Cher Public

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Leave it to those Torontonians to blow the lid off an opera story happening in New York! (Goodness knows the local journalists don’t bother.) Did you know that Des McAnuff has been jetting between New York and the west coast,  simultaneously directing Faust and Jesus Christ Superstar respectively? Or that future Met seasons will include a Robert Lepage production of The Tempest and McAnuff’s Falstaff? We really do need to get those deucedly clever Canadians cracking on that Citigroup settlement story! []

  • I remembered reading a not-so-ecstatic review of that JC Superstar -- turns out it was in the NY Times last summer:

    But it still failed to convince me of the show’s enduring merits, at least as anything other than a quasi-camp bit of 1970s pop-rock pageantry. Like the flop Broadway revival directed by Gale Edwards in 2000, Mr. McAnuff’s production dresses up the timeless story in mostly contemporary garb, an approach that somehow makes it seem even more dated in its throbbing earnestness.

    The apostles and Jesus’ other followers could be the East Village denizens from any production of “Rent,” with their scuffed jeans, backpacks and messenger bags. An electronic ticker similar to the ones that ripple across buildings in Times Square is employed to set the scenes (“Judea … 33”) and count down the days toward the Crucifixion. The set, by Robert Brill, is made up of simple metal scaffolding suggestive of a stadium concert, punctuated by ladders stretching heavenward, which actors often scramble up and down for no discernible reason.

    The full review is here:

    • operagirl40

      Depending on just how big a pile of SHIT tomorrow night’s FAUST turns out to be, perhaps FALSTAFF will be safe from Mr. McAnuff.

      • ianw2

        Whilst I usually caution pre judging any production, we’ve already seen what Lepage can do yet he was still signed for the first major twenty first century opera at the Met.

        • verliebtenmadeleine

          What about Doctor Atomic?

          • ianw2

            Of course this is little more than guesswork but I’d wager in 100 years, Atomic will be the Vespri to the Traviata that is Nixon. I’m a fan of Adams but Atomic was crippled by a bad libretto.

            As for First Emperor, I think its telling that nobody else is interested in touching it.

          • m. croche

            I’m not too surprised other companies have been hesitant to pick up The First Emperor. I kind of think the Met was expecting some colorful Chinoiserie (high-class fluff like Hidden/Crouching/Tiger/Dragon)and they instead got a somewhat more earnest attempt to grapple with multiple layers of Chinese history, music and theater. The folks who would have a better chance of “getting it”, both on an intellectual and an artistic level, are in Mainland China and Taiwan, and neither of those places is, for various reasons, in a good position to stage the work. Chinese tamizdat.

            I await the brickbats…

          • ianw2

            I think too there are practical limitations in that the orchestration requires specialised instrumentation and the vocal lines require work that is beyond the reach of most companies to coach.

            Also, the general consensus, was that it just wasn’t very good (and I’m certainly not going to second-guess your knowledge of Chinese audiences, but at the end of the day, it was written for an American one). Wasn’t it only revived for Domingo, and even then didn’t sell? (usual caveat about box office not being the only indicator of a decent new piece, but doesn’t help the case for getting it to other stages)

          • m. croche

            Yes, there are the production difficulties you mention. But I don’t think the “general consensus” on this opera was a very good one or a very well-informed one. Casual operagoers were probably delighted with the ghost-opera nuoxi opening, but bored by the ensuing operatic take on the “newly-edited historical play”. You have to spend time immersed in the philisophical, literary, theatrical and musical cultures from which Tan Dun, Zhang Yimou and Ha Jin sprang to understand the conventions they are working with. This is not to make the First Emperor out as some sort of neglected masterpiece, but I think it’s reputation has suffered unnecessarily from not meeting certain Western expectations of “Chineseness”. (Imagine an audience expecting Scheherezade and instead getting Khovanshchina.)

            That said, I haven’t seen it since the premiere and should probably revisit it at some point.

          • and they instead got a somewhat more earnest attempt to grapple with multiple layers of Chinese history, music and theater.

            Personally, I didn’t go in expecting Turandot II: The Honeymoon or anything so particular as that, but what I felt I got was ugly stagecraft, tedious music, and an embarrassingly bad libretto. Perhaps extensive cultural knowledge of China and its history would have improved my outlook. I’ll never know.

          • Sorry, that was reactive in a way I feel stupid about, having posted it. I just had the impression I was being told “you’d have enjoyed it if you weren’t provincial and narrow-minded” and it pissed me off.

          • m. croche

            Sorry if my remarks came off that way, Maury. Perhaps I could state the case more positively: greater engagement with the cultural milieu from which the creators sprang might lead to greater appreciation for the opera in question. I don’t think this is such a snotty thing to say…

            Anyway, my opinion is not exactly the popular one. I’m not sure why you should feel embattled…

      • fidelio101

        I was at the dress and its a pretty enormous pile.

    • bobsnsane

      louannd quotes
      the Times review with “[JC Superstar] still failed to convince me of the show’s enduring merits…”
      Well, I think that’s because it has none.

  • Signor Bruschino

    I know we should keep an open mind to Mr McAnuf’s work and will have a better idea to what operatic miracles he can work tomorrow night… but the classic stage work that I have endured of his such as Dracula, Guys & Dolls, Dr Zhivago, The Farnsworth Invention, give me pause, and lets not forget his brilliant work for the silver screen, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle…

    This man is being given the plum assignment of Falstaff for the Verdi bicentennial? Were people like Herheim or Guth even considered? Probably not, since it would be easier and much hipper to hire the wunderkind who directed Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or the gent who made the Neil Simon plays so unfunny a few seasons back.

    Since Follies is closing in January, why doesn’t the Met just purchase those sets use them to stage a new production of Die Meistersinger? Lets not be simply be content with just the broadway directors directing piece after piece, lets be happy with discarded broadway sets gracing the Met stage. Us opera going public should be happy to be warmed by exciting and thought provoking great white way.

    And I think its high time for a new production of Aida at the Met. Elton John’s Aida.

    I’d sell my soul for some artistic integrity on the Met stage right about now.

    • Brillante, signor.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      The Fukin Genius is as American as KY Petrolium Jelly and has little in common with non native English speaking directors. Re-engaging LePage after this lousy RING is deplorable.

      • armerjacquino

        Non native English speaking directors like Lepage?

    • Regina delle fate

      I imagine Herheim and Guth require very long rehearsal periods and Herheim’s productions, at least, always look very expensive -- even though their budgets are probably dwarfed by that of the Lepage Ring. Herheim is beginning to get a reputation in Europe as a bit of a one-trick pony, although it is a very spectacular trick and more entertaining to watch than Robert Wilson’s trick. Guth is variable. His Hamburg Ring has not exactly been trashed in the press, but the reviews have been disappointing. His Salzburg Mozart-Da Ponte triptych was very mixed in quality -- Figaro far superior to its successors, but I saw a fantastic Daphne in Frankfurt. For the cutting-edge German critics/fashion victims, both of these directors are edging towards Yesterday’s Mashed Potato status. They’ll probably be working regularly at the Met (and Covent Garden) from the 2020 season onwards. Herheim is slated for the RO’s Verdi bash Vêpres in 2013, but I wonder if that’s really his sort of thing. I’m expecting a panoramic historical pageant of Sicily from medieval times to the present day, which is what Herheim does these days. I can’t imagine he’ll have much to say about the not very interesting characters.

      • oedipe

        The world is not limited to Herheim and Guth. Hey, it is not even limited to German vs. Anglo-Saxon directors, believe it or not! There are other possibilities out there the Met might profitably consider.

        • Regina delle fate

          Of course not -- it’s just that these names seem to be regarded in these part(erre)s as some kind of panacea for Regie-theater excellence. It ain’t always so, and the same is true of other favourites such as Bieto. That said, I’m looking forward to seeing his Carmen at ENO next season. Anything has to be an improvement on the Sally Potter dross.

  • verliebtenmadeleine

    The Lepage ‘Tempest’ should be really cool. A contemporary take on a contemporary work.

    • ianw2

      Many people, myself included, had the same sense of optimism about what he could do with dragons and the like. Whoops.

    • Regina delle fate

      All of the Tempest productions so far have been contemporary takes on a contemporary work. Lepage’s production will probably be more expensive than the others and Cirque-du-Soleil-like.

  • grimoaldo

    I saw the world premiere of The Tempest at Covent Garden. They gotta get Ian Bostridge to do his Caliban! it also had Toby Spence and Simon Keenlyside.

    • Liz.S

      Sounds delicious!

    • Krunoslav

      William Ferguson was SUPERB as Caliban in the Santa Fe staging; unlike Bostridge, he has attractive tone to offer and moves well on a stage.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Bostridge was unable to sing Caliban come scritto and Tom Ades had no option but to include some ossias in the score for him. I’d say that while Bostridge was convincing in the premiere and when the production was revived, it is not difficult to imagine somebody doing a better job, and it would be nice to hear the vocal line Ades actually wanted.

      • ianw2

        Caliban, from memory, has to softly float a falsetto high D as he disappears from the scene. I have the score, but its currently packed up in boxes so not handy.

        Is Sieden doing Ariel at the Met? As far as I’m aware, although there must have been some covers floating around, nobody else has sung it. The full fathoms five (or however its re-worded) aria has become one of my favourite operatic moments.

  • ilpenedelmiocor

    Des McEnuf already

    Never fails to play to the lowest common denominator in La Jolla, can’t imagine it’s going to be significantly different on the other side of the continent.

  • parpignol

    Bostridge sang Caliban’s aria as an encore tonight at Carnegie Hall, with Ades accompanying on the piano; very nice piece. . .

  • MontyNostry

    My judgement on McAnuff’s Faust, as seen at ENO last year: Docteur Atomique. Without the laffs.

    • redbear

      Maybe someone should read Bronowski about his work in Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the end of the war. It might help with even more hilarious bon mots. We certainly wouldn’t want to say anything serious in this forum.

  • Krunoslav

    Is Gelbworld going to hire any more women directors ever?

    Though probably he has only heard of--besides the struck out Zimmerman and the Volpe-linked Taymor — Diane Paulus, for whom the NYT wisdom is now clouded… Maybe he’ll bring in the egregious Fiona Shaw?

    Meanwhile maybe Lonny Price will “rescue” the FALSTAFF, with Patti LuPone debuting as Quickly…

    • ianw2

      Taymor is going to be tied up in Spidey-litigation for years. Zimmermann- hopefully- is done with the Met and can get back to what she does really well in theatre. Zambello- hopefully- just won’t have the time any more. Woolcock’s production of Atomic (there it is again!) didn’t do the piece any favours.

      I don’t think its really Gelb’s fault that the talent pool of female directors (and conductors, while we’re at it) is small. It seems inappropriate for the country’s biggest house to hire inexperienced opera directors (Grandage, Lepage) in the hope they strike gold; but also expect them to do the same if the candidate is female (though, Zimmerman… I guess).

      • Krunoslav

        What abut inviting *experienced* operatic directors like Phyllida Lloyd, Brigitte Fassbaender and Deborah Warner? They even have ‘names’ that Gelbworld might appreciate.

        There are several female directors working a lot in Europe whose work gets noticed, not always positively, but… bet some of them would do better operatic work than Bartlett Sher: Katharina Thalbach, Rosamund Gilmore, Vera Nemirova, Katie Mitchell, Kirsten Harms, Christine Mielitz, Katherina Wagner… Doris Dorrie one gathers is pretty much a fraud.

        • ianw2

          Phyllida Lloyd is moving much more towards cinema since Mamma Mia (she has Iron Lady coming out).

          Katherina Wagner at the Met would be, I grant you, hilarious.

        • Regina delle fate

          Katharina Wagner is also pretty much a fraud. Andrea Breth is very highly regarded, however. Her Wozzeck in Berlin for Barenboim was enthusiastically acclaimed and she’s reviving it and doing a new Lulu for next year’s Festtagen in March/April, I think (or maybe it happened this year -- I’ll have to check!)

        • armerjacquino

          I’d be wary of engaging Fassbaender. She was a very great singer, but her LUCIO SILLA for European Opera Centre was possibly the worst opera production I have ever seen.

          • Regina delle fate

            She’s retiring next year, anyway. She was 70 this year. I saw a not very good Midsummer Night’s Dream in Amsterdam and she rescued a Willy Decker Rosenkavalier last season, when Decker was ill to very mixed reviews. Netherlands Opera is probably the most important theatre in Europe to have engaged her, which tells us something, I guess. To be fair to her, that Lucio Silla was one of her first productions, I think. She also did Der ferne Klang for Opera North, which I missed. Her success in Innsbruck is primarily for the ensemble she created there and her ear for very good young singers, who she has nurtured along the lines of her own career. She’s probably perfectly content to have her regime remembered for those virtues rather than for her prowess, or otherwise, as a stage director.

          • Buster

            Fassbaender did not “resue” Rosenkavalier last season, but in 2004. Susan Chilcott was supposed to sing the Marschallin in that production, but she died shortly before rehearsals started. Decker cancelled because he was sick, and Fassbaender finished the production based on his concept. The production was repeated last season, with Fassbaender in charge from the very beginning. Much better, thanks to Anne Schwanewilms, who was a major improvement on Martina Serafin. Simon Rattle was outstanding too.

          • Pelleas

            “when Decker was ill to very mixed reviews”

            Those online ‘critics’ really will stop at nothing.

        • Warner arrives at the Met two seasons hence for Onegin, the shared production currently at ENO.

          • Regina delle fate

            And no-one is going to confuse Warner’s Onegin with Regie-theater, by all accounts. She can be quite radical, but from what I’ve read, this appears to be a more conservative staging than Carsen’s existing Met production. I saw it a few years ago with Renaay and Hvorostovksy, I think, and thought it looked as beautiful as it sounded.

          • ianw2

            A production, coincidentally, that may break Gelb’s winning streak of ENO shares (though Loomis liked it in the NYT, but it did come after Kosky’s Rameau).

            I suppose we could also mention Malfitano…her ENO Tosca seems well-liked.

          • ianw2

            Regina- I see you’re also posting during the breaks of the annual Committee for the Promotion of Commonwealth Artists conference. No doubt I’ll see you at the luau later- I believe David Hobson and Kate Royal are going to do a turn from The Mikado.

          • Regina delle fate

            …reasonably well-liked. Some notices have been sniffy.

          • armerjacquino

            Ian, that was last night. Tonight’s cabaret is Commonwealth Artists Adrianne Pieczonka and Joseph Calleja singing ‘There’ll always be an England’.

        • IdiaLegray

          Please, anything but another Katie Mitchell assault on a masterpiece. Extras running madly around a dark stage for no reason. With very few exceptions, she directs works as if she hates them.

      • Uninvolved Bystander

        Zimmerman is NOT done with the Met but that’s all I can say at this point. Contracts have been signed with her and her regular production team for something in the future.

    • aulus agerius

      Where is the maturely talented Sonja Frisell when you need her? She can’t be more than 85 now.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Despite her MET AIDA, Sonja was not much more than a world-class assistant and ultimately house director at La Scala for years. Very demanding and meticulous when reviving the works of the directors she assisted. At least the artists listened to her for the most part.

  • oedipe

    …as I’ve grown older, I’m more interested in the whole question of existence itself.

    I have a feeling Der Faust is meant to be very profound, since Mr. McAnuff has apparently discovered Dasein

  • brooklynpunk

    “…a spartan meal of steak and salad…..”

    .Aww.. poor undernourished baby…!

    ..And WTF is up with calling the Southern Californian fault-line a “natural evil”-- what kind of half-baked nonsense is that?

    Thanks, Toronto..!! — this article has mad it impossible for me to take this dude seriously at all…..!!

  • phoenix

    ? ????!

  • perfidia

    I love the picture with this post. I think a lot of Twilight Zone episodes would make for great short operas.

    • brooklynpunk


      I LOVE that idea.. as being both an Opera ..AND.. TZ fanatic..!!

      The “Olyimpa” Act of “Tales” always makes me think of the “Talky Tina” episode of “TZ”-- and both always scare me..!--lol!

      • perfidia

        I would love to see an opera version of “Nothing in the Dark,” the one where Robert Redford plays Death. The old lady could be a great part for asinging actress. And “Time Enough at Last” could be devastating as a monodrama.

        • brooklynpunk

          “The Eye of the Beholder” might work well for one of Peter Gelb’s pretty, young singers, no..?

    • m. croche

      I think Maxwell Davies’ “The Lighthouse” qualifies…

      • perfidia

        But I don’t think Gelb believes in the message of “The Eye of the Beholder.” To him, thin, young and pretty are universal across the whole multiverse.

  • BillyBoy

    The article cited is the work of just one Canadian…at least I imagine he’s Canadian now though he’s a native New Yorker!