Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
Sorry to be a pedant, but that should be auf DER (Bugs) Bühne. My sound didn’t work; did anyone else have that problem?
Unless it is a wish: Auf die Bühne!!!
The German “auf” can take either dative or accusative depending on the context, e.g.:
“RW steht auf der Bühne” = RW is standing on the stage;
“RW tritt auf die Bühne” = RW goes onto (enters) the stage.
In this case, though, dative (der) would probably be better, IMHO.
I’d love to see this at Bayreuth and see good ol’ Cosima smile.
This is absolutely such great fun.
You can see this clip performed live by attending “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony.”
Tour dates can be found on the website: http://www.bugsbunnyatthesymphony.net/
Yours truly will be conducting the Detroit Symphony’s concerts in April 2014!!
Thank you for this excellent example of why the Ring can no longer be staged in a purely traditional 19th century fashion: the horned-helmet trope has been so thoroughly burlesqued for more than a century, and therefore “Bugs Bunny” and a thousand other, less adept parodies of the externals of Wagnerian dramaturgy distract from the real profundities of the work.
But, then again, some people seem to want opera to be pure camp, so I can see how they would naturally cry, “bring on the bearskins and chain mail!”
By this logic the whole Sci-fi genre in film and TV should shut down because Mel Brooks made “Spaceballs”.
No, by this logic, the sci-fi genre sensibly reinvents itself with every “reboot” of a franchise: new takes on the characters, a new visual sense, a different overarching mood. Nobody makes movies today that look or feel like the first Star Wars trilogy, at least in part because those films were so widely imitated and parodied.
The issue, though, is not strictly the burlesque element but rather the fact that the burlesque is based on a cliche: the reason the cartoon is funny is that everyone in the audience recognizes the Wagnerian trappings as something so old-fashioned and familiar that they are essentially meaningless. When we look at a Junoeque woman in armor, a draped skirt, flowing red cape and winged helment, we no longer think “demigoddess of death” but rather “clumsy opera diva in uncomfortable fancy dress.”
Producers of the “Ring” need to be at least as inventive and forward-thinking as film directors who are attempting to craft a new take on the classic space opera. What traditionalist opera “fans” want rather is the equivalent of a new sci-fi film made in 2013 using only the imagery available to Georges Méliès.
This sort of failed attempt at grandeur is the very definition of camp.
“What traditionalist opera “fans” want rather is the equivalent of a new sci-fi film made in 2013 using only the imagery available to Georges Méliès.”
Do you have a quote, or quotes, proving this rather surprising information?
This is, of course, the most worn out “argument” of the Regietheater Wild Bunch: if you don’t want Kosminski, you obviously want “a Junoeque woman in armor, a draped skirt, flowing red cape and winged helmet”. It’s so tired and faded, it doesn’t even deserve to be called “a lie” or “demagoguery”. It’s not even fun anymore.
Can’t you really find something new?
Caricature can go both ways, my good lady. I think that, if Regietheater had the virtue of giving savage kicks to tradition, which isn’t such a bad thing, it has now just become a system as laughable in its systematic ways as the most worn out false bear skin.
The following text “how to opera germanly”, is found easily on the internet. It’s probably known by some readers here, but possibly not by all, and it’s very much actual. Credits to the (unknown) author.
1) The director is the most important personality involved in the production. His vision must supersede the requirements of the composer and librettist, the needs of singers, and especially the desire of the audience, those overfed fools who want to be entertained and moved.
2) The second most important personality is the set designer.
3) Comedy is verboten except when unintentional. Wit is for TV-watching idiots.
4) Great acting is hyperintensity with much rolling about on the ground, groping of walls, and sitting on a bare floor.
5) The audience’s attention must be directed to anything except the person who is singing. A solo aria, outmoded even in the last century, must be accompanied by extraneous characters expressing their angst in trivial ways near, on, or about the person singing the aria.
6) Storytelling is always anathema to the modern director just as realistic, “photographic” painting is to the abstract painter. Don’t tell the story. COMMENT on it! Even better, UNDERMINE it!
7) When singing high notes, the singer must be crumpled over, lying down, or facing the back of the stage.
8) The music must stop once in a while for intense, obscure miming.
9) Sexual scenes must be charmless and aggressive. Rolling on the floor a must here.
10) Unmotivated homosexual behavior must be introduced into the staging of the opera at least a few times no matter that it has no relevance to the opera.
11) Happy endings are intellectually bankrupt. Play the opposite. Insert a sudden murder or rape somewhere if at all possible no matter that it has no place in the opera.
12) Avoid entertaining the audience at all costs. If they boo, your vision has succeeded artistically.
13) Rehearse the performance until it’s dead. Very important.
14) Any suggestion of the beauty and mystery of nature must be avoided at all costs! The set must be trivial, contemporary and decrepit. Don’t forget the fluorescent lights! (Klieg lights also acceptable.)
15) The audience must not know when to applaud or when the scene/act ends.
16) Historical atrocities such as the Holocaust or the AIDS epidemic must be incorporated and exploited as much as possible. Also, the lifestyle of the audience must be mocked.
17) Colors are merely decorative. Black, white and gray only! If you must have color, let it be garish eye-watering primaries in huge blocks, Toytown style. And with vast coarse flowery prints for the costumes — and something bolder for the women. (Under the trench coats, of course. See article 18.)
18) The chorus must be bald, sexless, faceless and in trench coats. The ideal is a line-up of devitalized Uncle Festers. For a court audience or other aristos (axiomatically boorish sneering decadents, especially if the music implies otherwise) tail-coats are permissible, as are crowns, provided they are jagged card circlets.
19) If the audience is bored it’s proof positive that this is art.
20) Props are items of junk piled in a corner of the set. They must be overused pointlessly, then dropped on the floor, loudly. Best done when the music is soft so as to call attention to it. Be careful to keep dangerous objects at the lip of the stage so the blindfolded dancers can kick them into the pit.
21) All asides must be sung next to the person who is not supposed to hear them.
22) The leading performers faces must be painted as a white mask to ensure no individuality or variety of expressions as opera singers can’t act anyway. This is already a fundamental Brechtian technique to conceal a) the limited range endemic to actors being ideologically sound, and b) the stereotypical nature of agitprop material. Less obvious if delivered by a stereotype where it can then be called stylization, and hailed as genius.
23) Preparation is important for the director. Try to read the libretto in advance to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your staging ideas. Not much harm in listening to the CD once, though that’s not really your job.
24) Make the conductor feel useful though he’s really nothing but a literal-minded hack.
25) The stage director must avoid any idea that is not his own. (This instruction is largely pointless as that idea is surely implied in this list already.)
26) A costume must serve at least two of the following criteria: a) make the singer look unattractive, b) obscure his vision, c) make hearing the orchestra difficult, d) impede movement, or e) contradict the period in which the opera is set (that last hardly worth mentioning).
27) Every once in a while, try to compensate for generating trash at the taxpayer’s expense by producing an “opera for children.” Nothing difficult here. Just have The Magic Flute performed around midafternoon by mediocre singers in an inappropriate setting, in a translocated staging, and by altering the story which you’ve determined is anything but suitable for children.
28) Hire your singers in the largest size possible, making every love scene look like a parody. Act surprised when no-one likes it, and afterwards declare in front of the press that contemporary audiences just don’t connect with opera anymore, and that, further, more modernizing productions are needed.
29) Include references to Nazis or Nazi atrocities, directly or by way of suggestion or metaphor. This is de rigueur no matter how non sequitur.
Abusus non tollit usum.
It has been burlesqued because it’s recognizably Wagnerian. Who’s going to burlesque the Nazis in Tannhauser? That’s already a sick joke perpetrated by people who are paid far more than their worth to the opera world.
Of course Der Ring can be staged in a purely 19th-century fashion, notwithstanding the Konzept-types, who won’t like it because of their insufferable insistence that they know better than the composer.
The Jones cartoon is interesting in that, at one time, the general public could be counted on to know and recognize Wagner’s works. Imagine Jones making his cartoon now and incorporating that God-forsaken LePage machine! Nobody would get the joke because it is unrecognizable as part of Wagner’s world.
I don’t want opera to be pure camp, but pure camp beats regietheater any day of the week.
“Oh Bwurnhilde, you’re so luvvly…” LOL! That and the horse cracks me up every time.
Any chance we can get Itchy and Scratchy doing Wozzeck?
Julien’s analysis – brilliant, have not laughed so much in ages. If only the Wagner “Regisseure” would read this comment! And other Regietheater directors too. Fortunately the music usually wins.
“Read”? But they have WRITTEN it! It’s disguised as a joke, to secure a vast circulation, but in fact it’s the official cookbook: “How to serve Opera”.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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