Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We Got Culture; We Got Couth

Teatro Dell'Opera di Roma just announced their 2008 season and they really should have hired Opera Chic to handle the launch for them - she's got me all worked about what's coming up on stage at Piazza Beniamino Gigli next year. One rather strange item: Andrea Bocelli in a rare Mascagni opera Amica; understand I have nothing against Bocelli for what he is - an lovely untrained voice - he is fine but an opera singer he ain't. However given the rest of the season I'm getting my lily-white kester over to the Box Office to see about subscriptions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I was there on Sunday afternoon for a performance of Alban Berg's Wozzeck - not the most cheerful of operas when you not in an up mood but it has always been one of my favorites*. The theatre was a little over half-full - I had a first tier center box that normally holds 6 all to myself. Granted Wozzeck isn't every one's cup of tea - a team of hunky Roman firefighters in full dress uniform** couldn't have dragged Laurent to see it with me - but it is a powerful piece of music drama and when it was played and sung as well as it was here its a shame there wasn't a larger audience.

Gianluigi Gelmetti (the Music Director here) led an intermissionless performance (95 minutes) that was most convincing in the lyric passages - Berg can be a hard nut for any orchestra. Jean-Philippe Lafont, despite direction that had him acting like Boris Karloff's monster without the endearing qualities, is still one of the best interpreters of Wozzeck today. He's response to the Captain's accusation about a child born unblessed by the church was the cry of the world's poor. Janice Baird's Marie was good but less than I expected based on prevous reports - but then I still have memories of Eleanor Steber and Anja Silja bringing tears to my eyes in the bible reading scene.

And that was the problem I had with this new production - there was no bible, no candle light, at least not in Director-Designer Giancarlo Del Monaco vision. It was all very stylized - we even had the Idiot played as a Marcel Marceau wanna-be - symbolic of something or other I guess but I honestly didn't get the point. Del Monaco's set was so steeply raked that singers were constantly worrying about toppling over - particularly Marie in her high heels. A great deal of the action was limited to singers sitting on the edge of holes in the stage floor singing to other singers in other holes in the stage floor. It was sort of N. F. Simpson meets Samuel Beckett. What tension there was - and what the hell is Wozzeck without tension - was in the music. And that chilling final scene lost all its power by having the child (who was more 10 than 3) standing still in the middle of the stage with a drum majors staff - no children around him playing ring-aring-arosy, no hobby horse, no running off to view his mother's body with the other children - no impact.

Musically a good afternoon - theatrically less so but at least it was a chance - still not given that often - to see one of the great operas of the 20th century.

*I first heard Wozzeck on a Met Saturday afternoon broadcast in 1958 or 59 and was intrigued with it - particularly that last scene. I was a church choir boy soprano - don't go there - and I just knew I could sing "Hop, Hop. Hop, Hop" on key with the best of them, if only the Met would bring Wozzeck to town on their annual tour.

**Two members of Il Guarda di Fuori attend every performance at the Opera and stand in the lobby in full dress uniform - including plumed helmets - to reassure us that in the event of fire all will be well.

24 ottobre - San Antonio M. Claret


Doralong said...

So would it be lacking in couth to hang out in the lobby with the hunky firemen?

Willym said...

Sounds pretty couthful to me.. in fact there was one fireman at the performance of Sleeping Beauty that could have put out my fire anytime. Something about a man in tight blue breeches with a plumed helmet....