Robert Lepage’s 2007 Brussels production of The Rake’s Progress is fascinating on many levels. I think all good opera productions start with the music and this is no exception. Lepage sees a crucial relationship between Stravinsky at the time the work was written (1948) and film and television. It was an era when insubstantial visual imagery was being supported emotionally by pretty impressive music. Lepage works with that idea; setting the work in the 40s and incorporating film and film making imagery extensively. I think this decision also frees up the music. By taking the piece out of the 18th century it becomes possible to take the 18th century out of the piece. For instance, there are elements in the libretto that mimic 18th century street ballads but Stravinsky absolutely avoids writing the kind of phrasing one might expect and quite deliberately breaks up the line. That phrasing is respected here whereas I have often heard a false legato imposed on some of those phrases. In a way, the production is helping the viewer to hear the music differently which is perhaps the highest compliment one can pay an opera production. There are other intriguing relationships between Lepage’s vision and Stravinsky’s. Lepage sees Stravinsky as playing with time in a cinematic way i.e. rendering it non-linear. Lepage seeks to mirror this in the spatial dimension by using some odd perspectives and some cinema devices; notably Anne driving her car in front of a moving backdrop just like a studio movie of the period. There’s a lot going on and it would be tedious to describe it in detail.
Just back from the HD broadcast of the Met’s Götterdãmmerung.
Musically, I was really quite impressed. I thought Luisi’s take on the score was original, valid and enjoyable. His tempi were generally quite quick and there was a taut, sinewy quality to the strings that really brought out the shape of the music. No romantic wallowing here! I really liked the Gibichungs; Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune, Iain Paterson’s Gunther and, especially, Hans-Peter König’s Hagen. All were well sung and characterful. Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried and Deb Voigt as Brünnhilde were really exciting in the Act 1 love duet and Deb nailed the Immolation scene, almost managing to overcome the staging. So much for the music, what about the production?
I am getting well pissed off with people taking ill informed shots at Robert Lepage based solely on his Ring cycle at the Metropolitan Opera. For three decades Lepage has been one of the most brilliant minds in the dramatic arts. His oeuvre spans straight theatre, film, circus, opera, multimedia performance art and stuff I don’t even know how to categorize. He acts, he directs, he designs. He also takes risks. In the nature of risk taking, sometimes they don’t come off and, frankly, I don’t think his Ring works. That said I think it shows the height (or depth) of poor taste and ignorance to launch ad hominem attacks on Lepage based on that one production and ignore all the things that have succeeded. The list is long; Elsinore and The Seven Streams of the River Ota would top my list but there have also been award winning opera productions such as Erwartung, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and The Nightingale and other Short Tales along with a dozen movies, a Cirque du Soleil show that has run for years and an astonishing outdoor multi-media exhibition celebrating the history of Québec. There’s lots more if one cares to look. Even Shakespeare had his off days. Would anybody go on and on and on about how crap Shakespeare was based solely on seeing A Comedy of Errors?
Once in a while an opera performance really blows you away and it becomes quite hard to write about, especially when the work is as long and dense as Die Walküre because even with a great performance one is in overload by the end. Yesterday’s broadcast from the Met was one of those experiences. Here’s what I think I saw!