Our canard this week is pretty basic: when people talk about an opera “production,” they tend to mean “the sets and costumes,” that is, the physical production. As in, why can’t we revive Wieland Wagner’s production of Tristan und Isolde or Luchino Visconti‘s Anna Bolena. (Or, maybe even more to the point, Giorgio Strehler‘s Nozze di Figaro.) But there’s a reason these “productions” can’t be revived in a meaningful sense, and La Cieca will continue to expound after the jump. 

It’s just this: the sets and costumes, the lighting design, even the blocking darefully transcribed into a prompt book—none of these are “the production.” They are elements of the production, but in fact relatively minor ones. The production is something intangible: it’s how the director works with the singers, what sort of ways they discover together to express the ideas and emotions of the opera. The production is as much the process as the end result, and, as such, a different set of elements (different artists, a different Zeitgeist) will change the process and therefore create a different production.

This was explained to La Cieca by a veteran state director, a doyen one might say, many years ago. What he said was (paraphrasing), “Think of a dress by Christian Dior. What makes that dress special? Yes, it’s made of the absolute finest quality silk, but it’s not the silk that makes it a Dior. What makes it a Dior is the process of creating the dress in Dior’s atelier, the way the fabric is first draped on the dress form, the way the pattern is sut, the way the bodice is fitted meticulously upon the wearer. And then the very special and detailed way the seams are finished and how the hems are done. All that time, M. Dior was guiding the process, looking at the dress and saying, “this is right” and “this is not right.”

“What makes a Dior is the eye of Dior, his taste. Without Dior’s participation in the process, the result is not a Dior, it’s a more or less convincing imitation.”

The cher public is invited to ponder this definition during this afternoon’s webcast of Elektra directed by Patrice Chéreau.