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What’s Benny Hill doing in the Met’s Ballo?

Our New York associate Elizabeth Frayer has been to see Un Ballo in Maschera at the Metropolitan Opera and, with her extraordinary range of cultural references, detected elements in the opera that were not picked up by the critical pack. Read her impressions here.

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  1. Your colleague is right on! It seems like the Met has been trying so hard to “modernize” the standard works, i.e., to make them “relevant” to the young audiences they are courting, that is starting to look like a pitbull up on its hind legs wearing a party hat, turning and doing tricks to earn one more tender morsel until, through sheer dizziness and exhaustion it collapses falls into its plate of Alpo. (As for all of the cheering at the theater, it’s easy to hire a claque of friends to clap by offering free tickets and a hot meal.)

    • Yes Addison says:

      I cannot agree, Ed. If the Met is trying hard to modernize standard works, they’re asleep at the switch when they let something as hackneyed as last season’s Don Giovanni get through. Most of their new productions are, at heart, rather timid. There may be some cosmetic dicking-around with the period and the clothing, or a sideshow like the Ring’s “Machine” distracting from the hand-me-down laziness at the center, but it’s conservative work. Many in the audience react against these, in my opinion, in a superficial way. “This Faust is terrible because it’s not in 16th-century Germany and the set doesn’t change!” Well, indeed, it was terrible, but that was the least of it.

      Exceptions to the timidity are the Traviata (which I disliked for reasons not having to do with how untraditional it is) and maybe the Ballo, which I still have to catch. I’m actually looking forward to it. Alden seems to me to have a good brain; even his misfire (if it is that) might be better than anything the Met has commissioned from Robert LePage, Mary Zimmerman, or Bartlett Sher.

      To be fair, I *have* liked some of their attempts to push the envelope gently while not alienating their base (which is what it seems to me they’re doing…in the process often not pleasing anyone). The Butterfly is beautiful and imaginative, and the Carmen at least has life and atmosphere.

  2. These are the usual objections to Regie Theater – and expressed in a charmingly modest and kind manner. Most commentators miss the more fundamental point that opera has essentially become a dead art form. We no longer have contemporary operas in the standard repertoire that address the perspectives of our own era, so we plaster modern, interpretive stagings on top of old works to make them seem more relevant. The incongruities generally end in failure. And yet we tend to accept these failures because they are often preferable to the dramaturgical inanity with which the operas were originally created. (In addition, the theatrical superficiality of much of the standard repertoire is made even worse by being outdated by one or two centuries.)

    On the other hand, most Americans will have very little opportunity to see a genuinely professional opera production during their life time. They hardly need a modern directorial commentary on a work they never even seen in its original form. To put it in a catty manner, it comes down to Europe’s ludicrous Regie Theater vs. America’s hokey Hayseed Theater. Both represent cultural failure. It is unfortunate, because nothing captures our human essence more than music theater.

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