Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interval Adventures: traditionalists and twentysomethings

Verdi, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886
At Rigoletto on Wednesday night, much of my energy was occupied with herding ducklings (i.e. one undergraduate and two freshly-minted M.A. students who were enthusiastic opera novices) in the intervals, but this paid off, as their reactions to the evening ranged from quite pleased to rhapsodic and starry-eyed.  To be fair, they didn't really need herding, but I felt a sense of Solemn Responsibility, as well as the enthusiast's desire to make sure they saw "The Triumph of Music" and benefited from the Ezio Pinza water fountains.

In the second interval, we encountered a startling apparition.  He was full of Dark Prophecies about the Future, yet personally, as he told us, from the Past.  The beloved flatmate and I decided on Imprecating Opera Specter as his official title.  The I.O.S. materialized at our elbow to tell one of our ducklings, who was (rather touchingly over-)dressed in his family tartan, that he should really be at Lucia di Lammermoor.  "I have been coming here for decades," he said, rather lugubriously, "and it used to be that everyone on stage was dressed that way."  I pointed out that Mary Zimmerman's production still had the chorus in hunting costume, if non-ubiquitous kilts.  Or I started to.  "Do not mention that name!" boomed the Opera Specter.  "That woman is death!"  He then unleashed upon the bewildered opera ducklings a torrent of invective against all the "minimalist, abstract, updated, modern Eurotrash" which creeps into the Met like a disease.  "Mary Zimmerman!" he exclaimed, returning to his original target.  "And her ilk.  They make a nonsense of the works.  I hope you're not her daughter!"  I took my opportunity, and spoke up. "When it comes to La Sonnambula," I said, "I thought that it was less coherent and therefore less effective than it could have been.  But Lucia, while it may not be a brilliant production, I thought was inoffensive."  (I don't think it's brilliant, but I rather liked the incorporation of the over-the-top Gothic visual vocabulary of Sir Walter Scott and his contemporaries.  Whether through silent cowardice or discreet valor, I did not say so.) "Well," said the I.O.S., "well, you're right, it wasn't too bad."  And he melted away to his seat, leaving the beloved flatmate and me to opine, sotto voce, to the ducklings that things could be minimalist without being abstract and modern without being either, and that no aesthetic had a monopoly on bad productions.  It was quite an adventure.

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