Thursday, June 04, 2015

Italie! Italie!

The stage directions for the Royal Hunt & Storm, Act Four, First Tableau, Les Troyens:
An African forest; morning. At the back, a high crag; below and to the left of it, the opening of a cave. A small stream flows along the crag till it merges in a natural basic bordered with rushes and reeds. Two naiads appear for an instant and vanish; a moment later they can be seen bathing in the pool. Royal hunt: Hunting calls resound far off in the depths of the forest. The frightened naiads hide in the reeds. Tyrian huntsman pass, with dogs on leashes. Young Ascanius gallops across the stage on horseback. The sky darkens; it begins to rain. The storm grows....It becomes a tempest, with sheets of rain, hail, lightning, and thunder. Repeated horn calls are heard amid the tumult of the elements. The huntsman scatter in different directions. Finally, Dido and Aeneas appear, she dressed as Diana the huntress, bow in hand and quiver on shoulder, he in semi-military dress. Both are on foot. They enter the cave. Immediately the nymphs of the forest appear, with disheveled hair, on top of the crag, and run back and forth, shouting and gesticulating wildly. In the midst of their yells, one word can from time to time be heard: Italy. The stream swells and becomes a foaming torrent. Several other waterfalls form at different points on the crag and mingle their noise with the noise of the storm. Satyrs and sylvans, with fauns, perform grotesque dances in the darkness. A tree is struck by lightning, shatters, and catches fire. The wreckage of the tree falls on the stage. The satyrs, fauns, and sylvans pick up the flaming branches and dance with them in their hands, then disappear with the nymphs of the forest. The storm passes. The clouds lift.
Well, okay, then. I am not expecting to see all of this on the War Memorial stage (please, no horses), but I assume the above is one of the ballet sequences.


Anonymous said...

... and Dido and Aeneas do not come out of the cave.

Sigh. I have wanted to see a reasonable version of this on stage ever since I first heard the piece, and have always been disappointed. Mostly directors don't even try -- in Zambello's production in LA she staged the battle against the Numidians during this music. In her Met production she has two dancer/acrobats (man and woman) flying on a wire, rapturously embracing mid-air. In the original Met production in 1973 they just showed a film clip on a small suspended screen, with images of horses and, I think, a blinking eye. In that awful Salzburg production, Dido and Aeneas approach each other slowly from opposite sides of the stage during the whole movement -- no other action.

David McVicar did make a few stabs at it in London: there is a tree, and a lightning bolt at the designated moment in the score, but for the rest of it, well, if you hadn't read the scenario you would have no idea. (I've been hoping he might re-think it for San Francisco. We'll see.)

The music follows this scenario so closely and so graphically, it's a miracle that it forms a coherent movement (and it does). This is the original, and best, version of that moment when, say, Joan Crawford and John Garfield embrace, followed by a cut to crashing waves, erupting volcanoes, and so on. But people keep wanting to stage the subtext -- probably it's cheaper, but it's still a mistake.

Here's Berlioz's comment (a hand-written note in the autograph score): "If the theater is not vast enough to allow an animated and imposing mise-en-scène for this interlude; if one cannot obtain female choristers to cross the stage with their hair scattered, and male choristers dressed up as Fauns and Satyrs devoted to grotesque leaps while shouting: Italy!; if the firemen are afraid of fire, the machinists afraid of water, the director afraid of everything, and especially if one cannot quickly make the change of scenery before the third act, this symphony should be suppressed."

Lisa Hirsch said...

That note is hilarious and wonderful. He knew so exactly what he wanted and why.

I'd like to see it too, even though the scenery change sounds like a challenge. We have traps and flies for this sort of thing, after all.

I swapped out my Wagnerian header and will keep the new one in place through early July.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, forgot to add: the truly impossible staging I'd like to see is Act III of Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Lisa Hirsch said...

So I took notes and will say that what I saw today came pretty close to what's in the scenario:

Naiads, check.
Satyrs, check.
Hunters and dogs, check, although the dogs were dancers (worked well).
Tree bursting in flame, check.
Satyrs and fauns running with burning brands, check (no burning branches fell on stage)
Dido & Aeneas, check, but they embraced and sank to the floor among overly graphic dancers rather than walking into that cave.

No swelling, foaming torrent on stage, though they took a stab at naiads frolicking in a pool by having them writhing on stage.

The horns during the RH&S were sublime, which is about all I plan to comment on in my review. :)