Does the opera need to be unsettled?


I wish every time my hungry eyes glide over the unattractive quick meal they could bump into a passage like this,

Once upon a time, the principle responsibility of the director of an operatic production was to make sure that the singers didn’t bump into one another or the scenery on stage. Then, came the idea of the “concept” director where a novel idea—whether inspired or not, whether logical or not—ruled the day. It became increasingly commonplace for stage directors to add operas to their resumes, even if said director was not particularly musical and even if the staging had nothing whatsoever to do with the music. Oh well, at least the drama of the piece would be served, or so it was reasoned. Very, very rarely, you end up with operatic direction that somehow misses the point of both the music and the drama, no small feat, given the odds of some aspect of one or the other working out even with a clueless director. Such is the case with Lyric Opera’s new production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio”. (Dennis Polkow, Chicago Weekly)

It spices up my meal considerably—although I cannot say I agree with this critic, I find myself almost perversely enjoying the sarcasm, which is of course the revenge taken for an obligatory writing after a bad experience. Critics are hard to please these days. They base their judgment on highly subjective reasons, and overtly so. That makes it hard to understand why we need their opinion—isn’t it that when we look for advice we prefer some rational thoughts instead of mere complains? After reflecting on this important issue for over a minute I suddenly realize that is not the case. In fact we read these reviews not as a guide as how to approach the work, but as—what would I feel if I were there, and stayed where I were?

Therefore not surprisingly the critic’s opinion coalesces with that of an average audience. Here is what I find under Amazon’s customer review of Le Nozze di Figaro,

What a missed opportunity! Great performers, great orchestra, in a perverse, misguided direction! An extra character has been introduced who goes around grimacing, juggling, tossing oranges and apples around the set during the action, or caressing or making teasing actions at the characters distracting from the action. And talk about sparse; Susanna sings her opening aria about her hat without wearing or holding one! Most of action takes place on a bare set with no furniture. This is a travesty and a disappointment….

Again, if the bareness of the stage constitutes a failure, then we must concede that the art of opera demands a visual spectacle. But even the most kitsch production (MET) of the most visually abundant works (Wagner) can fail to satisfy a contemporary audience’s eyes, spoiled by seeing dinosaurs in IMAX theaters.

I have always felt that if an average psychoanalytic interpretation of film could be like what Zizek’s does, it would make cultural studies less a subject of aversion to me and to a few others; and if Zizek does not always begin his brilliant statements with “as my spiritual father once said”, he would be indeed as great as Oscar Wilde.


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