Friday, December 28, 2007
I'm in love with Heather MacDonald
It's the invasion of the auteur directors! (Actually, it's a scene from Calixto Bieito's production of Wozzeck.)
Who's Heather MacDonald? The author of "The Abduction of Opera," probably the most cogently argued brief on opera and the theatre I've read in many a moon. Go read it. In full. And discover how MacDonald savages, in an outpouring of closely reasoned argument, the rise of "Regietheater" (German for "director's theatre"), which on the Continent has led to a series of increasingly brutal and stupidly perverse opera productions (usually directed by Calixto Bieito or our own vapid export, Peter Sellars). MacDonald cites an Abduction from the Seraglio which featured fellatio, whipping, and the slicing off of a prostitute's nipples; a Fledermaus in which the cast collectively leaped into a giant pink vagina, a Rigoletto set on the Planet of the Apes, and a Magic Flute with a large penis as the flute.
Sound familiar? We're used by now to the same antics at the ART (indeed, Bieito's Carmen, at left, is a dead ringer for the ART's Don Juan Giovanni, at right) which has its own jones for Continental directors, and relentlessly insists that pop violations make classic texts more "relevant" to contemporary audiences.
As if! I'll leave it to Heather to mince such claims; I've made the arguments myself often enough. But here are a few of her better moments:
On the obvious parasitism of the auteur director: "Without Mozart or Verdi, the Regietheater director is nothing; he cannot even hope for third-rate avant-garde status."
On the endless parade of pop culture clichés (Bieito's A Masked Ball, left): "There is nothing less 'fresh' than the tired rock-video iconography, the consumer detritus of beer cans and burgers, or the anti-imperialist, anti-sexist messages that Regietheater directors graft on to operas to make them 'relevant.'"
On the culturally limiting nature of their intellectual stance: " If we refuse to take such values (of the original works) seriously, not only do we render the plots incomprehensible; we also cut ourselves off from a greater understanding of what human life has been and, by contrast, is now."
And finally, on Stephen Wadsworth, probably the greatest opera director working today, who pretty much represents the antidote to "Regietheater":
"Wadsworth unapologetically embraces one of the most toxic words in the operatic lexicon today: “curating.” The last thing a solipsistic director wants to be accused of is lovingly preserving and transmitting the works of the past. Wadsworth, however, accepts the charge. Those given responsibility for an opera production are akin to those given responsibility for great paintings, he believes. “It is not our job to repaint them. We should only be concerned with: Where to hang it? How to light it? In what context? How do we present it to the public in a way that the public can appreciate what it is, perhaps even contextualize it in terms of that painter’s body of work or some other trend or school or idea? The list of curatorial concerns and responsibilities is long. And I think that a lot of productions that we see simply fail to meet them.”"
We haven't seen Wadsworth in these parts since Xerxes at Boston Lyric and The Game of Love and Chance at the Huntington. Both were masterpieces, and among the high points of my theatre-going life. Does anyone at the ART, or the Huntington, or Opera Boston, or the Lyric, have the guts to invite Wadsworth back for a trifecta?