Troyens

Troyens

Monday, June 22, 2015

Some Ranting and the Ciociara Media Round-Up

Republished with a small Update below.

My review is posted.
Also, Nicola Luisotti interviewed by Jason Victor Serinus.

So if you read through all of the above, you'll see that Joshua Kosman and I are scarily on the same page, although as usual he is sharper and more elegant than I am. I swear that this is the only exchange we had about Ciociara before I filed my review, although I did see the URL of his story on Facebook:

























[Several of us - Joshua, me, Anne Midgette, Georgia Rowe,Paul Selar, and Zachary Woolfe - are on the same page. I am sure that Allan Ulrich is too, but paywall.]

Now, ranting a bit. I cheered when I saw Joshua's comments about Tutino's esthetic stance. What he isn't quite telling you is that at the Ciociara press conference last month - and you can see streamed video on the SFO web site, right here - Tutino, David Gockley, and Francesca Zambello all found ways to pound on modernist opera.

I was frankly appalled. I don't believe in denouncing musical styles wholesale, and the modernist styles have been central in the development of Western art music in the last century or so. To hear powerful figures such as Gockley and Zambello talking about music that makes audiences flee (yes, those were the words used) was especially appalling.

Zambello got pretty specific, too, referring to German operas she had directed at Santa Fe in the 90s. Well, gosh, Santa Fe Opera just happens to have an online archive, so I looked up the operas in question. I presume she was talking about Wolfgang Rihm's Oedipus and Hans-Jurgen von Bose's The Sorrows of Young Werther. I will have to look them up some time.

I'm also appalled because it's not as though American opera houses are swimming in that awful modernist opera. San Francisco last performed anything I'd call modernist decades ago, with Henze's Das Verratene Meer (1991) and Reimann's Lear (1981, 1985). Related: check out the New York Philharmonic's repertory during the Boulez years, and it's not all Le marteau sans maitre and Schoenberg, not by a long shot.

[Update, 6/22: What was I thinking? SFOpera has produced those awful serialist operas by Alban Berg within living memory. Lulu, 1965, 1971, 1989, 1998; Wozzeck, 1960, 1962, 1968, 1981, 1990, 1999. Yes, it has been 16 years since we saw one of these masterpieces at SFO! Thank goodness for Opera Parallele, which did a fine job with Wozzeck a few years back; the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen, which performed Wozzeck more or less in concert; West Edge Opera, which puts on Lulu in Oakland in just a few weeks.]

Lastly, you don't pound on a style that has actually got an audience, even if it's a smaller audience than that for Madama Butterfly. The opera audience is fragmented in exactly the way that the general audience for classical music is fragmented. Some people won't go to Lulu, some people won't go to Poppea, some people won't go to Verdi, some people won't go to Wagner, some people won't go to Nozze. Yes, I know that you think everybody loves Mozart, but I have friends who hear his works as nothing but "diddly music." They'll go see Janacek, though!

And then there are people like me, who just want to see the good stuff, in any style and from any era. Monteverdi, Mozart, Lully; Handel, Verdi, Donizetti; Wagner, Berg, Strauss; Martinu, Schreker; Shostakovich, Britten, Adams; Janacek, Birtwistle, Saariaho. We'll take them all, and we don't want to hear operatic leaders denouncing any of them.

39 comments:

Janet Lafler said...

We were there opening night, and I had a very similar reaction. (Actually, looking through the reviews you link to, there seems to be a pretty clear consensus.) I liked most of the performances, especially Sarah Shafer's, but the opera itself left me cold: derivative music with little emotional range (and cliches like punctuating emotional climaxes with a "boom" from the orchestra), a weak libretto, a lot of stock characters. Given the subject matter I was prepared to be put through the wringer, but the only time I felt really emotionally engaged was during some of the documentary footage of refugees.

Oh, and I hate it when the audience boos good performers in villainous roles! I'm surprised you haven't seen it before; it seems to happen often at the SF opera. It's juvenile, and it makes me feel bad for the performers.

I hadn't known about the interview with

Henry Holland said...

Well said in the rant portion. If David Gockley was a baseball player who was judged on the average of hits he's had to strikeouts, he'd be toiling in A ball somewhere in rural Nebraska. He's really cranked out a LOT of crap that will rarely, if ever, be revived again.

You know where my musical sympathies lie, but what I find to be troubling (and boring at the same time) is that, fine, there's not as large an audience for, say,The Mask of Orpheus as there is for La Traviata but so what? Why not cater to those of us who *do* like L'amour de Loin but would have to be paid a large sum of money to go hear the warhorses (some of which I love, I just have zero desire to hear them again)?

I remember walking out of a concert performance that the LA Opera did of Moses und Aron and some of my friends (who weren't fans of the opera at all) expressing surprise that it a) wasn't the horrible musical monster that they'd been lead to believe it was, that although it's not something they'd buy 12 recordings of, it *worked* and b) how big a crowd it drew that really loved it (i.e. me, it was a great performance).

ENO is constantly being asked to do another production of The Mask of Orpheus, which completely sold out its (so far only) run in the 80's, it had people lined up down St. Martins Lane. Even when something like Lear (the old Ponnelle production in Budapest & a new one in Paris in 2015/16) or Birtwistle's The Minotaur or Reimann's Medea is a success, it's often dismissed as a fluke, denigrated because they charged less for it (i.e. "People only went because the tickets didn't cost 300 pounds!") or they sneer that it won't get six revivals. Point out that Gawain was revived twice to good crowds and it's dismissed as a fluke.

The ossification of the repertoire and the utter conservatism of the audience in most places not called Berlin or Munich or Hamburg or Amsterdam is a reason why quite worthy tonal operas that haven't cracked the Opera Top 40 languish. I'll never forget playing excerpts from Der Ferne Klang for a guy I was dating and he was shocked at how good they were, he was convinced it was going to be "that horrible modern stuff you like so much". There's very much a "if it was any good, we'd have heard it before" attitude that goes on.

The opera audience is fragmented in exactly the way that the general audience for classical music is fragmented

Absolutely.

Chanterelle said...

Without forcing a link on you I'll just mention my review now up on Classical Voice North America. While I didn't slam TWO WOMEN for not being modern, I complain that the glorified movie score dilutes the dramatic impact of the voices, which is where opera's emotional payoff should lie.

While I postulated that the Gockley approach may fill more seats, I see that plenty of tickets remain available for all performances.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I found that CVNA link and posted it. :)

I think there's room for many different musical languages; we don't live in a time of style consolidation, but of eclecticism. I am most bugged by the terrible libretto for Two Women, the poor dramatic pacing, and the blatant recycling of musical tropes from Puccini.

Henry, yeah, all around. Janet, "Derivative music with no emotional impact" is exactly right. I mean, Puccini knew what he was doing and most of his imitators do not. (Your last sentence got lost somewhere.)

kalimac said...

I dunno. An opera with three rapes? That's at least two too many.

I have a friend who doesn't like any music from between 1750 and about 1900. Before or after are both fine with him.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The rape of Cesira and Rosetta by the French Moroccan troops is historical and an especially shameful episode, as it seems the French essentially gave the Moroccans permission to rape and pillage as they pleased. Cesira's rape by Giovanni was invented for the opera and is indeed egregious.

kalimac said...

That something is historical doesn't mean it necessarily has to be depicted or a major plot point in a story based on it, either. We're always being told that fiction is not history, it doesn't have to depict history precisely. Now's the chance to prove it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The rape by Giovanni was invented for the opera, as part of a strategy of making that character's role more important and making him a foil to the tenor/soprano lovers; imo, this was a mistake as the opera would work better without him having a bigger role.

But the attack on the mother and daughter by the Moroccan soldiers is a major plot point in both the novel and film on which the opera is based. The rapes aren't shown on stage; the characters are hauled offstage and then come back on stage obviously having been attacked. What would you have the librettists do?

Chanterelle said...

Historically, opera plots could depend on subtletles that make little dramatic sense today--misunderstood intentions between a man and a woman could shame her irredeemably or even doom her. But mores change, and certainly by 2015 rape as a plot point is not necessarily gratuitous.

I saw TWO WOMEN after having read up on the story, the Marocchinate, and the French role in the atrocities, so I was perhaps too prepared to be shocked by the climax. Giovanni forcing himself on Cesira in the first scene did shock me, though I read somewhere that Moravia's Cesira and Giovanni (or whatever he's called in the book) had a one-night stand some time before the events of the story. It did seem unnecessary to make Giovanni such a cartoonish villain. Clumsy story telling all around.

Personally, I found the ending of Part I of LES TROYENS far more shocking. Noting that Part I was only performed a generation after his death, I wonder how it would have gone over with Berlioz's contemporaries.

(and thanks for posting the CVNA link)

Robert Gordon said...

This suggests an interesting question: how many mass suicides are there in opera? I can think of only one other, in Khovanshchina. Is there anything else?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Okay, yes, I can, and I am deeply amused that you didn't name it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh ack ONE OTHER, sorry. I should read more carefully.

Chanterelle said...

Plenty of single suicides, though, mostly (entirely?) female.

Dr.B said...

I enjoyed listening to it, but the whole thing is like a movie with a soundtrack, don't you think? And not like an opera at all.

Robert Gordon said...

Quoting Anna Russell: "Romantic opera concerns some romance that doesn't come off, due to the untimely death of the prima donna through one of four causes: murder, suicide, madness, or TB."

Lisa Hirsch said...

She left out Sudden Operatic Death Syndrome, whose victims include Elsa, Elisabeth, and Isolde.

Chanterelle said...

Wagner was tough on his women, wasn't he? Senta, Sieglinde, Ortrud, and Brunhilde expire, too. I wrote about Wagner's women before the SF Ring premiere. At least in the Ring they have some agency. http://classicalvoiceamerica.org/2011/06/06/a-mildly-feminist-look-at-wagners-ring/

Chanterelle said...

Oh, and did the Carmelite sisters commit suicide? Discuss...

Lisa Hirsch said...

You're right! Sieglinde I presume to die in childbirth, rather than suicide or SODS.

And that is a great question about the Carmelite nuns.

kalimac said...

What would I have the librettists do? Why, in a world in which I have to swallow the most arrantly nonsensical changes from source material by screenwriters and be told I ought to like it, such a question ought not even to be asked.

Chanterelle said...

Childbirth is such a convenient way to dispatch a female character.

Re: the Carmelites, it largely depends on how Mère Marie is played. I recently saw a production on video where Marie came off nearly like Jim Jones. In the house I had not gotten that impression. Very strong statement by Olivier Py.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Where did I say you had to like the change to the source material? I said I thought it was a mistake to make Giovanni's role what it is in the opera. (You might think differently if you saw the opera - are you planning to attend?)

I asked that question after I discussed the rapes that follow the source material. Do you want that cut from the libretto?

Lisa Hirsch said...

(My comment comment above to Kalimac, not Chantarelle.)

Chanterelle said...

Kalimac is at least staying on topic ;->

The libretto might have been more persuasive had a woman written it. During a press conference, Francesca Zambello (NO, Blogger, NOT "Zambezi") pointed out that mass rape is a war tactic still very much in use, and that so many women are victims of violence, sexual and not. Gockley and Luisotti sat with hands over their mouths, looking VERY uncomfortable--surely this had occurred to them before?

Lisa Hirsch said...

This blog supports topic drift.

Yes, that could be the case. And Gockley and Luisotti really ought to have read the program book, which discusses rape as a weapon of war.

Zambello might've read Against Our Will.

Chanterelle said...

That's a book I haven't thought about for ages--two generations since its publication.

But talk about topic drift: I was watching the Nightly Show, where they were discussing the Charlestown shooting, while reading the Wikipedia entry on AGAINST OUR WILL. The language used to describe the threat of rape (without racial context here) as a means to subjugate women through fear was strongly echoed in the discussion of violence against blacks (the term of preference on this show BTW) meant to instill fear in a particular group. Both are forms of terrorism--though that wasn't a term used in the 70s, I don't think.

Not so relevant to opera, perhaps, but surely on everyone's mind today.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I owned a used paperback of Brownmiller but never had the stomach to read it.

I agree about the racial terrorism aspect of yesterday's murders.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dr. B. - yes indeed. Just published your comment from days ago, because again I did not get a notification from Blogger.

OTOH said...

Just to offer one contrary bit of evidence about modernist opera vs. classical music generally... I enjoy a lot of modernist instrumental music, but when it comes to singing in that genre, I tend to cringe and run away. Not Berg so much, but things like Birtwistle, whose instrumental music I like, but I just haven't been able to make myself listen to more than the opening minutes of those of his operas I've attempted.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I understand, though personally I like modernist opera as well. Saw two Birtwistle operas semi-staged last year and they were great.

John Marcher said...

I saw "Two Women" last night, my expectations lowered by some of the reviews I read, and I have to say I liked it. A lot.

Yes, the frequent use Tutino's appropriated theme of "E lucevan le stelle" is annoying and Zambello's direction is, as usual, heavy handed (Michele's appearance at end was sentimenal crap), and the other appropriations from Boheme and Tosca are too obvious and facile, but it delivered what was promised: an updated verismo based on the music of Puccini and Verdi.

What I thought really worked well conceptually was applying the verismo style to the world as it was after WWI instead of circus troupes, nunneries, starving artists and stories about poets from the French revolution. It captures the essence of Italian neorealism and puts it on the stage.

While I think there's plenty of merit in looking at the larger context of this particular commission -- especially the dismissal of modernist music by Gockley and Zambello, the perception of what audiences want, and whether or not the number of rape scenes and how they are presented is gratuitous (imo the answer is no) -- the opera itself works when viewed within the context of its stated goals. The cast and production were gripping, and Tutino uses the percussion section more effectively than Puccini ever did.

Of course it's not even close to being on the level of Andrea Chenier or Tosca, but given a choice between Cav/Pag and Two Women? I might just choose the latter (depending on the cast).

I think I just wrote the bulk my review. :)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Leaving aside the stylistic fakery for my next paragraph, I think the biggest problems, musically, are that there is a very poor musical arc, with no dramatic shape, and the music is unmemorable.

As for the fakery, I don't see why anyone would want to write 19th c. Italian opera in 2015, when the last credible art music in that style was written in the 1930s by Respighi. If anyone had written Mozart 80 years after his death, as anything other than a loving pastiche, they would have gotten laughed out of the opera house.

John Marcher said...

Those are valid points-- and I didn't expect more from Two Women than being anything other than "a loving pastiche" so perhaps therein lies the source of my response to it as a fan of verismo. A different analogy, not quite precise but perhaps close enough: Scorcese's "Casino" is "Goodfellas" set in Vegas, and "City of God" is "Goodfellas" set in the favelas of Rio, and all of them owe a debt to "The Public Enemy," a movie made in 1931, but that doesn't make me like those films any less.

I thought more of the music than you, especially during the second half, though I agree Tutino is a not master of the earworm like the genre's masters. I didn't walk out humming the intermezzo, but I'd certainly like to hear Cesira's aria near the end again.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The lullaby? That was good. One problem with the opera was surely that it was super-talky and didn't have enough arias/duets/ensembles.

I had higher expectations, must say.

NY Bookfile said...

Lully?

What about Rameau?

Chanterelle said...

What do Lully and Rameau have to do with post-verismo opera? That's really apples to oranges.

Of course, Wagner is extremely talky, and the Ring has almost no ensembles. But we probably shouldn't even go there.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Perhaps that's an attempted pun on the comments about the Ciociara lullaby.

Chanterelle said...

Too subtle for me ;-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, wait, it's a response to this:

And then there are people like me, who just want to see the good stuff, in any style and from any era. Monteverdi, Mozart, Lully; Handel, Verdi, Donizetti; Wagner, Berg, Strauss; Martinu, Schreker; Shostakovich, Britten, Adams; Janacek, Birtwistle, Saariaho. We'll take them all, and we don't want to hear operatic leaders denouncing any of them.

Sure, Rameau too, fine. He falls under "the good stuff," along with a whole bunch of composers I did not list.