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Friday, October 12, 2012

Late night culture


After the opera was over last night and I attempted to find something to eat in a swathe of closed restaurants, I ended up back on the Ramblas and in a tapas restaurant that was fairly obviously just about to finish for the day.  However, I was welcomed with what seemed like real enthusiasm (or at least real feigned enthusiasm) and settled down to write my notes about the music and get something to fill the empty space left by not having lunch or dinner.

So, by quarter past midnight I had my first food since muesli that morning.  Good but expensive and basically unmemorable in spite of the rather overblown description of one of the dishes as being made with Cava!

What was much more memorable was a unique experience.  One of the waiters became quite chatty and told me a joke in Spanish of which the punch line was a pun in English!  That was a first for me.  The joke was, “What language do Irish lesbians speak?”  I will leave you to work out the answer.  Which like all puns should result in a groan!

As they gave me a cup of coffee on the house I might well go back there after the next opera, at least I can expect the place to be open.

“The Force of Destiny” was my first opera of the season and it started in an unexpected way as we were launched straight into the singing and we were denied the overture until the Marquis de Calatrava has been well and truly, if absurdly, killed and the whole bloody tragedy started.

However, before then I was angry that the small translation screen on the back of the chair in front was not and did not work so I was left labouring to remember the exact details of the ridiculously melodramatic and totally unconvincing story line from an uninspiring past performance in the dim and distant past and a very cursory reading of the on-line entry for the opera.

The acting was awful and it forced me to think about how I would have done the opera – always a bad sign I think!

The dramatic themes of the opera are timeless and as relevant now as ever, but the staging of the opera did little to make it as relevant as I think it could have been.

The killing of the marquis by the accidental firing of a gun as it was slammed down on the table got a muttered laugh and there were other occasions when the action provoked mirth rather than dramatic involvement.

The costumes were, I think, historically accurate for the period in which the action was originally set, but as the emerging motivations of class hatred, racism, revenge, upholding inappropriate ideas of family honour, militarism, religion, deception, hypocrisy and ethical justification all are mixed into the cauldron of emotion that is this piece one could not help but wonder at the missed opportunities that it offers for a more relevant presentation – though it would be a brave director indeed who set it in, say Pakistan and used the honour killing or cross cultural relationships to make sense of the dramatic opportunities!

There were some nice ideas in the setting as for example when the gauze walls containing the family portraits as seen in the opening scene before the overture were used as the “cave” in which the hermit Leonora was retired from the rest of the world – but literally hiding under the family tradition which eventually brought about her death.

The over life size crucifixion was also effective and provided a very dramatic focus, though the religious significance of the representation was ambiguous given the action of the opera. 

Perhaps the setting of the piece in a country like Mexico might be interesting with the emphasis on the drug cartels, the Roman church, native religion and the disparity between the classes.

There is a lot of work for the chorus (directed by Jos̩ Luis Basso) in this piece and they rose to the challenge superbly Рon stage and off they were a delight with power, subtlety and excellent musicality.

The crowd scenes were done efficiently, though the use of highly professional dancers were a slightly discordant note – though good to watch!

The orchestra under the direction of Renato Palumbo was outstanding with the accuracy and dynamics observed astonishing.

You will have noticed that I have not mentioned any of the soloists.  An omission which is slightly unfair as Leonora sung by Norma Fantini was excellent and Roberto de Candia as Father Melitone was also characterful, funny and assured.  Neither of the male leads convinced me and the tenor seemed to be to be under sung.

This was a competent and enjoyable production that left me wanting much more.  There was too much posturing of solid singers and not enough re-interpretation to revitalize the empty melodrama.

The audience in the theatre was predominantly old and middle class and I am not sure that anyone young and inexperienced in the cultural form would have been won over by this production.

Obviously I am not saying that all opera production should be geared towards the young first time opera goer – indeed I realize that what I am asking for is the sort of production which will appeal to those who know the piece and are familiar with the conventions of the genre but Baz Luhrmann filmic production of Romeo and Juliet shows what can be done without destroying the power of the original.

Nevertheless I am much looking forward to my next opera.  Dvorak and lots of tunes!
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