Posts Tagged ‘Glimmerglas opera’

Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (usually Englished as The Golden Girl of the West, from the title of the play upon which the opera is based), at West End Cinema, from Netherlands Opera

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is definitely here. We have several days in a row where the temperature soared to the high 90s and the heat index was in the 100s (the “dog days of June” anyone?). And we’ve begun using up our tickets bought across the summer to go to operas (not all in HD, some live), plays, concerts, and events of various sorts. Three sets of tickets we bought from the West End Cinema (Georgetown, DC) where the proprietor is bringing in operas from 3 different opera houses in Europe.

First up was Monday last week: La Fanciulla del West done in Eurotrash style. I learnt that one reason we are not in our area seeing the efflorescence of opera that was predicted when HD operas first were broadcast is that the Met will not sign with you if you also broadcast other opera houses. So much for their ethics.

From Netherlands Opera house it was wonderfully well sung but the settings made it impossible to believe in any emotional way. One scene was performed in a large shoebox done as a Barbie trailer home all in ludicrous pinks (see above). Another a vast junkyard of trashed once super-expensive cars. As a comment on the culture and state of “modern” society today the scenes were suggestive, but against the action of Puccini’s opera, the thing was ludicrous. Maybe it was meant to be so, as the characters were also ridiculously, burlesque-ly overdressed, the characters playing “Indians” walked around saying “Ugh” (no need for this as this was not sung), reminding me of the song from Disney film for Peter Pan, “What made the Red Man Red?”. The acting was melodramatic, the silly myths of cowboys, in origin about sociopaths, lynching as a fun thing to do, desperate greed, were sent up. Eurotrash can make a serious statement about our world and not make the very opera part of the problem of those who have and control huge amounts of money running — I had almost said ruining — all experience for the rest of us in accordance with how much profit they personally make: a case in point was Claus Guth’s brilliant Don Giovanni, which took refuge in a pastoral wasteland (which also had junked cars about).

That our response was not unusual may be seen in the film of the live broadcast. The audience laughed at the sets, at the costumes. Here in the US theater, as even with the Giovanni two years ago, the audience was almost non-existent, maybe 7 people there. This sort of thing or non-commercial style operas do not seem to attract Americans at all. Guth’s Don Giovanni at the Atlas two years ago had a tiny audience.

Izzy (my daughter) has written wittily upon it (Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun, a blog which features ice-skating, tennis and bicycle tours): Opera in Cinema: La Fanciulla del West, from which I take a central paragraph:

The program claimed that the setting for the opera had been changed, for the California gold rush to modern-day Wall Street. But it didn’t really look like any vision of Wall Street, except for the footage shown on a big screen above the set during the brief overture. Especially not when everyone was still wearing cowboy hats and boots and other western regalia, except in black leather. If you want to change the setting, you really do have to change the setting, or else the story really takes place nowhere at all.

In the first act this was mildly distracting, but it was okay when the better singers were singing, particularly when Eva-Maria Westbroek was hitting the loud high notes. Puccini’s capable of some beautiful music, though La Fanciulla really has only one memorable theme, which didn’t appear enough. The second act was likewise, despite the heroine’s bachelorette pad having an overabundance of pink, and seeming to be on a snow-covered hill even though it’s being so makes absolutely no sense. But then came the third act. The audience laughed when they saw the initial impound lot set, and then again when in the end it suddenly parted for a flight of lighted stairs and the MGM logo(no, really), which is about when the setting lost whatever coherence it had.

When the dollar bills started appearing on the screen, it was officially so bad not even the singing could save it.

The West End Cinema is a comfortable place. One of the auditoriums has moveable chairs. Very comfortable ones too. There is an outside terrace-portico area and they serve liquor, wine, beer; you can get decent coffee and salads too. The audience envisaged is not one made up of teenagers — though pizza is available too. And it is a relief to see opera productions which are (unlike the Met’s and those brought to Americans on PBS), not interwoven with over-the-top self-praise by everyone on the stage who speaks to you, a kind of faux excitement roused by all sorts of flash techniques, and the opera itself strongly influenced by the latest Broadway technologies. You were left in the quiet of an understated framing of the film to come to your own conclusions, think your own thoughts. Opera done this way might seem boring at first …

I mean to use this blog to journalize and will be adding to it (or linking in other similar blogs) to the other two operas we see on consecutive Mondays: from Barcelona, Massenet’s Manon (which I’ve never seen before) and from the English Royal Opera in London, Verdi’s Macbeth (with Simon Keeleyside), plus the live operas we are planning to go to: at Castleton (rural Virginia, further south and west, see, for example, Britten’s Beggar’s Opera) and Glimmerglass (New York State, see Handel’s Giuilio Cesare in Egitto).


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