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Don’t be defeatist, dear

“After attending the dress rehearsal in London I wrote the following to Mr Carsen to give him the opportunity to make changes.” A commenter on Slipped Disc named “Michael” (pictured) offers a few observations on the staging of Falstaff.


  • Camille says:

    OMG, Cieca!!! I ASKED YOU NOT to post that photo of me!!!

  • grimoaldo says:

    “At the Met, poor old Falstaff is upstaged by a horse”

    In Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby” the titular hero, down on his luck, takes a job with a provincial touring theatre company run by Mr. Crummles, who incorporates all his family and all his possessions into his shows. One day Mr Crummles tells Nicholas,
    “I’ve got another novelty!”
    “What’s that”, asks Nicholas, “your pony?”
    “No, no,” says the manager, “we never come to the pony till everything else has failed. I don’t think we shall come to the pony at all this season. No, no, not the pony!”

  • bluecabochon says:

    Michael’s etiquette post was fascinating to read. Thanks for sharing this, and I wonder what Carsen’s reaction was.

    Our own Genevieve makes an appearance in this linked thread and is true to form.

    • Camille says:

      Et tu, blueboo?

      It was a real romp to read. I remember many of those rules from my youth and now dutifully and assidously removing ALL the labels from my silken scarves! The horror!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    It would be fascinating to know if any of those suggested changes were implemented in the Met’s mounting of the production. Hopefully someone on Parterre will provide the answers.

    • Lee B. Ahmo says:

      Quickly’s face blotting in public and sauntering out with lit cigarette were definitely tacky (even to someone who “must have been raised in a barn,” as someone once said about me, purely in jest, I’m sure), but so was her bursting into the men’s club in the first place.
      As Falstaff says about honor: Can etiquette mend a leg? No. Maybe a tourniquette. I’ll stop now and return to this boring concert.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

  • armerjacquino says:

    Part of me thinks this is a joke. Another part of me wants to applaud this crackpot for his attention to detail.

  • Reading that was a laugh riot. My first impression was, who cares? Really, most of those details will not be seen past the 15th row and this is what he has to criticize. I find it interesting that some people think that every detail has to be exact otherwise the audience will not get the period reference. Carsen himself proved you can create beautiful evocative period with very little.

    At the same time, how is this letter different from people here railing about the fireplace in the Zefirelli Tosca? Really, snobbery is snobbery and we are all not immune to it (God knows I am not) so how is this guys railing about the tightness of the bow on a supernumeraries’ costume Any different from some of the snobbery WE have displayed here?

    I mean, it is funny to point out, but only in the context of realizing that we are not immune to it either and we are perfectly capable of displaying ourselves, and have.

    • Regina delle fate says:

      lol Lindoro -- you’re comment on the Lebrecht site pricked “Michael’s” self-inflated ego-bubble very succinctly, I thought! :)

  • bluecabochon says:

    No matter what you do, and even if you have hired an “expert”, there is always somebody out there who knows when stuff like this, from etiquette to military equipment to religious costume, cars, road signs, you name it, is wrong. I read criticism about the nylon guitar strings on Captain von Trapp’s guitar in SOM being incorrect for 1938, or whenever the show is set.

    You can’t get these things right all the time, and a stage show is not an encyclopedia, but his screed was fascinating anyway.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

  • la vociaccia says:

    I absolutely loved that. Especially the roll-buttering part. Fabulous

  • operapass says:

    Pedestrian casting?! And every voice that he mentioned as good he mentioned that they had girth to match? Give me a break. Deaf and dumb.

  • steveac10 says:

    Oropesa 2 sizes too small for Nanetta at the Met? Horsepucky! Who would he like cast in the role? Stemme? Goerke? Sutherland?

    I’m not seeing this for a few weeks (always best to see an ensemble show mid run)but she’s been more than audible as Susanna, Gilda and others over the last 5 years so I would be surprised if that had changed now.

    Seems to me Michael was looking for nits to pick because he is in love with a 50 year old production that was falling apart at its seams last time around. Based on the stream last night the only musical issues were with coordination in the giant ensembles in the earlier acts (reaffirming my decision to see this mid run) and a rather pedestrian Mr. Ford.

  • Buster says:

    This man knows his Constance Spry. Loved it.

  • manou says:

    If anyone (Rackon?) is interested in reading Hugh Canning’s lengthy review of Parsifal at the ROH in today’s Sunday Times, I will post it here.

    • Hanna says:

      Yes, please, if you could be so kind.

      • manou says:

        Grappling with Parsifal

        Pappano’s players are heroic, as the Royal Opera takes on Wagner’s most confounding work

        “The Royal Opera’s search for the Holy Grail of a theatrically compelling staging of Parsifal has foundered at the fourth attempt in my opera-going career. For the third time in its recent history, Covent Garden has plumped for a British director of this most complex and mystical of Wagner’s music dramas. Like Terry Hands (1979) and Bill Bryden (1988) before him, Stephen Langridge is a Wagnerian newbie — he staged his first Wagner, Lohengrin, at the Royal Swedish Opera last year — but, unlike those acclaimed spoken-theatre directors, he has at least been involved with opera for most of his professional life. He provided the Royal Opera with a substantial hit in his direction of the 2008 world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur (revived last season).
        Presumably, Birtwistle — who attended the Parsifal opening night — is one of the connections here, for Langridge’s first job at the ROH was as assistant to the director Di Trevis on her 2000 revival of Birtwistle’s Parsifal-inspired Gawain. Wagner’s valedictory work proves a taller order for Langridge, although he clearly has lots of ideas about an opera that retains a reputation for incomprehensibility.
        That Parsifal can be simply and eloquently staged was demonstrated triumphantly by Welsh National Opera in 1983, when a young staff director, Mike Ashman, was drafted in to replace a leading German director, Rudolf Noelte, at short notice. Langridge faces quite different challenges, for he not only has to direct the work as Wagner left it to posterity, but also to take into account the sometimes questionable theories and opinions of endless self-styled Wagner experts and commentators. What used to be imparted to audiences in the form of programme notes now has to be staged, it seems. It is a recipe for obfuscation and incoherence, neither of which Langridge avoids here.
        It has been suggested elsewhere that he has divested Parsifal of its Christian associations — or rather Wagner’s own philosophical “take” on Christianity, spiced by his late-life interest in Buddhism — but that isn’t true. He is certainly not the first director to have personified the Grail, here represented by a young boy in a loincloth, whose flank Amfortas ritually pierces with a sharp object, while his wheelchair-bound father, Titurel, experiences some kind of erotic exaltation. The boy plays dead and is carried by one of the knights in a “dramatic” representation of the Pietà, before sitting around glumly wearing a shroudlike wrap. In the second (Act III) unveiling of the Grail, his place is taken by an adolescent who adopts the pose of Christ crucified.
        Blood rituals lie at the heart of Langridge’s staging — four Grail Knights pierce their own hands, symbolising Christ’s stigmata, and, armed with guns and a bomb in a briefcase, go off on a terrorist mission. An atmosphere of paedophilia, at least child abuse, hovers over this Grail community, but this idea goes nowhere. All the blood-letting, far from shocking, seems contrived and stagey. He tells the back stories of Parsifal, Amfortas and Klingsor with tableaux of the hero’s parents and of Amfortas’s seduction by Kundry, while the necromancer’s self-castration is staged in a see-through cube that takes up too much space centre-stage for most of the evening. The back stories, which we are perfectly capable of reading in the surtitles, become focal.
        While Antonio Pappano unfolds shimmering, mystical sounds in long, slow (occasionally too much so) paragraphs and iridescent, proto-Debussian colours — the orchestral players are the evening’s heroes — the images delivered by Langridge’s designer, Alison Chitty, are prosaic and grey. The great scenic transformations of the outer acts have almost no theatrical éclat, and Klingsor’s “magic garden” evokes Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men. When Parsifal breaks Klingsor’s spell, destroying the garden, nothing happens. Langridge simply dodges the notorious Parsifal difficulties — the killing of the swan, the capture of the spear, and it goes without saying that there’s no dove at the end.
        Nor does he get universally compelling performances from his principals. René Pape’s wonderfully sung and articulate Gurnemanz seems disconcertingly matter-of-fact after his moving performance in François Girard’s recent Met production. Gerald Finley’s Amfortas lurches around melodramatically on a Zimmer frame until Parsifal heals his wound, but he sings the role beautifully in the lyric, lieder-style tradition of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. According to Langridge, Amfortas runs off with Kundry at the end. Kundry is, of course, Wagner’s most multifaceted female character, a shape-shifter, so Langridge has her bald in Act I, a flame-haired temptress in Act II and the beginning of Act III (much bedraggled), and a blonde at the end. I suppose that’s one way of representing Kundry’s death and transfiguration. To me, it seemed merely comical and banal — a Puccini-style ending to Wagner’s most profound opera.
        Willard W White returns as Klingsor for his third RO Parsifal production in a row, inevitably greyer of voice than in 1988 and 2001. The weakest links are the stolid Parsifal of Simon O’Neill and the now ragged-sounding Kundry of Angela Denoke, who probably never had the voluptuousness of timbre required for the seduction scene and now lunges for high notes that are no longer there. O’Neill has his vocal moments, but his physical unwieldiness and rudimentary acting skills make for an unconvincing “pure fool-turned-Redeemer”.
        There are far better Parsifals and Kundrys around, and it’s disturbing that the Royal Opera either doesn’t seem to know who they are, or was too slow off the mark to secure their services for this supposedly prestigious production in the Wagner bicentenary year.”

        And also:

        • grimoaldo says:

          The Guardian review says that Parsifal, of Wagner’s operas, is “the composer’s most dramatically repellent …yet his most musically potent.”
          Good way of putting it.

          • La Cieca says:

            If by “good” you mean “meaningless,” then I agree with you. Maddocks says elsewhere in her review “The more you read [the libretto], the more it seems a wild piece of bunkum, ecumenical, lofty and infuriating. What is Wagner trying to tell us about Christianity, Buddhism, race, blood, sin, redemption?” and, later, “Parsifal is what you make of it.”

            So, the text of Parsifal is, in Maddocks’ view, “ecumenical, lofty… infuriating,” and, above all, ambiguous. It deals at least in part with important and difficult moral and spiritual questions.

            Now, please explain to me how it follows that such a text is “dramatically repellent.” Is it because it forces Ms. Maddocks to think instead of just sitting there getting washed over by all that lovely Wagnerian noise? Is she ethically opposed to the concept of redemption? Or what?

            She never bothers to say why she finds the text of this opera “dramatically repellent, just puts the idea out there: I mean, it’s Parsifal, you know, by that unpleasant man Richard Wagner, so say no more, wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean, repellent, am I right?

            “Dramatically repellent” is sheer cant, and Maddocks ought to be ashamed to write such drivel.

            • marshiemarkII says:

              That’s why I love like La Cieca and by extension parterre!!!!!! Posts like this say so much, in such a short amount of space! brilliant!

  • kashania says:

    Oh, I get it. Slipped Disc is like The Onion, right?

  • stevey says:


    Are you really KIDDING me???

    You all know me (or not, but let me bathe my ego to some extent, if you will… ;-) ). Normally, I am too cowed, or awed, or perhaps simply happy, to revel in the contributions of you all to comment myself here, and as such am content to accept immersing myself in the status of ‘lurker’ on here. Not for a MINUTE does it mean that value or appreciate this site, or any of you who contribute to make it what it is, any less than anybody else… and I am thankful both for this website, and for each and every one of you who help make it what it is… (my Cammie! How ARE you??? :-) )

    That being said, this posting has elicited an opinion so strong that I couldn’t help but bring my head out from under my shell and share it with you (opinions, of course, being what they are…)

    That being said, it is my opinion that ‘Michael’ needs to be shot- directly, in the face- with a ball of his own shit. A more pretentious and ‘douche-y’ piece of crap I can’t recall having read in a LONNNNNNNG time (and this comes from someone who reads a LOT, very often with the most minimal of expectations!!!)

    When I read the first bit, about number 1, and how
    “The waiter would never have shown to a customer a bottle of red wine which had already been opened”, I think my soul actually started to cry a little bit…

    And, it was in honor of this (I think), and the subsequent and utter DEFEAT of that part of me that really WANTS to at least, REFUTE, if not DEFEAT, that descent into abject misanthropy that comments such as these engender… why I thought I’d come out of my ‘lurking’ habitat to say just such a thing.

    So, yeah- ‘ball of pretentious shit’ + ‘Michael’ = BRING ‘ER ON!!!

    And I apologize to anyone who may feel differently, for expressing myself with such vehemence….

    My continued best wishes to all!!! :-)

  • Verdilover says:

    I saw this production at La Scala in January and I thought it was fantastic, despite absolutely terrible, atrocious singing it scored a big sucess based specially on the staging and conducting.