Sundry thoughts as summer fades

Just two more events this month and another summer culture season is over for me. Both upcoming things are stuff I want to experience, not review assignments. On Saturday it’s a BSO concert at Tanglewood featuring de Falla’s “La vida breve” (I don’t know it, but it’s Doug’s favorite opera), and a screening next week at Proctors of Matthew Borne’s “Swan Lake” (loved it on Broadway, with the corps of male swans and all).

Taking an opportunity now to clear house on a few matters not addressed in the flow of reviews and respond to a topic or two raised my beloved fellow HudsonSounds bloggers.

“Updated” Opera Staging

I got called to the matt by a Times Union reader for not informing the public — make that warning the public — about the updating of “Rigoletto” at Opera Saratoga in early July. He was right. I should have mentioned it in the review. The staging had something to do with gangsters in the 20th century, but there was nothing particularly high concept that jumped out at me. The costumes were cheap and pedestrian, dark suits for the guys that looked like they came from a used clothing store, and too tight a skirts on some of the girls. And there were neon lights above a couple of the door ways. Big deal.

In my review I tried to focus positively on the music making and say some nice things – I really do try and do that some times. Re-reading what I wrote though, I see I wasn’t really all that positive at all, noting lackluster stage action and musical pacing. But that, apparently, didn’t concern this reader who bought a ticket and seemed furious that there weren’t period costumes onstage.

With Glimmerglass’ “Aida,” the updating of the opera had something vital and rather imaginative — laptop computers in the war room, and waterboarding of Radames before he dies by lethal injection. That stayed with me as I wrote my review and thus appeared in print. And the music was glorious, by the way.

In a think-piece for this past Sunday’s Times, Zachary Woolfe talks about opera in the movies (movies I’ve not seen), and says in the second to last graph: “Until opera stops being associated with escapist nostalgia and fancy dates, it is doomed to struggle for relevance.”

I tend to agree. But if “escapist nostalgia” makes people buy tickets and enjoy themselves, that’s fine. I look for more than that, though I do like a fancy date now and then too. And I vow to try to be a more accurate and complete reporter in the future.

Annoying Audience Members

I almost always avoid talking about audiences in reviews, especially all those standing ovations, which are so ubiquitous as to mean nothing. Unusually large or small crowds are worth noting, or wild interjections of the audience into the concert experience. (Still remember with delight the spontaneous whooping after the opening of the ASO’s “Carmina” at the Palace.) I think B.A. Nilsson would agree about leaving the audience out of the review. But he and I obvious had had it up to here recently. For me, it was cell phones and slamming doors during Johannes Moser’s cello recital. For him, it was some all-around annoying neighbors during the last night of Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

That same night at SPAC, I heard lots of whispers from the direction where I think Byron was sitting. Looking back at them, it looked like the chatterbox was facing the stage and maybe trying to be instructive and helpful to her companions. Reminds me of a night at the ASO in the past year or two when a woman could not stop whispering to her grandchild. I know she was talking about music and the musicians the whole time. But please, save the music lessons for before and after the concert. During the experience let the performance speak for itself, even to neophytes or youngsters.

Otherwise, the larger the venue and the more mass appeal the event, then the more forgiving I try to be about audience behavior.

Pictures of Scanlty Clad Artists – and what’s wrong with that?

I was going to address Liz’s assertion about pictures of scantly clad musicians just being female, but I see Mary Jane’s already done so. Yet doesn’t it seem like very tenor and baritone under 40 seems to require a personal trainer these days? Check out OperaAtelier’s image for “Armide,” which Glimmerglass also used in much of its marketing (thanks Francesca!).

Otherwise, to wipe away all these late summer gripes from us picky classical music types, I suggest a leisurely visit to Barihunks. You’re welcome.

 

 

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