stuff to watch.

The LA Phil production I saw Friday night? None of those things. The set looked like a giant had crumpled giant masking tape and left balls of it lying around. Then thrown in a few various size boxes for people to climb on for good measure. Now, I could have handled the weird-ass modern set, if the singers still got to act out the opera... oh, but no! They took that away too. Our singers (who were all really good, btw) were stuck walking in slow motion around the set most of the time. No, that's slloooooooowwwwwww moooooooooooottttionnnnnn. Not joking. And they didn't act out what they were singing 95% of the time. They... I don't know what they did. For example, last act, Don Giovanni's supposed to be eating his dinner and Leporello is sneaking food while the two banter with each other. So, this Don was seated on a small box at a bigger box, resting his hands on the big box. Leporello was "sleeping" on the big box in front of him. Neither stirred from their position. Oh, and meanwhile, Don Ottavio was passed out on the floor nearby... he'd been there since the end of his last aria. Nobody moved a muscle. You know, two deep voices singing sound very much alike when you can't see one singer's face (cuz, he's, you know, sleeping on the "table" for some reason during the middle of a scene) and the other one just sits there like a lump. If I didn't know the opera, I wouldn't have known who was saying which words. Even still it was a bit tricky to follow.

And in an opera that long? Dude, slow motion walking? People frozen on stage? Really? How to make the opera seem even fricking longer. There were quite a few people who did not return to their seats for Act 2. Can't say I blame them.

The sad thing is, I love opera, I've loved it my entire life, and if this bores me nearly to death, what's it doing to the people who've never seen an opera? Who's first taste of opera was this contrivance? Sad to think some people might rule opera out because someone felt the need to be "original" and "artsy." I don't know what else to think they were aiming for. At least, the singing was good, the orchestra good, but lordy, the rest. I kind of wish it had been "Don Giovanni on the moon" because, you know, I could have hung with that -- provided the singers got to act their parts out. But not allowing them to actually act out what their characters are singing about... big mistake. Opera is not just music. It's a story and characters set to music. And if you fail the story, then ultimately, it doesn't matter how good the singers sound: the production fails. I would even have preferred a concert stage production, because then at least, they have an excuse to stand around.

And I find it rather amusing that I'll be revisiting Don Giovanni again later this year at the LA Opera. I'm actually looking forward to it. Anything to get the bad taste of this one out of my head. I don't care what time period it's set in, just let the story play itself out the way it was meant to. Give me characters who are actually doing something meaningful to go with their dialogue/arias.