The Sounds and Music of Open Space
Monday, May 10, 2010
Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Berlin, Germany
During my (too) many years as a starving doctorate student at the University of Washington, I splurged on subscriptions to the Seattle Opera (http://www.seattleopera.org/index.aspx).
Seattle Opera mounts gargantuan productions like the whole Ring of the Nibelungen by Wagner as well as non-standard repertoire as the Dialogue of the Carmelites by Poulenc and Florencia en Amazonas by Daniel Catan.
John and Ruth Briehl, two friends of mine, attended the same performances as I did. We would meet at intermission to discuss the tenor’s acting capabilities, the soprano’s vocal clarity, how wonderful the contralto aria was, the scenery effectiveness, and, when lucky, the inevitable operatic ‘accident’.
We actually witnessed a real ‘wardrobe malfunction’ as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw continued her high B flat, arms up in the air and one breast exposed. Three thousand people gasped. She chose not to compromise the music. She waited until the end of the aria to get herself back into the dress. Covering the whole stage with the train of her red velvet dress was a powerful but impractical symbol of blood. What an unforgettable moment: dramatic music, red blood velvet, an exposed breast.
Since those glorious years with the Seattle Opera, Ruth Briehl and I have seen Zeffirelli’s production of Tosca with Aprile Millo at the Met (http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/) to celebrate her 80th birthday; Cosi fan Tutte at the historical Nurenberg Opera (http://www.staatstheater-nuernberg.de/inhalte/index.php?menu=100) and in a month, we will see our first opera together in Berlin.
Berlin has four government subsidized Opera Houses. As a result, the repertoire and production style can be unconventional: they do not dependent on monetary support from ticket sales. The Staatsoper Oper is the most traditional. It is closed until the end of the summer for renovation. The Deutsche Oper is the grander, the Komische Oper is often the most innovative and the Neukollner Oper is ‘l’enfant terrible’.
On the specific weekend that we would like to see an opera, the Komische Oper presents Abduction from the Seraglio (Mozart) and Fidelio (Beethoven), the Neukollner Oper presents Leben ohne Chris (Bohmer) and the Deutsche Oper presents Nabucco (Verdi) and Turandot (Puccini). If I am going to pay seventy euros for a ticket,I want Puccini to make me cry so I am tempted to lobby for Turandot.
I have seen Zefirelli’s gigantic production of Turandot for the Met with Eva Marton and Placido Domingo as well as Seattle Opera’s production with Jane Eaglen (http://www.janeeaglen.com/), whom I had accompanied a couple of weeks earlier....long story. These two grand, but traditional productions, are imprinted in my mind.
The Deutsche Oper’s production of Turandot is contemporary. In the famous “Riddle Scene” the Chinese princess Turandot wears a glitzy evening dress and the disguised prince Calaf wears a dark gray suit seated by an Ikea table while being watched by China’s emperor from a high Tribune that looks like a watch tower along the Berlin Wall (http://www.deutscheoperberlin.de/?page=spielplandetail&id_event_date=4612228).
The opera world now is filled with stars like Anna Netrebko, recently featured in Playboy magazine’s list of the “Sexiest Babes of Classical Music” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Netrebko). The poster for Haydn’s Orpheus and Eurydice at the Bode Museum (as if Berlin did not have enough Opera houses - http://www.orpheusimbode.de/konzept.html) could be mistakenly taken as soft porn. Operatic pornography.
The advertisement poster for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour shows her wearing a metal globe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monster_Ball_Tour) while the Deutsche Oper poster for Othello (Verdi) features the ‘blackened’ Barbara Schoneberger wearing a blonde wig and caressing an equally ‘blackened’ horse (http://www.deutscheoperberlin.de/index.php?page=spielplandetail&id_event_date=4606129). Both posters are strangely sexy.
So my initial question “Should the fat ladies wear Galiano or only Chanel?” does not apply to the singers but to opera itself. Should opera productions remain traditional like a Chanel suit or can these productions be like a wild John Galliano dress (http://www.johngalliano.com/)? Interestingly, the Tosca production by Zefirelli on the MET, that I saw in 2006, was on the news last year when a new production was booed at opening night (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2009/10/05/091005crmu_music_ross).
Again we face the same question, should opera lock itself in time?
The beauty of these operatic masterpieces will always speak to the public so why not break the barriers of tradition and present opera as edgy and sexy as pop music? I often do not get amused by fancy video clips where the music repeatedly goes over the same three chord sequence so I think that Ruth and I should see a wild production of Turandot by Puccini. I am sure that I will cry with Liu’s aria, even though in the picture she looks like a college student gone backpacking! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB_GSbufVI4&feature=related)