From Russia With Blah

The Canadian Opera Company manages to remain unfailingly interesting with each production they mount. It would never have occurred to me however, that anyone could tamper enough with as beautiful an opera as La Traviata that I'd feel more life drained out of me by the end than poor Violetta as she succumbs.

This diminishment was accomplished in spite of principals that were for once young, beautiful and believable as lovers, a wonderfully voiced international cast and an orchestra that consistently soars. At odds with me and many others judging from reactions afterward, was the ridiculous set design, costumes and staging.

I can handle missed lighting cues, surtitles not appearing on time above the stage and other technical gaffes but to open with an S&M party filled with leather clad guests is a little jarring. While providing excellent eye candy, the distractions from the drama had only just begun. The set had two banks of swivel doors that alternately provided awkward entrances and egresses and reflections of blinding light back into the audience. Another piece of the set consisted of a large mattress for our lovers to roll around and stand on while another set piece seemed to have been designed more classically and to solely highlight class distinctions.

The Russians are to blame for this mess: set designer Igor Nezhy, costume designer Tatiana Tulubieva and director Dmitri Bertman. I never thought I'd long for a return to the wonderful days of the cold war but this really got me thinking. When the production originally debuted with the company back in 1999, it was met with derision and things haven't changed. My only saving is that I've only sat through it once and will make efforts to not do so again.

Poor Joe Green must have been rolling over in his grave.


Splotchy said...

S&M party? Can I ask if nipples were on display, of any variety?

I am an opera ignoramus. I have seen one opera, Lyric Opera in Chicago a few years back. It was a very beautiful space, and the opera itself was impressive.

I thought the titles above the stage were nice to have, yet also kind of aesthetically unpleasant.

How do you feel about surtitles? Are the use of them controversial at all, or are they widely accepted? Do you find yourself often reading them, or only for stories you are unfamiliar with?

I got your Joe Green reference, but only because I watched Peter Ustinov as Hercules Poirot in "Evil Under The Sun" about a gazillion times on cable (did I mention I am an opera ignoramus?).

I'd be interested in some posts from you describing in more general terms your feelings about the opera, if you had the inclination.

Thanks, God Bless, and all that.

Coaster Punchman said...

Glad to see you're beginning to let the French off the hook on some level.

Dale said...

To provide equal opportunity lechery Splotchy, there were nipples on display on the shirtless leathermen and the main character's maid who wore a sheer black skintight top. Nice rack Annina!

The surtitles, a Canadian 'invention' are less controversial than when they were introduced but they're used worldwide now. At The Met in NYC, they're actually on the seat back in front of you which sounds odd but works really well.

If you click on my labels, you can find more posts I've written about them but I tend to just sort of do little reviews. Generally speaking, it's just a great blending of music and theatre that keeps me going back. Something about it touches my dark heart in a way many things can't.

Only for this one post CP. I'll be back on the attack soon.

chelene said...

No vodka for you!

Valerie said...

So how do you feel about "Rent"? And what it did to "La Boheme"?

Dale said...

I will accept substitutes Chelene. I'm sure I'll make up with them if I get too thirsty.

Good question Valerie, I loved RENT because it's coherent in time and place. This version of La Traviata had a lot of disparate elements like the leather club juxtaposed with period costumes sort of in the background and just too many elements competing for attention and distracting from the story. By the end, rather than wanting to cry for Violetta, it was more like 'hurry up and die so I can get out of this nightmare'.

X. Dell said...

(1) Mean Joe Green? I didn't know he liked opera. Most defensive linemen don't, you know.

(2) Sometimes, I wonder about the wisdom of resetting very famous 18th and 19th century operas in contemporary surroundings.

Some years back, I saw a performance of Don Giovanni set in an inner city slum, complete with stoops and McDonald's. In one scene, as Don pelts a poor woman with french fries, I was reminded of my piano professor's admonition, "There is no 'inner city' in Mozart."

She didn't say anything about S&M clubs, however.

Dale said...

I didn't know that about most defensive lineman X. Dell. What are your sources for this information?

I very often wonder at the lack of wisdom involved in senseless updating. The S&M was fun to look at but so distracting, like nearly every other aspect of the damned thing.

Writeprocrastinator said...

"I can handle missed lighting cues, surtitles not appearing on time above the stage and other technical gaffes but to open with an S&M party filled with leather clad guests is a little jarring."

I was disappointed as well, then they brought out the goats? That went way past the line and I had to leave...wait...oh, you're talking about an opera?

Dale said...

It was a free for all of bad taste WP, there may have been goats and worse, I was blinded by the lights.

Mistress La Spliffe said...

Gosh. That's a relief. I'd been so sad about missing La Trav as it's prrrrrrrobably my favourite opera. But that sounds like exactly the sort of sex up crap I'm not into. She might have been a whore, but S and M parties? Give me a fucking break. What the hell is the matter with Russians?

Dale said...

It was abysmal M LaSpliffe but at least I have seen it at the Met in NY staged lavishly that did everything justice and made me cry like a baby. It's such a great opera, it really shouldn't be given short shrift.