Opera past and present in guises old and new.
As Johnny surveys the mess he has created, he comments with characteristic understatement, ‘This is getting awkward.’ It is when the show undermines the epic scale of Mozart’s piece that it actually feels strongest. Other undercutting works less well. So, as Blake merges in his R&B and dubstep beats, the cast is left to valiantly fly Mozart’s flag above this stream of sound.
In fact, central to bohemianism was a kind of ambivalence – were these real artists, or were they simply avoiding the traditional expectations of their stations by legitimising their own pleasure-seeking? This question of the status and quality of art was a genuine one and remains with us today, albeit tangled in quite contemporary concerns.
The only untied end is Tigrane - who is left dangling - his love for Polissena unfulfilled and perhaps not quite fitting into the final order of events. In some ways it is him who is easiest to identify with: he seems the more mysterious yet most real person of the piece.
The layers of Craig Lucas’ libretto for Two Boys build a nuanced look at a generation that’s grown up spending its social life onscreen as much as face to face, and at how they’re regarded, often with bafflement and fear, by what Mulhy’s called ‘the analogue generation’. Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg also hinges on a middle-aged character trying to make sense of a changing world.
Bruno Caproni’s Simon Boccanegra first appears as an overweight Fonz, but fortunately this won’t last. The opera’s prologue features the two events that will transform Boccanegra from a lovestruck pirate into a compassionate statesman.
How should we view Oberon’s casual intimacy with Puck, sharing cigarettes with him (the ‘magic herb’ which turns lovers’ heads) and involving him in his own very adult relationship with Tytania? Is it just favouritism which carelessly harnesses the powerful emotions of adolescence, or an abusive betrayal of childish trust?
But it’s a night at the opera, not a dialectical analysis of Romantic-into-modern Germany. And as a dramatisation of a distinctly undramatic musical work, it works. Letting the words float on the surface of a powerful drama, instead of having to carry the narrative, takes the pressure off the libretto’s weak points, and lets its more poetic passages fly free.
If you must slaughter the innocent, it is best if you do so in Italian, or better yet, Czech. But if there is no getting round the business, all you can do is extenuate it and hope you will somehow retain the audience’s sympathy by emphasising that well, yes, Myra is a child killer, but it’s not really her fault. Yeah, good luck with that one.
Niall Crowley asks if the work of Birmingham Opera Company – featured in a recent BBC documentary along with a screening of their unique production of Verdi’s Othello – and their goal of ‘making opera speak to a broad audience’ is just another attempt to use the arts for the purposes of social engineering or something to be celebrated.
The ritual of the Grail, unveiling the divine to spiritually restore the knights, has the emotional impact it needs. This is what sustains Amfortas’ father Titurel so far beyond his natural lifespan that he’s a living corpse. As a musical statement of belief in the redemptibility of humankind, it cuts through the despair of Act 1 like a laser.
There are themes that outlive the specifics of 1920s Moscow, questions about what defines us as human, for example. But in the frenetic vision of an apartment being gradually reduced to chaos by a foulmouthed ex-canine, there is little space to contemplate them.
Don Giovanni is amoral, willing to sacrifice his own loyal manservant to escape punishment. Yet, faced with damnation for his wickedness, he refuses to repent. ‘My fate is in my own hands, I’ve made my choice… repentance is for cowards’. Suddenly there is a whiff of Faust about him.
There’s a comic streak through this production of The Makropoulos Case too, but it’s a dark comedy. And, in a sense, it’s the 20th century mirror image of the Gounod piece. Faust wanted only youth and love. Marty has more than enough of both.
Mitchell eschews spectacular, supernatural visuals, apart from some lightning in the darkening sky over the sea. The orchestra has a free rein to bring the storms, both emotional and meteorological, to life. But in some ways this makes it harder to accept that the supernatural element is a metaphor, or a dramatic device, to open up the emotional realities. Is Idomeneo deluded, suffering PTSD from the long war?
This awareness of artistic conceit, the self-conscious construction of the characters to depict something real, and in turn their own play-acting and the overarching authority of the plot, the position in which this puts the audience - is both noticeable and starkly modern. As you watch and listen, you realise the characters- and by extension people in general - have really nowhere else to go but death if their grand plans fail.