Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

“People are wrong when they say opera is not what it used to be. It is what it used to be. That is what's wrong with it.” - Noel Coward

Funny how time can change perceptions. I'm sure at one point Noel had a point just as I am sure he will have a point again some time in the future. I cannot help thinking however that everything old is new again, especially when it comes to opera.


Looking back at the last few decades, some interesting productions have come to light -- much of it ushered in under the banner of regietheater (director's theatre) and the belief that a director’s interpretation of an opera is as important as what the composer intended (sometimes to comical and/or disastrous effects). Still, there are other productions that are simply different to be different, sometimes in an attempt to remarket an opera -- to modernize or update it in the hopes of keeping it fresh while attracting a newer, younger, audience.


We here at San Diego have done our fair share of updated and modernized productions -- a wild west version of Don Pasquale (loved it -- that's a photo of it up above by Ken Howard), a Hollywood version of Rigoletto (phenomenal), a relocation of Cosi fan tutte to our iconic Hotel Del (not my cup of tea). I'm not opposed to updating an opera, provided it keeps the composer's work intact.


But trends, as they say, come and go.


Emma Pomfret for The London Times has just written an article about the return of old-style authentic opera to European Opera Houses. Much of the return to tradition comes from the fact "emotion has been missing from many opera productions as directors have embarked on intellectual journeys." The article goes on to state "audiences have been starved of opulence and story."


I sit on the fence on this. I've seen my share of traditional Traviatas and Bohemes and I still love them -- I love them because of the music, the voices and the story they tell. They don't need to be updated for me to love them although I've seen my share of updated productions that I've enjoyed.


Music is emotional -- it is made to be felt and experienced. It doesn't matter what it is wrapped in; as long as the voice is there, as long as the music is there, it is same old opera, opera as it used to be, and for me that's more than enough to keep me coming back.


-- Edward

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