Shallow Stages at the Met
One advantage of being a retired journalist is that you can muse about what might be happening somewhere and not feel obligated to get on the phone, do some reporting and try to pin down whether your musings have any tenuous connection to reality.
When I commented about the shallow stage in Robert Lepage's production at the Met of Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust," I subsequently thought of other shallow Met stages in recent history, like the wall that defined last season's "Peter Grimes" (which I didn't see but read much about). Or Penny Woolcock's "Doctor Atomic," with its huge moving walls containing the chorus, similar to Mark Morris's "Orpheus and Euridice." In both proudctions, when the walls closed, they formed another kind of shallow backdrop.
My unsubstantiated speculations have to do with the influence of James Levine on all of this. The production that Robert Carson and Michael Levine put together not so long ago of "Eugene Onegin" was handsome and minimalist, but it had no close back wall and no ceiling, and some complained that the vast spaces swallowed up the singers' voices. Is Levine influencing production design to create reflective acoustic planes to bolster the singers? Has he won that battle in exchange for giving up on his conservative objections to the flashy visual style Peter Gelb prefers?
Maybe not, to be fair. In "Doctor Atomic" the singers were amplified, so acoustical reinforcement shouldn't have made much of a difference. Lepage's production started life at Saito Kinnen and Paris, far from any Levine influence.
But even if my speculations are unfounded and Levine has nothing to do with all those walls, they certainly rob productions visually of the possibilites of the Met's deep stage. How much should acoustical considerations affect stage design, anyhow? Can smaller set pieces serve the reflective purpose without an entire, proscenium-filling back wall? It's an interesting question.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.
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