Monday, November 25, 2013

Britten Gloriana: Barstow's Missed Opera-tunity


The performances are nothing short of astonishing and I was moved - powerfully so. Still, in the end, I have to admit to being somewhat let down. I loved this Opera North production - the casting, the direction, everything about it. I even - to a lesser degree - enjoyed the backstage moments, costume changes, pranks, etc. But the ending, which Britten ensures to pack a huge emotional wallop (and isn't that what we most love about opera?) is diffused by having the heroine taking off her wig, makeup before her dressing table as we hear the unseen audience going wild and the stage manager calling cast names for curtain calls. It's really something of a let down.

Ultimately I fear I'll probably not return to this "film" all that much as when I want to see or hear Gloriana - I want the composer's vision. It's a pity, too, as apparently the director - Phyllida Lloyd - is responsible for both the outstanding stage production (apparently one of Opera North's most successful) AND the film adaptation.

In a DVD extra, Lloyd's remarks angered me a little. She talked about how over 9 years this production had been revived three times and grew in every way - audience appeal, stage drama, etc. and how she wanted a document of it and give something to a film viewer that a live audience could never get - hence all the backstage business and camera shots from above looking down - (dazzling really). BUT - she's not a fan of live operas filmed from the stage. She states "people don't understand what a terrible shortfall of joy there is for the viewer" of televised live opera from the stage, going on to tell us that what she's done is preferable to the "flat and static experience" of watching taped live performances of opera. WHAT THE EFFFF?

Apparently Ms. Lloyd is unfamiliar with the boom of live performance opera DVDs - growing more each year. Apparently she's not seen the hundreds of performances we all here rave on about routinely. She goes on to insult practically all other directors before her (not by name of course) but rather by stating how "surprised" she is that no other directors have addressed this "static" issue. Oh really? I'd like to hear her tell that to Hans Hulscher's face, or Brian Large, Yves-André Hubert, Horant H. Hohlfeld, or any of the other directors who have made so many operas come alive on small screens in our living rooms. Really, the audacity, woman!

She then goes on to state that what she's actually doing is letting the television viewer see both the public and private life of Elizabeth and Essex, by allowing us to go backstage with the singers to the private areas that the general public will never see. Sorry, her argument is shot to hell (in my opinion) because we're NOT seeing Essex and Elizabeth but rather Tom Randle and Jo Barstow and the rest of the cast as we watch them eating candy bars and drinking tea or bottled water in the wings, dressing rooms and tunnels.

My blood really turned to the boiling point when the conductor agrees, stating this was their vision from the beginning as they thought this through "with a lot of healthy disrespect for the opera . . . because really one of the worst things you can do for any live opera is to put it on film or television. Kills it dead. Three people will watch and they'll turn it off after half an hour. It's rather like the worthiness of reading prizewinning books right to the end . . . not many people know what happens in the last third of ANY of the great books ever written." Say what?

He defends cutting the opera to a 90+ minute film because people wouldn't want to watch the whole thing and if you want to see the whole opera and hear all of the music, then you "should go see on the stage."

Believe it or not, I actually respect that they're being so adamant in their belief of the film but find it a missed opportunity and a a pity they could not believe in their production enough to make a film of the entire work, feeling the necessity to trim and pre-digest so severely so that we common lunks could "get it."

It's a fascinating piece of film, to be sure, but I really feel the producers missed an opportunity to memorialize a landmark production of one of Britten's greatest works and one of Josephine Barstow's greatest roles.

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