Cher Public

Parting shot

Somewhere around the early 1980’s, stage directors realized that the odious theatre practice of “audience involvement” was over.  Waaay over.  Apparently, Graham Vick was absent that day.  So, the first ten minutes of his production of Rossini’s 1818 opera seria  Mosè in Egitto are excruciating.  Vick has set the opera just after one of Moses’ plagues against Pharaoh, here some sort of 9/11ish event, has occurred.  As the opera begins, bloodied and dazed Egyptians of the chorus meander through the audience, forcing embarrassed and confused patrons to look at photos of their “disappeared” loved ones.  Even on DVD, it is very difficult to watch the audience members trying to watch the opera, annoyed by being forced to be a part of the action.  

It’s a real shame, because this evolves into a very successful, well thought out production, fascinating in design and quite well sung, set in the present-day Middle East.  The production premiered in August 2011 for the Rossini Opera Festival Pesaro, and is staged in the Arena Adriatica, a converted basketball stadium.  The upper areas of the set represent the throne room and palace areas of a despot (Pharaoh), while the underbelly of the staging contains the detritus of the revolutionaries (Israelites) including computers, beds designed for torture, broken down vans, and explosives.  Set and costume designer Stuart Nunn has done a splendid job in making the updating a consistent and viable concept.

The story of the opera is the familiar tale of Moses’ attempts to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites depart, sending curses upon Egypt when they are refused.  Finally, there is the final escape with the parting of the Red Sea.  (Apparently, at the Naples 1818 premiere, the stage machinery for the parting was so laughable that Rossini removed it from the stage; the effect was much more successful in a revival the following year).  Rossini and his librettist Tottone added an interesting love subplot, where Osiride, son and heir of Faraone, has fallen in love with the Jewish girl Elcia.  His fear of losing Elcia to the Israelite exodus spurs him to twice oppose his father’s decrees to release the Israelites and end the plagues.

The most successful viewpoint of Vick’s production is that he refuses to take sides: both the Egyptians and the Israelites are capable of both kindness and cruel violence.  Moses is a fiery revolutionary here, perhaps an Israelite version of a jihadist, supported by his gentler brother Aronne.  Faraone is torn between arrogant authority and the real desire to save his people.  His wife, Amaltea, is here presented as a secret convert to Judaism.  The desperate, secret passion of Osiride and Elcia brings the religious and the personal into irreconcilable conflict.

Vick’s ending is stunning.  As huge panels fall to represent the Red Sea parting, an Israeli tank is revealed blasting away and destroying the pursuing Egyptian army.  Then, in a brilliant coup de théâtre, Vick has a young Israeli soldier climb down from the tank to offer a chocolate bar to a young Egyptian boy.  We have just seen the Egyptian boy strap an explosive belt under his tunic.  As the two meet, the blackout happens.  The audience holds its collective breath before a major ovation erupts.

Happily, the production illuminates the music under the superb conducting of Roberto Abbado.  He is remarkably sensitive to every nuance in Rossini’s rich score, and even musical moments likely meant to show off coloratura effects are infused with meaning and power.  I have never felt a Rossini opera so dramatically cogent as this one.  As with only the best bel canto, every ornament and trill feels spontaneous and necessary to the storytelling.

The entire cast sings with equal measures of tonal beauty and dramatic commitment.  Alex Esposito gives us a multi-faceted Faraone, blustering and arrogant on one hand yet agonized and confused on another.  He is convincing both as an absolute monarch and as a human being wrestling with his desire to serve his people well.  The tone of his singing might be a bit darker for even more success, but he sings with power and variety, and his physical characterization is “every inch a king.”

The tenor Dmitry Korchak sings his son Osiride with fearless abandon, the voice flexible and passionate, though he seems to force the higher notes of the role.  Still, he hits them all and sings with unfailing accuracy and clarity.  Soprano Olga Senderskaya as the King’s consort Amaltea gives a dramatic, committed performance and her bell-like soprano mixes beautifully in the many quartets and ensembles.  There is a lovely ease to her singing, even in heavily dramatic moments.  Tenor Yijie Shi as Arrone has a gorgeous, clear sound but seems a bit uncomfortable in his acting.

Riccardo Zanellato is an impassioned and powerful Moses, fierce in his defense of his people.  His voice does occasionally become wooly, and one might wish for more variety in his approach and perhaps a bit more sensitivity.  Still, he is fearsome in his rages at Faraone’s duplicity.  By far his finest moment is the final act prayer “Dal tua stellate soglio”, one of Rossini’s finest arias.

This brings us to mezzo Sonia Ganassi as Elcia.  It seems to me that this is the production’s only casting misstep, as she sounds and looks matronly for the role of the young Elcia.  She has some stunning vocal moments, though, and must be commended for her work in ensembles, where her voice blends perfectly with her partners.  This is most exquisitely evident in the quartet “Mi manca la voce” in Act II, where she spun magnificent sounds blending with the voices of Osiride, Arrone, and Almatea matching the brilliant harp accompaniment.  The effect was both moving and ethereal.

Kudos to the fine Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Communale di Bologna and Chorus Master Lorenzo Fratini for the splendid playing and singing as well as clear diction and commitment to the production choices.  Now please, Mr. Vick, spare them the awful task of breaking the fourth wall at the beginning of this performance.  Had I been in this audience, I might have either walked out or told the bloody Egyptians to get out of my face.

  • bassoprofundo

    Nice review, particularly the opening paragraph. I have to admit that I find the many reviews on Parterre that begin with some boring/banal/ historical intro to be quite annoying, i.e.,

    “All of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi contain music that is worth hearing and can be rewarding in good performances. His seventh opera, Giovanna d’Arco,premiered at La Scala in 1845, is one of the least often performed these days.”

    That’s really dry and doesn’t make you want to read more, does it? Yours gets right to the point--the DVD and production in question. We don’t need a JSTOR historical essay with each of these reviews. Anyway, I know you didn’t write it for me, but I’d like to thank you anyway for writing a real review pertinent and to the point. Bravo.

  • Camille

    That audience participation crap is something I find cringe-worthy embarrassing.

  • bassoprofundo

    Also, while I haven’t seen this production, I have to say that updating this opera in this way seems like a wonderful idea. It’s a question I wondered a lot about, in regards to the Met Rigoletto: if you’re going to update the opera, what is the purpose of updating it to any other time, other than the immediate present? If the updating of original opera settings is done ostensibly to help people see the relevance/transcendence of these works, then what on earth is gained by doing it in the 50s? Are people today trying to somehow understand their lives by looking back to life in the 50s? And what is the point of updating Ballo to the 20s or 30s or whatever? I would love if more operas were updated to the here and now, 2013. That would at least be an intellectually honest and consistent attempt to present it through a relevant lens. Regardless of the quality of this Mose in particular, it seems that Graham was at least trying to do that. With my puny mind, it seems to me that updating operas to any other time than A) the original setting or B) the absolute present day is done purely for aesthetic and/or egocentric reasons on the part of the director. Keep it where it is, or set it in 2013.

    • I agree with just about everything you say here, though I would like to address “And what is the point of updating Ballo to the 20s or 30s or whatever?”

      What David Alden did in his Met production was not a simple “update” but rather something more complicated, setting the opera in what was clearly a fictional and unreal milieu, or rather a milieu that existed nowhere else in time or space but where this opera was being performed. In this case I think the early 20th century/”somewhere in Europe” setting helped evoke that dreamy quality the director was aiming for: it felt romantic, clearly removed from our present reality, and yet classic enough in the carefully edited costumes and mostly abstract sets that it didn’t call attention to itself as “period.”

      This is a much more sophisticated approach than (say) the 1960/Las Vegas Rigoletto which for the most part passed for only slightly edited realism (that’s not counting the unison chorus movement and grouped posed, which I thought stood out like a sore thumb.)

      I do totally agree with you that the three best choices for an “era” for an opera are a) as indicated in the libretto; b) modern dress; or c) “timeless” costume. On the other hand, one of my favorite opera productions, Stefan Herheim’s Eugene Onegin mashes up costumes from something close to two centuries, from the 1820s era in which the first scenes of the opera are traditionally set, through the late Victorian styles of the first performance of the opera, into the 21st century “present” from which Onegin and Tatyana recall (and dream of) the events of the past.

    • As with most dichotomies, yours is far too restrictive.

      Each point in history has its own relationship to the past. Some historical periods will seem particularly near or significant to it, some periods will seem less interesting. “Our” 2013 imagination/understanding of the year 1550 is not the same as that of someone from 1850. A historical opera written in the year X based on events Y may make less sense to people in the year Z. Let’s face it: outside of “The Borgias”, 16th-century Italy does not occupy a prominent position in the popular imagination.

      By changing the date of the historical setting, a modern production hopes to capture some of the relationship between the present and the past that is embedded in the old score. In the case of this Met Rigoletto, for example, one might use the equation “1550 is to 1850 as 1955 is to 2013” (for the sake of simplification, I’m leaving geography out of the discussion). The modern producer, following this line of thought, needs to translate the historical sensibility of one era into the historical sensibility of our own.

      Both the original creators (Verdi/Hugo/Piave) and the later producer/diretor (Mayer et al) choose to tell their stories as history because through historical fiction, we can get a different perspective on ourselves, our present and our past.

      • The problem I see, though, is that historical fiction includes a certain level of detail specific to the period, or at least restricted to a certain swatch of past time and not necessarily applicable to a more recent past time. There is the issue, for example, in the Rigoletto, that the fate of Monterone is announced as “Schiudete: ire al carcere Monteron dee,” that is, he has been summarily imprisoned without trial (as the insult to the Duke took place less than a day previously).

        This is one reason Verdi insisted that whatever the resetting of the Hugo plot, the Francois I (i.e., Duke) character must be some sort of absolute ruler; another more important and thematically relevant reason is that the old man’s curse should not seem a mere tantrum but the genuinely shocking spectacle of a subject cursing his monarch.

        All that is lost in the Mayer update because there is no sense of this Duke’s having limitless power over the people in his orbit; yes, he has thuggish hangers-on who threaten those who get in his way, but it is incongruous that even a Frank Sinatra should be able to order a foreign national into prison on a whim. And so Mayer ignores the text (I wasn’t following the translation at this point) and simply has the thugs shoot Monterone in the head.

        Now, I think this incongruity could be smoothed over if it were made clear through the stage action that the Duke has strong influence over the local police and these corrupt cops are carrying out his bidding, dragging Monterone off to jail. There’s still something major lost (i.e., the idea that the prisoner has absolutely no legal recourse, no access to counsel, no embassy to contact: he is in the dungeon for life or until the Duke happens to change his mind) but I think in performance it could slide.

        But Mayer doesn’t do this: we are supposed to believe that this nightclub entertainer not only behaves with perfect impunity but never stops to cover his tracks. This kind of behavior makes perfect and effortless sense for an absolute ruler, but it’s a severe stretch on credulity when practiced by a crooner.

        There are other bits and pieces of detail that don’t line up in this setting; why, for example, does Rigoletto not report his daughter’s kidnapping to the police? Does no one in the hotel notice the corpse of Giovanna in the elevator? Exactly what is barring Rigoletto’s way out of town to the point that Gilda must travel disguised as a boy? Given that Rigoletto has access to an automobile with a full tank of gas, why doesn’t he at least try to take the injured Gilda to a hospital? Again, these plot points we can easily take as plausible in a realm ruled by a despot, but it’s hard to make this all seem reasonable in a realistically depicted Las Vegas in 1960.

        The advantage of moving the action all the way to the present is that I think audiences are generally attuned to the convention that “modern dress” means “no particular period,” as done, for example, in the Hamlet production Jude Law played on Broadway a few seasons ago.

        An alternative would be deliberately to divorce the opera from realism, as Alden did in the Ballo, so that the new reality created specifically for the production would include any sort of detail you like; that is, we simply take it as stipulated that in this fantasy world, Dukes can condemn courtiers to the dungeon on a whim.

        I do think that this idea of specificity of past eras is a fairly modern notion: in opera houses in the 19th century, there were maybe half a dozen vaguely perceived “pasts” — ancien regime, Renaissance, medieval, classical Roman/Greek, Old Testament and “a long time ago in Asia somewhere,” but these eras were conventionalized to the point they might as well be purely fictional constructs. So I believe the kind of non-literal setting I prefer for most Romantic operas is at least in some important ways close to the experience audiences had in the 1850s seeing “Ancient Gaul” in Norma or “Biscay sometime in the 15th century” in Trovatore.

        • The problem I see, though, is that historical fiction includes a certain level of detail specific to the period, or at least restricted to a certain swatch of past time and not necessarily applicable to a more recent past time.

          Historical operas are “historical” to varying degrees. It is easier, for example, to shift Rigoletto about in time than it is to transplant Der Rosenkavalier, Andrea Chenier, or War and Peace. (You could try moving Der Rosenkavalier to the antebellum South, but there would be a lot of extra heavy lifting involved.)

          Not everything might “fit” perfectly in a Las Vegas Rigoletto (and for the sake of argument, I’m leaving aside Mayer’s specific staging both because I haven’t seen it and I don’t want to base a theory on a single production), but those infelicities can be compensated for by the immediacy of the imagery or of the associations. That immediacy is a pretty considerable benefit.

          (Few people believe they are watching “reality” in historical fiction, anyway: they know some of the celebrity-performers, they know they are watching a performance, they know -- at least intellectually -- that what they are seeing is not “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist”. If attentive listeners catches some verbal dislocation, they are no more likely to be bothered by it than they are by the fact that people are singing instead of speaking. Therefore, I’m not particularly moved by arguments that are based on this or that instance of textual or historical ridiculousness.)

          I do think that this idea of specificity of past eras is a fairly modern notion: in opera houses in the 19th century, there were maybe half a dozen vaguely perceived “pasts” — ancien regime, Renaissance, medieval, classical Roman/Greek, Old Testament and “a long time ago in Asia somewhere,” but these eras were conventionalized to the point they might as well be purely fictional constructs. So I believe the kind of non-literal setting I prefer for most Romantic operas is at least in some important ways close to the experience audiences had in the 1850s seeing “Ancient Gaul” in Norma or “Biscay sometime in the 15th century” in Trovatore.

          I don’t believe the second sentence necessarily follows from the first, and I think the first sentence is overstated. The 19th-century sense of history wasn’t as fine-grained as in our time -- we stand on the shoulders of giants, after all. But it would be a gross exaggeration to call them “purely fictional constructs” -- the whole point of historical fiction for Scott and afterwards was to give some semblance of verisimilitude to the manners and moeurs of the historical period. Their efforts now fall short in our eyes, so we look for something to replace them. Certain periods, particularly from the 20th century, loom equally largely in the popular imagination of today. (The advent of film and television, I think, has a lot to do with this.) Those 20th-century historical images, too, are a mixture of documentable historical fact and riotous fantasy. It’s for that reason that contemporary directors take advantage of those images -- they are transmuting an old historical never-never land into a new one.

          “Modern-day”, “fantastic”, “surrealistic” adaptations of classic works, as advocated by you and basso, are also all perfectly fine. But audiences continue to enjoy historical fiction. It is an enormously versatile genre. Your positions strike me as somewhat dogmatic and reductive.

          Footnote: I should add that we are not only dealing with the genre of “historical fiction” in opera, but also others such as “gothic” and “medieval romance” or “classic tragedy”, which configure the relationship to the past somewhat differently. Which is to say that the literary/operatic past is quite complicated and that no single staging solution strikes me as uniformly palatable.

          • Ilka Saro

            I think this debate is excellent.

            If Verdi had had his way, we would have King Francois and not the Duke of Mantua. We would have Stockholm, and not Boston. It’s also interesting that the producers of the original Traviata insisted on changing the time period, not from fear of public outrage, but from fear of public boredom. At the time, it was the opinion of producers that no one really wanted to see contemporary life on the operatic stage. Spice up the uncomfortably mundane setting of Traviata by knocking the date back a century, add some powdered wigs.

            We know from his correspondence that Verdi’s (and his librettists’)relations with censors and producers offered a painful symbiosis in which settings were relocated, and plots rearranged, and we know that they final results were frustrated. The theory of “directorial concept” really didn’t exist as we know it now. Relocation of setting or time weren’t used to offer new meaning. They were used to frame allowable meaning.

            I wonder how composers like Verdi or Rossini, or the librettists like Piave or Tottola would react to the idea that audiences would benefit from having the settings changed. Who knows? I want to say that the idea didn’t come up at the time they were watching their operas produced, except that it did, for Verdi, again and again, against his wishes.

            Arthur Miller actively attempted to stop productions of The Crucible that didn’t place the action in 17th century Salem. I believe that Samuel Beckett also used legal authority to attempt blocking of a production of Godot that fell outside his own ideas of setting (with deliberately painful simplicity: “a road”).

            I am not against these re-settings. My taste, similar to Cieca’s, is that they require a certain sort of math of equivalents, although I am not as particular as Cieca in the details. I think of Tolkien’s comment on the idea of allegory, and why he avoided using it: “I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with alleg ory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

            The devil isn’t in the details — at least not always. The devil is in the fact that some folks like the resetting and some folks don’t. I tend to go with the view that virtually all productions are a re-setting. That even the most assiduously observed “authentic performance practice” is a thoroughly contemporary re-setting. The debates over such matters are the heart of the experience of art and theater. The degree to which art speaks to us, or does not, stimulates a desire to engage, to interact, to exult, to pillory, to champion, to mock.

          • The mention of Rosenkavalier changes the debate somewhat because this piece never was meant to be historically accurate in the first place: essentially Hofmannsthal creates a fantastic past era out of whole cloth, a dream of what the ancien regime might have been like. And so it makes little sense to take what is essentially an unrealistic work and put it into any sort of realistic milieu.

            This, I think, is my biggest problem with a plain updating like the Mayer Rigoletto, that it tends to flatten out the drama into something literal and naturalistic, all about the plot . Even a Zeffirelli production (well, a good Zeffirelli production) is actually “about” something, even if what it’s about is only “my goodness, isn’t opera wonderfully luxurious and expensive!

          • “Might have been like” is an important part of your description, and it is one reason why Der Rosenkavalier (to my knowledge) has been, in practice, pretty resistant to transplantation in time and space. It’s whole raison d’etre is couleur locale. That was my point about “historical” operas being “historical” to varying degrees. The fact that this romantic comedy is not “realistic” by your (sometimes, maybe a bit too exacting) standards of realism seems to me irrelevant in this context.

            That said, I’m certainly sympathetic to your resistance towards awkward theatrical “naturalism”.

          • (“Its whole raison d’etre”, not, of course, “It’s”. My proofreading sux.)

          • I would definitely question whether the “whole raison d’etre” of Der Rosenkavalier is “couleur locale.” It seems to me the point of setting the action in the 18th century is that this era is so familiar from the Mozart works, so it signifies “comic opera” obviously and clearly. Thus Rosenkavalier is in some ways a commentary on opera comedy and on comedy in general.

          • Yes, that was indeed a bit of exaggeration on my part -- I was going to add an explanatory footnote, but got tired of correcting myself. Like Don Pasquale, one of the strengths of the opera is turning the traditional figure of fun -- the older would-be lover -- into a sympathetic person.

            That said, local color plays a much more important role in the opera than it does in many others.

          • MontyNostry

            This looks a fascinating discussion … No time to read it now, but will return later!

          • stevey

            What a amazing exchange, everyone. You’ve all contributed to give us not only a superb example of ‘point/counterpoint’, and how to express, defend, and develop ideas… but also a really stimulating read. Thank you. :-)

          • A. Poggia Turra

            Konwitschny had a far more acerbic, bitter view of Rosenkavalier in his May 2002 production for Hamburg. I can’t find my notes from 2002, so I offer this review from Die Zeit in substitution:



            Google translation:


          • parpignol

            Der Rosenkavalier is not just “set in the past” but is, I think, self-consciously about modern society’s relation to the historical past; echoed on every level: Strauss’s relation to Mozart, Hofmannsthal’s family relation to the 18th-century Habsburg monarchy (founding of his family by the ennobled Edler von Hofmannsthal aka Isaac Loew Hofmann), and, within the opera, the Marschallin’s relation to her own youth and reflections on the passing of time; I think this self-consciousness about its own orientation toward the past, that is, the eighteenth century, and the passing of time, is what makes Der Rosenkavalier in some sense “modernist” rather than historicist kitch. . . that is, not just nostalgic, but a reflection on nostalgia. . . Hofmannsthal similarly reflects on 18th-century Vienna (rokoko, verstaubt, und lieblich) in the poem-prologue to Arthur Schnitzler’s drama Anatol:
            and therefore the gap between rococo Vienna and current (1890s) Vienna becomes the space for modernist reflection on time past. . .
            so Der Rosenkavalier hardly needs to be set in 18th century Vienna (to which, in any event, our relation is very different from Hofmannsthal’s; much more remote from us in so many ways) but it requires some element of self-conscious historicism, and though I’ve never seen the Konwitschny production except in brief clips, it seems brilliantly to highlight precisely that issue. . .

          • MontyNostry

            Parpignol, for a toy-seller, you are extraordinarily clued up on lit crit and Hofmannsthal. Bravo! I’d forgotten he wrote the prologue to Anatol. Talking of Schnitzler, I always thought Der gruene Kakadu would make a good opera. I like all that Schein und Sein stuff (in Pagliacci too!).

    • armerjacquino

      Keep it where it is, or set it in 2013.

      I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, for three reasons.

      1: That argument presupposes that there’s no value in examining history. Even if we only look back 100 years, there are countless major events which we as a species haven’t fully come to terms with: the sudden creation of the modern world with WWI, the Holocaust, the Atom Bomb, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear oblivion, the civil rights movement, the Aids crisis, the rise of Muslim fundamentalism etc etc. None of these things are beyond examination by art, none of them should be tucked away in a little box marked ‘history’. Every other art form processes the past- why shouldn’t opera?

      2: Some operas might benefit from an updating but not necessarily fit with our era. SUOR ANGELICA is a great example. You may not want to set it in the 1600s, but the fact is unwed mothers just don’t get packed off into convents any more. They did in the 50s, though, in living memory… Bingo.

      3: Perhaps most importantly, operas cannot help but reflect the time in which they are written. That’s why ROSENKAVALIER can make more sense set in 1911, as a love letter to a world which was about to disappear for ever, than in its original setting. AIDA tells us very little about what life in ancient Egypt was like, and may not have much to say about 2013, but with its obsessions with love vs duty and self vs nationhood it sure as hell acts as a useful primer for the values of the 1870s. SALOME and ELEKTRA are arguably less about Judaea or Greece than they are about the birth of psychoanalysis.

      I suppose what I’m really saying is that it doesn’t do to be too proscriptive, to see ‘time of setting, or now, or bust’. Art doesn’t respond that well to rules. ‘Does it work?’ is a much more valuable question than ‘when’s it set?’

      • First of all, great review. Bravo.

        I think to this list you’d have to add fairy tales/myths as stories that are meant to transcend time and be relevant to any era. Rusalka is a good example — the Kusej staging was absolutely magical and stunning.

      • Camille

        “They did in the 50’s, though, within living memory…Bingo.”

        Bingo indeed. In fact, as late as A.D.1969 and in as modern amd liberated place as Los Angeles, California, girls were being incarcerated in “Unwed Mother Homes”. I know from personal experience, via a family member having been sent to one of those institutions. A grim and desperate affair, which happily for everyone, including mother and son, was survived. They ultimately lived a happy life and flourished.

        Reflecting upon this, I suddenly came up with a Regie to the Rescue staging of Suor Angelica~~~it is the swinging sixties--Suor Angelica, pregnant by the leader of a British import music quartet and abandoned after the gig, could wear flowers in her hair and have a vision courtesy of LSD, which ultimately happily reunites her with her son, who wasn’t really dead, ’cause the Zia Principessa was just being a mean old witch. They move to San Francisco and wear flowers in their hair (again) and open a macramé store in The Haight. Everyone is stoned happily ever after.

        The End.

      • I agree, AJ. Some operas are easily adaptable while others aren’t. Even for the operas that don’t update or adapt easily, a director may come upon an ingenious concept that proves to be the exception to the rule. I think a director should set the opera in whatever setting that allows him/her to get to the “truth” of the piece.

        Personally, while I enjoy all kinds of approaches to opera direction, I prefer the “timeless” approach to opera direction in general. And I agree with La Cieca that productions are more successful when they create their own reality or universe rather than trying to fit the opera within the reality of a specific historical period. I’m willing to put up with some contradictions in the libretto vis-a-vis the setting if the overall concept really works. But creating a reality specific to the production allows the director to circumvent the inevitable contradictions that occur when an opera isn’t set in the original setting.

      • operalover9001

        Going back to Mayer’s Rigoletto, I remember reading an interview with him where he basically says “I didn’t want to set it in 2013, as that dates the production”. Why would that be an issue? The production’s not going to be around forever, and any production, no matter when/where it’s set, reflects the time it was produced in. Is it just because he thinks that the audience will be upset/uncomfortable if the performers were dressed exactly like the audience?

        • m. p. arazza

          It was Gelb’s idea, according to the interview with Mayer in the Feb. Opera News. “Gelb offered a cautionary note: ‘I didn’t tell Peter about the Vegas thing. I just said my idea was something completely up to the minute. And he said, “Just think about that. In my experience, sometimes if something is right up to the minute, it can become dated very quickly.” I thought, that is so smart. Rigoletto is a very popular opera, something one would hope would be revived a lot. I guess that’s every director’s dream…'”

  • omghahahalol
  • deviafan

    I saw this performance in house, and was not overly impressed by the production. I am not sure how the production translated into a film version, but the live action was very hard to follow. I know many left mid performance,and were fairly upset at having guns pointed at them in the audience. But for me, the real problem with this performance were the singers. None of whom impressed me at all. I love Rossini, and I love this opera, but none of these singers were up to their roles. With the exception of possibly Esposito. A very forgettable evening at the opera I must say.

    • semira mide

      I’m with Deviafan on this one.

      Here are some more observations.

      I,too, attended one of the performances of this production in Peasro. I have not seen the DVD. Perhaps the experiences are quit different.

      First of all the reviewers observations about audience participation are spot on.

      I experienced it as ghastly at worst and trite/cute at best. There is nothing Rossinian about hearing the thunder of footsteps in aisle and staring down the barrel of a Kalishnikov-allbeit fake. Good thing real terrorists don’t frequent the opera, the audience would have been sitting ducks for someone bent on destruction.

      In the theater all the “business” described in the review seemed cramped, messy and disordered. A great diversion if one weren’t there for the music.

      Perhaps, as the reviewer noted, Vick “refused to take sides” , but in the theater the narrative came across so muddled that it wasn’t clear exactly who the protagonists were supposed to be and one didn’t really care.

      I found the ending a total brutalization of the sublime music Rossini ends this work with some of his most transformative and spiritual passages.
      What was going on stage was completely disconnected from the musical experience. BTW the audience hardly erupted in thunderous applause at the performance I attended. It was even worse at premiere where the police had to be called in.

      I’m not sure I remember much about the singing although Sonia Ganassi gave a very impassioned performance coming back from a patch of vocal difficulty during the performance with fire and passion. But certainly not an evening of fine Rossini singing. Roberto Abbado was masterful and sometimes one really felt that he was trying to hold the performance together while things were falling asunder around him.

      This production did the opera a real disservice. Unfortunately it won the Premio Abbiati which will do nothing to discourage this kind of enterprise. The publicity might be good for the ROF, but I wonder if we are going to get William Tell as Taliban this summer?

      In conclusion, perhaps this was a great piece of theater. ” A Clockwork Orange ” was a masterful film, but most likely nobody would go to it to hear Beethoven. Vick’s Mose did not deserve to have Rossini for its sound track.

      • Camille

        Thank you for yoir input and opinion, semira mide, as another eye witness audience member, and particularly because we known you as an impassioned lover of all hings Rossini. His music is so great in certain of his masterworks, one always hopes to see these jewels set in a fabulous mounting.

        I look forwardly eagerly to your report from Pesaro on he William Tell this coming summer and avidly hoping for the best.

    • semira mide

      Deviafan, if you are still around… Did you hear “her” last summer in Pesaro? What an exquisite artist! Your thoughts, please.

    • phoenix

      I have listened to my own recording of this same Mosè in Egitto broadcast (reviewed above by H. Keyes, whoever that is) several times already. I personally like the performance very much, but I didn’t see the videocast of it. Mosè in Egitto was the first Rossini “tragedy” I saw live in the theater -- in konzertanten 1978 at Avery Fisher Hall, Angelo Campori conducting Dimitri Kavrakos=Faraone, Justino Diaz=Mosè & Garbriela Cigolea=Elcìa -> it was also the first Rossini opera I actually liked and enjoyed, so it opened the gate for the others to come in. DISCLAIMER: not being a belcanto enthusist anyway, my opinion isn’t that relevant
      … but I do find the essence of the deviafan & semira mide comments above quite valid -- this performance is conducted in a straightforward manner without a great deal of subtlety by Roberto Abbado, who succeeds because he had a clearly defined gameplan he stuck to in bringing this performance togther as a cohesive work -> much more relevant than Fogliani’s live Bad Wildbad 2006 CD recording -- but not quite as satisfying as Sawallisch’s 1988 live Bayerischen Staatsoper CD with Raimondi & Vaness. At any rate, I am very grateful to see a contemporary live DVD release of this 1818 Napoletano Mosè in Egitto, which IMO is preferable to the longer, more drawnout 1827 Paris Moïse et Pharaon -- although in further deference to deviafan & semira mide, the 2 commercial recordings I have of the 1827 Moïse et Pharaon (Jurowski Pesaro 1997 & Muti Scala 2003) strike me as più stilizzata belcanto, something I don’t seem to value as much as everyone does around here.
      -> Yes, Sonia Ganassi tends to sound a bit matronly as she (apparently) looks in this DVD -- but she is a skilled singer -> what she does is quite admirable and it does not mar the performance to any degree at all. She has unfortunately lost some of the brightness on the edge of her lyric, lovely tone. Therefore, the Colbranesque ascending scales in the dramatic climax of the finale of Act 2 (beginning with ‘Oh desolata Elcìa!’) were an object lesson in the success of will over matter.

  • Ilka Saro

    “in opera houses in the 19th century, there were maybe half a dozen vaguely perceived “pasts” — ancien regime, Renaissance, medieval, classical Roman/Greek, Old Testament and “a long time ago in Asia somewhere,” but these eras were conventionalized to the point they might as well be purely fictional constructs.”

    This isn’t just true of “pasts” but also of locales. “Spain” seems to have had a huge set of meanings to 19th century librettists. Ditto “Scotland”. The zeitgeist that poured meaning into these settings was something the audience brought with them into the theater. The music in Lucia thrilled, but the works of Sir Walter Scott were also well known, and folks in Paris and Milan brought an idea of “Scotland” with them into the theater.

    Nowadays we hear people complain all the time about whether a movie was faithful to a novel, or to the details, the context, of a historic event. No doubt there was grumbling then about how Lucia fell short of The Bride of Lammermoor, in this way or that. But it’s fair to say that people came with expectations, whether they had read Scott or not. They came with ideas and opinions about Scotland and Spain.

    The whole notion of noble Romans would probably have been as tedious to some members of the audience as the prating we hear in the US on the genius of “the founding fathers” and the “framers of the Constitution.” If Washington or Adams is portrayed on the stage or screen, I am going to bring a lot of personal qualifications to my experience as an audience member. These figures don’t occur in a vacuum, no matter how merely “popular” a play or romance might be.

    There needs to be a malleability to the meaning of the setting, the meaning of the historic figures. A “vaguely perceived past” has enormous utility. People bring expectations to the meaning of the past, but not necessarily a completely fixed meaning.

    When I saw the revival of Nixon in China, I was fascinated by the story it told of an American administration in love with its own publicity. Zachary Wolfe, on the other hand, felt that it was a grave omission not to explicitly denounce Nixon’s crimes. In fact, later that season I met a man who felt the same way as Wolfe. He had met, befriended and interviewed Alger Hiss after Hiss was released from prison. I was left very torn, not only about how Nixon in China portrayed the past, but also about whether I had come into the theater with a “correct” understanding of the characters.

    I can’t edit my own ignorance after the fact, and I am not too concerned about it in this case. But a “vaguely perceived past” is an important idea, and highly volatile.

  • Signor Bruschino

    Speaking so much of transporting to different times, curious as to why ‘American Theatre’ is so unwilling to move most of the classics to different times- Take Tennesse Williams- we have had racially different casts, but no one has moved Streetcar to the mid-80’s for example- I’m not saying it in a cheeky ‘don’t do it’ sort of way, but maybe treating the American playwrights work as sacrosanct is keeping those works more as wax works than even the opera world

  • philomel