Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Do You Go to the Opera (Or Why Not?) - Schenk vs. Freyer

Opera is such a funny thing.

Since deciding to attend the University of Southern California this fall I have been extremely excited about the LA Opera's new production of the Ring cycle by Wagner, set to play in its entirety in the spring. As with any opera there is a lot of discussion as to how to present it. The controversy gets even hotter when comparing this production to the recently laid-to-rest world famous Otto Schenk production that has been at the Met for at least twenty years.

Schenk's production is huge and very (as the New York Times suggests) story-book like. I have enjoyed this production for some time now as I have them all on DVD. The presentation is awe-inspiring - it looks like watching Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies live on stage. Amazing!

During the final run of this production at the Met Schenk (now 78) took curtain calls and received thunderous ovations. This has been the Wagner standard for a generation.

Now another German is in charge of LA Opera's 32 million dollar production of the Ring, and seems to represent much more what is going on in opera productions in Germany. I recently read the book "What the Fach" (a great book for anyone even thinking about a singing/opera career in Germany - see link below) in which the difference between American and German operatic sensitivity is discussed. According to German directors Americans want opera only exactly how the composer intended it because we only see a production of an opera maybe once or twice. Germans have seen everything multiple times, so they need something new each time or they get bored.

So, the new production of the Ring by Freyer (hired by Placido Domingo himself) looks more like a minimilist version of Star Wars. According to my upcoming teacher at USC (Gary Glaze) the production is actually quite stunning and fun to watch, however, the Wagner "purists" are going crazy. So, what is right? Or is there a right and we should we just be allowed to have a little fun? Or, since in America since we all only see one of these operas once should we feel bad that the only productions out there often seem inaccessible and so far from the original?

I have mixed feelings about it, but I'm curious what you all think of it whether you're in opera or not. I'd actually really love to hear from those who don't attend the opera very often. What, if anything, entices you to go? What keeps you from going? In the case of an opera like this, would you be more intrigued by the opportunity to see it exactly how it was to be, or does a new more techie production sound more interesting?

At least in the United States it seems that all of these efforts, whether going forward or backwards, is aimed at reaching some kind of demographic (either trying to get a new audience or secure an old one), and I'm not sure it's working in either direction. In this economy where opera companies are falling left and right there is a desperate push to get more people buying tickets. (In my opinion opera has been too "aloof" from making money for too long and now they're paying the price....anyway....)

So, a big question to opera goers and non-goers - what makes you want to see a production? What makes you want to (or not want to) go to an opera?

Oh, and here is an idea of how the new Freyer production (I have to admit, any opera that gives me the chance to maybe use a lightsaber, really gets me excited):

For the recent NY Times article on the operas, CLICK HERE.

The great book, "What the Fach?"

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