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The Met converts to Metatheatre. Do we like that?

Our intrepid opera explorers Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes have been to see Le Comte Ory at the Met. On the whole, they loved it. But why the stage within a stage within a stage? Has no-one told Peter Gelb that post-modernism is so-ooo yesterday. Read ‘em here.

comte ory

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  1. Seeing it tonight. Last night was the opening of the new ‘Rigoletto.’ Review here on Superconductor.

    • The New York Times review “Bringing the Sinatra Style Out in ‘Rigoletto’” by Anthony Tommasini also makes some interesting points about this production. Well, we can decide for ourselves when it broadcast in cinemas as part of the “Live in HD” series.

      • I very much enjoyed Tommasini’s review. Regietheater is always a hopeless, frustrating, and incomplete task which actually defines its value. It leaves us thinking because we are required to fill in the lapses of dramaturgical consistency. And if they are not to be found, the empty spaces created allow, in some mysterious way, for new forms of perception. The incongruities awaken our ears. The disassociation obligates us to explore theatrical meaning. How wholesome for New York City’s oh-so-urbane operatic parochialism.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          William, I totally agree with your views on Regietheater and can’t resist a slight digression from the main subject of this thread. Here are a few questions for you: why does it dominate Europe in general and Germany in particular? Does the German really love regietheater and not care for more naturalistic performances? I believe that the Bavarian State Opera still performs some of August Everding’s productions such as the Magic Flute of the Entfuehrung aus dem Serail: does today’s public see anything wrong with them?

          • Interesting questions. I wish I had the answers. Opera experts could discuss this much better than I can. There is so much opera being performed in Germany that one can see just about any style of production. Of the top 100 cities for opera performances per year, 45 are in Germany. I live in one of the most remote parts of the country, but can reach about seven year-round opera houses in two hours – Stuttgart, Freiburg, Zurich, Pforzheim, Karlsruhe, Ulm, and Basel. Germany has 83 fulltime houses while a traditionally operatic country like Italy only has 12.

            Regietheater doesn’t exclusively dominate the German stage as much as people like to think. It’s just that outrageous stagings seem to get more international attention and thus create a lopsided impression. Most German houses try to find a balance between relatively traditional and Regietheater stagings. A small house like Pforzheim, for example, has programs to bus in rural people (literally farmers from surrounding villages) to see traditional staging of classic operas. The houses cater to all publics. If they didn’t, the politicians who approve their funding would run into trouble.

            Since opera is an integral part of life in Germany, people can see standard works like Don Giovanni, La Boheme, and La Traviata countless times. After a point, they want to see variations in stagings and this is part of what gave rise to Regietheater. In America, by contrast, opera is a rarity. Many people will only see a particular opera once in their life, if at all, so they want to see a traditional staging. Regietheater requires a traditional frame of reference. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that mild forms of Regietheater are becoming more common in the States.

            I remember Everding’s traditional productions from the many years I lived in Munich. He began his career in spoken theater, which might be why he believed in close correlations between text and staging. His productions were very popular. Dieter Dorn also created some very traditional productions at Munich’s big spoken theater, the Kammerspiele, which were so popular they ran forever. I think the views about Germany’s relationship to Regietheater, and America’s to traditionalism, are a bit more exaggerated than we realize. Sorry to run on.

  2. itrinkkeinwein says:

    It’s a horrible production, missing the style. Martin Bernheimer said it best (as usual), if I may quote the FT of 22 months ago, when the thing was new:

    “Bartlett Sher’s staging scheme apparently distrusts both score and text. Recycling clichés (some of them his own) at every arch turn, he begins to play the opera as street theatre, using a sparse stage within the stage (designer: Michael Yeargan). He soon contradicts the idea, however, and then abandons it, along with narrative logic. In place of wit he gives us pratfalls, erotic caricatures and unmotivated choral manoeuvres, also irrelevant mime for the ubiquitous Rob Besserer as a sleepy prompter. Most damaging, he turns the exquisite final trio into a vulgar group grope on the Countess’s bed.”

    Bernheimer’s comments about Benini, the lame conductor, were right as well.

    Zurich came up with an astutely observed, much funnier staging in January 2011, with Javier Camarena and Cecilia Bartoli. It was filmed but has never appeared on DVD. A trailer can be watched on YouTube, and you get a glimpse of the final trio done effectively.

  3. Richard Bonforte says:

    The stage-within-a-stage setting is nothing new at the Met. These operas are best staged in a smaller house. Plus, the Met stage is huge. I suspect that directors and set-designers deal with the problem, by trying to “frame” sets (Elijah Moshinsky has done this), pull sets and action to the front ( Ponnelle et al) and stage works as show-within-a show. Someone these efforts usually fail, only emphasizing the enormity of thestage iteself. It isn’t called “Grand Opera” for nothing!

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