Tag: regietheater!

Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Amsterdam 2008 / Montvidas, Aiken et al. (3)

[parts one and two here and here.]

There is something infectious about Entführung, independent of the production. Even when I know the Entführung I am about to watch is going to be all barbed wire, concrete and despair, the overture still makes me smile.

Fortunately, although this production is unconventional, it’s not the barbed-wire-and-despair sort of unconventional. There’s some overturned scenery and a bit of BDSM, but one hardly even notices. Besides, I want to talk about the music.

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Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Amsterdam 2008 / Aiken, Montvidas, et al. (2)

[part one here]

As I said, this production’s Belmonte is not a conventionally heroic figure. He is twitchy and fussy and prone to panic at the wrong moment — he even bolts during “wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen,” and Blonde and Pedrillo interrupt to call him back. Edgaras Montvidas expresses this part of his character very well – there is a deliberate hesitancy about this Belmonte. He doesn’t really know what he’s about, and he’s afraid it’s going to turn out to be the wrong thing.

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Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Amsterdam 2008 / Aiken, Montvidas, et al. (1)

This production of Entführung from Amsterdam is Regietheater in the classic sense. Through Act III the set is gradually stripped away to nothing, and at the end the chorus reappear in street clothes, carrying the ‘orientalist’ costumes they had worn earlier. The production is telling us in no uncertain terms that this is theater about theater.

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Ariodante / Murray, Rogers, Garrett et al. / English National Opera (3)

[Part one is here and part two is here.]

There is nothing really obviously bizarre about this production. There is no nudity except for the odd breast among the dancers during the ‘Ginevra’s dream’ ballet sequence, and we are all kind of used to that sort of thing with opera by now. There are no puppets or lasers or gallons of stage blood or anything like that. There is not even any smoking, although Polinesso does lick the tip of his walking stick in a way that leaves very little to the imagination as far as symbolism goes.

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Alcina / Coote, Naglestad et al., / Stuttgart Opera 1999 (3)

(Previous part here.)

Basically, I think the problem is that the production is taking too much on itself. It’s trying to do too much.

First of all, there is the set. It is one dilapidated room with a huge frame/mirror in the center. Sometimes characters are on our side of the mirror, sometimes not. On the other side there is a conveyor belt (that we can’t see) that moves characters one way or the other. Sometimes the rear of the set scrolls, Nintendo-style, to reveal additional wall-space, and at one point part of a stairway.

There are also a lot of miscellaneous objects. My favorite object is the French horn. Not the horn in the orchestra: the one on the stage. It first appears at the beginning of Act II, when Melisso gives Ruggiero the magic ring that allows him to see Alcina’s island as it really is. There is a lot of junk lying about in Alcina’s grande salle, and among the clutter is a French horn. The first time Ruggiero picked it up (after Melisso has already plucked it from among the odds and ends in the corner stage right) I half suspected that this was going to be far cleverer than I expected and he and Melisso and Bradamante were somehow going to MacGyver their way off of that island using nothing but a rubber band, a broken sword and a french horn valve.

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Alcina / Naglestad, Coote et al., Stuttgart Opera 1999 (1)

There is a term that I hear every so often, mostly from other American opera fans. It is ‘Eurotrash.’

I don’t like this term myself. I think it’s unfair and a little silly. Now, I am not saying that there are not bizarre, ill-conceived and sometimes even pointlessly ‘shocking’ productions of operas in Europe. There are. I think that the problem with the term ‘Eurotrash’ is that it has become a kind of shorthand for ‘that was not what I expected and I didn’t like it.’ It is possible to not like something for good reasons; it is also possible to not like something for fairly stupid reasons.

This Alcina from the Stuttgart Opera has been described as ‘Eurotrash,’ mostly (I suspect) because there is a lot of groping and also because one is left in no doubt as to the shapeliness of Catherine Naglestad’s breasts. There is nothing wrong, of course, with either shapeliness or breasts. But it is fair to ask in this instance whether the fact that we get quite an eyeful of Alcina’s is serving any useful artistic purpose.

I watched this again mainly because it was available on the internet and I could. I saw the DVD once before (for a while it was the only DVD of Alcina out there) and although I was not bowled over then I figured, hey — what the hell. Why not? Besides, I have had Alcina on the brain lately.

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Donna Giovanni

Let me preface this with a small amount of background information. Donna Giovanni both is and isn’t a production of Don Giovanni. It is a production of Don Giovanni in the sense that you will recognize the music. The whole opera is there, start to (almost) finish, albeit with a piano rather than an orchestra accompanying the singers.

It is not a production of Don Giovanni in the sense that it is an adaptation of the opera by Jesusa Rodriguez. If you are interested in regietheater and fairly tolerant of the limitations of early 80s AV equipment you may find this interesting. If not, then, well, probably not.

I should also add that this is more a piece of theater than it is an opera production. The singing is not international-class opera singing, and many of the parts have been transposed. Also, there are no subtitles.

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A post that is kind of about Malin Hartelius

So, the other day I came across (never mind how) a comment that was appended to a review of that Zurich production of Cosi fan tutte where Fiordiligi bites it in the last two minutes. The review was on this website that had to do with Cleveland, Ohio, because — as it turns out — the orchestra for that particular Zurich performance was the Cleveland Orchestra. I have never been to Ohio, but the evidence suggests that they are no slouches in Cleveland, as far as orchestras go.

The commenter was furious with the concept of the production. The ‘zinger’ at the end (at least, I suspect it was intended to be a ‘zinger’) was that this type of production was the equivalent of “painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.”

This comment cracked me up. I mean, for one thing, Fiordiligi isn’t dead. Not in any permanent sense. She was never alive to begin with: this is the genius of theater, no?
Malin Hartelius as Fiordiligi

Mozart’s opera is not so fragile that one dead Fiordiligi is going to spoil it for everyone, forever. And, given that a significant amount of the plot of that opera involves false moustaches — well, let us just say that the conceptual problems wrapped up in that comment operate on several levels at once.

It put me in mind of a comment someone made on a video I put up (because I liked it) of the “Eboli’s Dream” ballet from that one production of Don Carlos. An individual named Edward saw it and disliked it immensely – he called it “vulgarity.”

There seems to be a certain flavor of opera fan who really hates this kind of thing. I am not sure why. It reads to me as if killing poor Fiordiligi (what do you call someone named Fiordiligi for short? Fiori? Didi?) offends some people on a sort of . . .basic decorum level. They find it both annoying and a little bit embarrassing. It’s as though if certain boundaries are not set, no one is going to take music seriously.

It is probably unfair of me, however, to mock Edward and the author of the Cleveland Zinger. I imagine there are things that you could do to Mozart’s operas that I would have that very same reaction to, although I can’t right now think of what those things would be.

In Which I Channel Agent Mulder

This probably tells you more about me than it does about Mozart, but after I watched that ‘conventional’ production of Entfuehrung again the other evening, what I ended up wondering was, am I being fucked with here? Is this intended to be as straightforward as it seems?

Ultimately, I think the answers to those questions are 1. No and 2. Yes.

I think the questions themselves are worthwhile, though. Thinking about this put me in mind of some of the little touches in this version of Le Nozze di Figaro (it’s Staatsoper Berlin, 1999). What I linked to was ‘porgi, amor’ and notice that while this is basically a period production (e.g. see Susanna’s costume) have a look at what the Countess picks up after she sets down the cup of tea. It’s an issue of Vogue. (Susanna later gets distracted by it when the Countess is in ‘woe’ mode, but that’s not in this clip) There are a few other little touches like this, e.g. Figaro has a tool belt in Act I, that remind us that we are a modern audience and this is a modern performance and that is always going to be a part of our relationship to this opera.

(Also, apparently they are doing this production again in Berlin in February. Different cast, and probably well worth hearing. Part of me wants to go. Anyone feel like hanging out in Berlin in February?)

Die Entführung aus dem Serail

An acquaintance of mine said something recently (if you see this, Rebecca, it was your post a few days ago) that came to my mind again this afternoon. I am generalizing a little from what she wrote, but the point was that there is no ‘default’ version of an opera, and a production that appears conventional is just as much a choice as one that is not.

The reason I was thinking about this is that I was making little video excerpts of this version of Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail. This is a production that Mozart would probably have recognized. It’s bright and colorful and deliberately ‘orientalist’. When I saw it, my impression was ‘oh, this is a very ‘straight’ version of Entfuehrung.’ For example, here is ‘ach, ich liebte’, which gives a reasonable sense of how the thing looks. (And ach, Konstanze, getting stuck with a garish ensemble like that is evidence of captivity in and of itself.)

When I watched part of it again, what occurred to me was, hey! this is like the opposite of regietheater! (As I am somewhat literal-minded, my next thought was wait, does regietheater even have an opposite? Certainly it is kind of oppositional, as a concept. I half suspect that a good thirty to forty percent of it is staged with the sole purpose of pissing people off. Possibly, in some cases, even a specific person or persons. I do not intend this as a criticism, merely as an observation.) But anyway. If you wanted to define regietheater by showing someone an example of what it isn’t, this would be an excellent thing to show that person. It is so un-regietheater that regietheater is almost in the room by the very fact that it isn’t in the room, if you know what I mean. Someone could have brought in the barbed wire and the kouroi and the unicycles and they deliberately chose not to. (Although, you know, if someone does decide to do a version of Entfuehrung that involves unicycles, I would probably be willing to pay to see that.)

Anyway. The point here is that even a production as sweet and straightforward as this one should probably not be taken as a yardstick against which ‘edgier’ productions are measured. Staging Entfuehrung like this in the twenty-first century communicates something more than simply ‘this is a production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail.’ We can get into the details of what it communicates another day, though.

Friday Intertextuality

I inadvertently saw part of a television show yesterday in which a panel of deeply unpleasant people spent an hour determining which of a group of young women would make the best model.

Lady with long hair, talking about one of the models: “She’s, like, a one trick pony.”

Man with absurd tie: “What’s a one trick pony?”

Other lady: “It’s a pony that can, um, do only one trick.”

Man with absurd tie: [contemplatively] “Oh.”

In Which Claus Guth Reveals Himself to Be a 1.5 Trick Pony

[edit 5/15/12: I wrote this a long time ago. I think I may end up changing my mind about this production – it’s on my list to watch again.]

Today we are concerned with a DVD of a production of Cosi fan tutte from Salzburg in 2009. I watched the first act, and by the time I got to the end of that I pretty much had the trick of the thing, so I listened to the rest of it while I typed up my notes. So, there may have been any number of brilliant and wonderful things that happened after “una donna a quindici anni” that I missed. If so, I hope someone lets me know.

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This is the last time I will mention it this week, I promise.

I was on the phone with S, who is being slowly ground into pieces by her teaching job and who had the pleasure, two days ago, of barreling down the New Jersey turnpike with a shirt pressed to her face to staunch the blood from the cut her car door had made over her eyebrow some minutes earlier when she stooped to pick up books she’d dropped. She made it to class, though. Anyhow. I mentioned that I had been down to Auburn to see R (we all three of us went to grad school together) and that we’d watched not only all twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers but also that DVD of Figaro. As it turns out, S. has this friend who is a literary critic who specializes in 20th century stuff (they go to performances of Schnitzler’s La Ronde and stuff like that) and a while back he had asked her whether there was such a thing as BDSM in Mozart’s day. I think he was probably thinking of Entfuehrung, in which people certainly spend a lot of time talking about torture, and it’s definitely linked to the category of the dangerously sexy exotic, but I have no idea.


So, I was in Auburn, AL this weekend, visiting my friend R who teaches at the university there. She had actually had Dead Crow Figaro on her Netflix list (yes, we are talking about that damn DVD again) and since I own the thing, I brought it with me and we watched it together. R likes opera, but she’s not as obsessive about it as I am, and also does not have the time to be as obsessive about it as I am, because she is teaching 3/2 and has had to give up caffeine and everything carbonated b/c she ended up with an ulcer last year due to stress. Apparently pretty much everyone in that department is either ulcerous, depressed, or in therapy.

But the climate’s nice.

Anyway. Highlights of me and R watching Le Nozze di Figaro:


Salzburg Bingo

I have a friend who is about as obsessed with weird opera stagings as I am, and we assembled a ‘Salzburg productions of Mozart operas’ bingo. Because we are low tech like that, we have foregone the square grid. Because grids are, well, sort of obvious, right?


Burger King crown

young boys intended to resemble kouroi

cannibalism (either overt or implied)

[middle square: groping!]

fishnet tights


fake blood

modern plumbing fixtures


Obviously there are no prizes if you win, but you have the consolation of taking pleasure in the exquisitely obscure — which is worth something, right?

In Which I Am a Glutton for Punishment

I’m not sure why, but I own that DVD of the sad depressing Figaro with the leaves and the dead crow and all that. I watched it again this evening, and possibly this is a failure of sophistication on my part (and in academia, such failures can get you fired) but this production really does manage to suck everything that is good and sweet out of that opera. And Figaro is sweet, not in a cloying way, but in a pleasant way – not too sweet. But even on a third or fourth viewing, this particular version is seriously depressing. The moments that are normally funny fall like lead; the audience knows that they are not supposed to laugh. The only part where they do is where the count stalks into his wife’s room with an axe (to open a locked door), and I believe that it’s specifically an axe is in the libretto, so presumably most of the audience has seen this before and knows it’s coming, but it’s still usually pretty effective as a gag. In this case it’s a big axe, and the laughter ends quite quickly when said axe is aimed at the countess. Bo Skovus’s height is an advantage here. One gets the sense that the count could very easily crush his wife, which I suppose is the point. The threat of violence is just serious enough that it feels out of place in this story. There are productions where he slaps her, but here it’s more of the I-will-knock-you-to-the-floor (which happens once), drag you by your hair (ditto) and/or squeeze your breasts so hard it will probably hurt rather a lot (ditto) sort of thing. On the other hand, Roeschmann’s countess appears to be kind of into it. Again, this is not ordinarily a BDSM-y sort of opera.

Harnoncourt’s sepulchral tempos, though, do tend to call attention to details of the orchestration that you (meaning me) might otherwise miss. But still, the fact that I had to write the phrase “not ordinarily a BDSM-y sort of opera” indicates the territory we are in here. (If anyone can give me an example of an opera written before 1900 that is normally fairly BDSM-y and was written that way, I will, in the spirit of this depressing production of Figaro, send you an apple and a handful of feathers.)

Also, I could have done without the camera above the staircase and with far less Countess-sprawled-on-the-floor: I swear, this production has more unintentional (?) cleavage than I have seen in a while.

Always Proofread

I was reading reviews on Amazon today of a DVD of the Marriage of Figaro (if anyone cares, it’s the Harnoncourt / Guth one with Anna Netrebko and some freakish staging/directorial decisions*) and came across the statement that in act one, Figaro finds a dead cow on the floor and tosses it out of the window, which statement was followed by the observation that this did not bode well for the opera.

Well, no, probably not.

(I think the writer meant “crow”.)

*including a version of “venite, inginocciatevi” in which Susanna, the Countess and Cherubino all end up rolling around together on a rug on the floor, which, oddly enough, comes across as much less appealing than you would think.