Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Russians came ....

Great time at the Ballet last night - a gala with proper dancers. Amazing how quickly things go when you are having fun.

Mind you, I still am not over fond of 19th Century Ballet.

The child behind had a most appropriate reaction to the small male who came on wearing what looked like a pleated, tartan school-girl's uniform - give it a chocolate.

All that was required to make the evening perfect was to shoot the penguin who gave a speech at the start.

Romanians do like talking.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Palin goes Tybalt

Skynews this morning gave the lovely headline:

Palin claims Obama consorts with terrorists.

Which instantly got the Shakespeare antenna twitching.

Tybalt, when he was searching for an insult, used the word consort ... ah, I said, maybe the woman (or her speech writer) has a classic education after all!

But no, it was only the editors at the British based news service who seem to have had an education.

Doesn't take away the Tybaltian nature of the insult though - and, as we all know, Tybalt was a rat.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hell awful!

It was the sort of production that gives Opera a bad name.

Timisoara Opera, like much of the theatre in Romania, luxuriates on a cloud of conceit – there is no better example than the current production of Gounod’s Faust, endured by my good self and a colleague last evening.

Let me start by excluding the innocent.

The orchestra and conductor did a competent job – what came out of the pit was OK, if a little slow some of the time and too direct at others.

So too with the chorus. Provincial Opera Choruses are never going to equal in either size or youth their metropolitan equivalent, but the Timisoara crowd sang well.

I can see why both groups are being used abroad in international co-operations and as support in festivals in Austria.

I can also see why such festivals bring along their own soloists.

Maguerite managed to go mad nicely after a difficult beginning. Earlier on the ‘role’ – as directed - taxed the acting skills of the singer - with one unforgettable and unforgivable moment of ‘beached whale’ stupidity. A woman of her stature should never have been asked to roll on the ground – unless it was to flatten a particularly lumpy cricket square.

Faust had a pleasant, resonant lower range but had to resort to full volume athletic leaps to hit the higher notes which produced a thin, acid sound – very reminiscent, I thought at the time, of the awful, weak, sun-deprived home-brew wines you have to taste when visiting people’s relations in the countryside.

Mephistopheles was well past his sell by date … which is a shame because hiding inside the now discarded banana-skin of a performer was a once great devil. Again, the singer had little chance to exploit either the role or his experience as the stultifyingly awful direction effectively left the man standing around posing in a weak imitation of a Bela Lugosi studio advertising photograph.

Which brings me to the real source of the problem – the totally inept stage direction and equally incompetent stage design (the choreography was just hilariously incongruous).

There is a tendency in Romania for theatre and opera directors to be a bit 1960s – abstract and ideas driven, symbolism rather than narrative. It worked in the 1960s – it falls flat on its face nowadays.

This production had two or three ‘ideas’ – or, rather, visual set pieces – and no overall unifying conception. It totally failed to get the ‘plot’ across – my partner at the slaughter made that point in the first interval – if she hadn’t read the story, she wouldn’t know what was happening. In Act IV it looked like Maguerite had died early (which wouldn’t have surprised me – possibly of embarrassment) whereas when she did die at the end it looked like she hadn’t and, for some reason. her night-dress had gone floating off into the sky (possibly a passing hurricane).

There was a little girl too. What she was doing there I dread to think – possibly the daughter of someone important in the theatre who wanted to get his child on the books and earn some money through child exploitation. The poor thing had to sit through the final act on a wooden staircase in her ‘nighty’, endure the soprano at full volume and madness and then help the hurricane take away the spare clothing.

There was a lot of spare clothing – or not, in the case of the ballet.

The costuming looked driven by whatever could be found to fit (or cut holes in, in the case of the ballet) in the wardrobe department’s store. At the ‘village’ fete in Act II the chorus appeared on stage in full sophisticated salon evening dress – possibly as seen in La Traviata, during the party, possibly from the ball scene in Die Fledermaus. They stayed in the same clothes right through the production – including when the men are supposed to be soldiers returning from war in Act IV. That was particularly silly – although the director’s ‘disposition’ of the men on the stage competed for the gold medal in idiocy.

Funds are limited, I realise that (although with a ticket price equal to that paid on a recent visit to the West End of London, not the fault of the punters whose bums were numbed in the dreadfully uncomfortable seats), but the two-flats-on-wheels scenery solution seemed a little on the excessively cheap side: Especially as it necessitated the frequent use of monk-dressed stage hands to push the damn things around. Monty Python Spanish Inquisition, I thought – frequently.

I take it the lighting designer died before work started on the production and the show was under the control of an enthusiastic 8 year old trainee technician.

I’d use the word amateur if it wasn’t an insult to some very good amateur productions I have enjoyed.

Gounod’s Opera is not exactly rocket science and, despite its cornucopia of good tunes, has its structural weaknesses – which is why it needs strong, coherent direction. It didn’t get it, resulting in one of the worst things I have ever seen in the professional theatre. If I had directed a school production this badly, I hang my head in shame and burn every play text I possessed whilst vowing never to set foot on stage again.

I think the choreographer has done just that and tried to replace the ballet with a ‘man with the hairiest chest’ competition.

Thank goodness for the music.

There is absolutely no excuse for this degree of dreadfulness. Timisoara Opera has given me some very enjoyable evenings in the past. It’s production of Traviata ten years ago was stunning – the best I think I have seen on stage live. The Boehma and Fledermaus were enjoyable and repeatedly watchable. There were singers on stage last night I know could have given far more, in the right production.