Mystery score

Mystery score

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Amplification, Part Umpty-Ump

Opening this week at Berkeley Repertory Theater is what sounds like an entertaining production by the Theatre de la Jeune Lune called Figaro, described as "inspired by Mozart and Beaumarchais". Now, I am a sucker for all things Nozze, which ranks rather high on my, and everyone else's, list of greatest operas. The poignancy of the situation, the brilliance of the music, the clockwork timing of the plot, the varieties of love, all add up to an eternal delight.

Last week I got email from Berkeley Rep offering a big discount on tickets for a limited number of performances. Before biting, I emailed Berkeley Rep to ask about use of amplification, and they wrote back that there will be "a little bit" of amplification on both the orchestra and singers.

I say it once again: if I can hear unamplified singers over a full orchestra in both Davies (seats more than 2000) and War Memorial Opera House (seats about 3200), Berkeley Rep is doing something wrong if they need to amplify anyone in their 400- and 600-seat theaters.

14 comments:

pjwv said...

Thanks for the info on amplification, which I should have guessed based on previous experience (for example: in Mother Courage Berkeley Rep quite bizarrely amplified the songs and left the dialogue in natural sound, which might sound like effective Brechtian distancing but which, trust me, wasn't). I wanted to go also, not just because of my love of Nozze but because a few years ago Theatre de la Jeune Lune did a really brilliant production of Moliere's Miser there. I had also received that e-mail about the steeply discounted tickets and was so annoyed that it was only for dates when I couldn't go that I had second thoughts about going at all. This news kind of confirms that feeling.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I raised the amplification question with someone at Berkeley Opera last year and he claimed they gave careful consideration to its use - but if they amplify everything, that's obviously not true, and they do, so...

osborne said...

Berkeley Opera uses amplification? Nice to know. I've never gone, but have often seriously considered it. Now, forget it.

But there are additional grounds for skipping this Figaro, in my view. It pains me to disagree with pjwv, whose blog I enjoy tremendously, but I found that Miser to be idiotic. All of the real humour of the piece had been surgically excised, and replaced by one gag: an old man shticking his tongue out for a cheap and highly repetitious effect.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Aaargh! No, no, no, no, no. My braino: I meant Berkeley Repertory Theater, which is presenting Theatre de la Jeune Lune's Figaro. Berkeley Opera does not, repeat, does not, use amplification. There may be reasons to skip their productions, but use of amplification is not one of them.

pjwv said...

Hi Osborne! What I liked about the production is that (for me, but obviously not for you) they managed to keep the Miser (Harpagon?) on the unpleasant side throughout and avoided making him too cutesy. I also liked an approach to Moliere that avoided the usual period look and the commedia slapstick that doesn't amuse me that much. But to each his own, and I applaud your phrase "shticking his tongue out" -- nicely done!

pjwv said...

Lisa, Thanks for the clarification on Berkeley Opera -- I was wondering about that. I haven't been to enough of Berkeley Opera's productions to speak to that. Berkeley Rep does use amplification at some times and not others in my experience, so I believe them when they say it's carefully considered, but I don't think it works well when they do use it. They tend to amplify music and not speech, which is the opposite of what concert halls do, which is amplify speech and not music, so I don't really understand how the acoustical science is working there.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Have you ever heard unamplified music at Berkeley Rep? I have not: every production I've been to that used music, amplified that music, always to its detriment.

pjwv said...

I probably should have clarified that Berkeley Rep does not amplify spoken (as opposed to sung) speech, in my experience. I'll have to review my experiences to see if they've ever not amplified music, but I think at least recently they always do, so you have the sort of odd disjunction I mentioned, where the speech in Mother Courage sounds normal butthe songs all sound artificial. And yeah, I wish they'd stop doing that. For one thing, it encourages people not to listen as intently.

N6TQS said...

Would you go for free? I have an extra.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you, but no. I saw the Czech double bill a couple of years back and the amplification was torture.

N6TQS said...

I saw it, and if it was amplified, I couldn't tell, in spite of listening for any hint. I was row G, dead center, though.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Another friend who went said the same thing. Maybe I will go after all, though the next few weeks are jammed.

N6TQS said...

In addition to not being amplified, it was very good, in my opinion.
Figaro the younger was particularly outstanding, but the rest were all good.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Berkeley Rep itself told me they were using some amplification.