Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Visit to Chicago 3: The Complaints Post

"Cuts? What do you mean, cuts? You cannot cut this opera!"
Actually Susan Graham (Didon) threatening the departing Brandon Jovanovich (Eneé) in Act V.
Todd Rosenberg photo, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

You knew there would be some, right? Even in the context of a superbly performed and well-directed Troyens? Here I go.

Yes, it's about cuts, and I found them objectionable on musical and dramatic grounds. There were four, maybe five, cuts total:
  1. To the ceremonial music in Act 1; the particular section cut is where Berlioz specifies something like Greek games, which would have been a religious observance. (That is not how it was done in SF; this was the section with children running around and playing Ring Around the Rosie.) H/T Rob Gordon for identifying the cut; I thought something had gone missing in Act I, but wasn't sure what.
  2. All of the Act III ballet music surrounded by the chorus "Gloire a Didon," which totally jammed together the different versions of the chorus and buried the dances for the baker, the farmer, the builder, etc. Musically, this is a very damaging cut, plus it removes much of the justification for "Gloire a Didon" and the awards she makes to the different professions. We have to see what she has done for the city, which has only existed for seven years.
  3. Two of the three ballet sequences in act IV before the quintet / septet / love duet, one of which provides the only upbeat music in the act other than the Royal Hunt & Storm at the very top of the act. Again H/T to Rob,  for the specific cut and for noting the musical reason for keeping the contrasting dance music.
  4. They may have cut one verse of Iopas's song "O blonde Ceres" in Act IV. I wasn't counting but Rob was and thinks there might have been a cut here.
  5. The two-minute scene in act V with the two Trojan sentries who really don't want to leave Carthage and their compliant mistresses. This one is defensible on no grounds whatsoever. It is short; it can be done by good local singers (Adler Fellows in SF, should have been done by the equivalents, Ryan Center singers, at LOC); it provides the only humor in a long and often-grim score; it was Berlioz's nod to Shakespeare, one of his great heroes, along with Gluck and Virgil.
The ballets they retained (the Royal Hunt and the single sequence later in Act IV) were much better danced than in SF.

My stance about cuts is mostly that composers knew what they wanted and why.* In the talk-backs after the performances, Anthony Freund, the general director of LOC, tried to defend these, but I wasn't buying what he said. 1) "Cuts in opera are always controversial" (yes - with good reason) 2) "We had to bring it in under 5 hours" (SF did this by omitting repeats in the ballet music and, I think, the second verse of "Inutile regrets".) 3) "The director and conductor agreed that these scenes didn't advance the story and could safely be cut." Well, okay, maybe they do know better than Berlioz, but I don't believe that for a minute. It is really obvious that most of the cuts were to avoid paying for dancers and a lot of ballet rehearsal time. Cutting "O blonde Ceres" and the sentry scene saved them no more than five minutes of performance time and two inexpensive singers.

I also want to mention a few bits here and there in the operatic repertory that don't exactly advance the plot, but there would be justified howls of outrage if they were cut.
  • The Norn scene in Götterdämmerung. This was a routine cut at the Met before World War I, I believe.
  • Also in Götterdämmerung, the short scene before the Immolation where Gutrune, wandering alone around Gibichung Hall, hear's Siegfried's horse whinny and has a premonition of what has happened. From something in John Culshaw's Ring Resounding, I think this was also a routine cut before the 1960s, except at Bayreuth.
  • The Ride of the Valkyries. I mean, does it advance the plot? No, but it sets up the rest of the act nicely.
  • "Vallon sonore," at the very top of Act V of Les Troyens. It doesn't advance the plot, but it does set up the sentry scene, providing a melancholy contrast to the sentries. You really can't cut this, though - can you imagine launching the act with the Trojans eagerly chatting about how Enée has finally decided it's time to leave? It's a moment of wistful repose before an emotionally fraught act.

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