Sunday, May 18, 2008

Regie Woes: Going too far? Nor far enough? Discuss!

It's no secret to those who know me that I enjoy well thought out (not "off-the-wall") regietheatre productions, updatings, etc. I give almost any-and-everything a chance. What I have an increasingly difficult time accepting are productions so "out there" that nothing is what it seems with few audiences actually appreciating what they're seeing. (I'm not talking about the chronic complainers who despise anything being moved to a time period other than "traditional" - these people are rarely happy).

Such productions are even more frustrating when for a work off the beaten path, or one that continually has a hard time getting an audience. So, initially, when I read of Canadian Opera's new "Pelleas et Melisande" - starring Isabel Bayrakdarian and Russell Braun - I was elated and thought of planning a trip up North. Then I saw review after review - and how the long evening is divided in half but a single intermission - and how more than half the audience bailed out (how painful to perform to a full house one half, followed by an empty one for the balance).
Here are some snippets of a few of the reviews I read:

"a post apocalyptic take on the troubled kingdom . . . resembles nothing so much as a head on collision in the middle of nowhere between two trains, one loaded with paintings by the late Jackson Pollack and the other crammed with enough discount Chinoiserie to open a dollar store or stage a send-up of the forthcoming Olympic opening ceremony."

The above review centered exclusively on the production with (literally!) not a single mention any of the vocal performances, and just provided the names of the cast (and not by role), and but a single sentence on Debussy's score!

It made me wonder if in the future we will not see mention made of vocal performances, merely the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of the production, and lurid details about the staging.
I was immediately put in mind of those ghastly photos of the Salzburg and Covent Garden productions with Simon's last go at Pelleas withi he and Braun required to wear those ridiculous white silk pants - about 4 feet wide across the hips and looking like lifesized hideous Harlequin dolls- and Melisande precariously perched 10 feet above the stage on a tiny step jutting out from the rear wall with 3 dozen copies of her gown hanging emptily against the wall. And the moment when the entire stage is lit in Broadway marquee lights reading "PELLEAS & MELISANDE."
I love Pelleas - I love it in concert, staged, recordings, but when something so one-of-a-kind and rarely put on gets the "train wreck" treatment, I really have to wonder WHAT a director was thinking; could the creative team all have been on the same page? Can the company (all of them losing money) have thought they were doing the best, giving their best, using their resources wisely?

I've been in an ongoing argument with someone about Mr. Noble's "Macbeth" for the Met (I am "pro" he is "con") and many of his arguments sound like mine above. I suppose it's perhaps to what degree one can take "tampering" with the stage image.

But back to the Pelleas at hand. Oddly, days after reading one bad review after another, I found a single review that was the most intelligently thought out of them all . . . and a rave for the production and the singing:

"a first-rate cast, intriguing design and insightful direction bring out the work’s strange beauty and make it dramatically compelling. This is the first time this critic has been so drawn into this opera’s world of mystery and half-light . . . Hunka is superb . . . The detail of his acting and the pain that sounds in his dark, velvety voice make him a victim as much as the title characters. Braun has Pelléas cover a dramatic arc from initial naïveté and timidity to a final defiant acknowledgement of his love in ringing heroic tones. Similarly, Bayrakdarian beautifully voices the change in Mélisande from the terrified creature Golaud first finds to a fully self-confident woman. Yet, she, unlike Pelléas lives long enough to encounter an even greater mystery where life and death are linked.

Dany Lyne’s (stage) design imagines the sumptuous Indo-Chinese garbed court of Allemonde . . . a kind of pier to separate themselves from the blasted landscape of disease and poverty below them gives the fairy tale a political edge and ultimately highlights the futiliy of such effort. Under the baton of Jan Latham-Koenig the COC Orchestra gives a ravishing account of Debussy gorgeous score."

Now, isn't subjectivity an interesting exercise?


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