|Parsifal and Gurnemanz (c) Pach Brothers, NYC, 1903|
The priorities and expectations of audiences surely have changed in the century since that sensational Parsifal at the Met. No one attending next season's run of that work will expect to eat peanuts during the performance; but those who have failed to study their libretti will be able to switch on the titles displayed on individual screens in front of them, and many may expect to do so. Personally, I think this option provided by the Met is an admirable solution to the titles-vs-translation dilemma. The internationalization of opera which has taken place over the past half century or so has made original-language performance the norm, which is worth celebrating. But while the ideal audience may study its libretti, real opera audiences will contain many who do not. I've attended opera-in-translation both disastrous and decent, and a Peter Brook masterpiece which seamlessly integrated French dialogues into Mozart's Magic Flute. While minimal distraction may be the obvious goal I'm not sure there is a clearcut "best practice" answer to achieving it. Easy enough for me to say "the music will tell you what's going on," but what of those first-time opera-goers for whom the melodic lines of orchestra and singers are a language as unfamiliar as, say, Polish is to me?
And why do I think this matters? For one thing, declaring that opera should be performed at its highest level and those who don't care enough can just stay away doesn't really solve matters: what does "performed at its highest level" mean? For another: how do you get people to care in the first place? I learned to love opera via studio recordings; then I saw Ponnelle's Cenerentola production and realized that there were worlds even beyond the fabulous music. Inevitably, I've become a tireless evangelist for opera; most friends I've introduced by throwing them in at the deep end of live performance. I've seen people bored by Zeffirelli productions and bewitched by them; thrilled by Shostakovich; drawn into the pathos of an unfamiliar tragedy while I've been sighing over performance inadequacies in the next seat. What "works" may vary based on individual expectations, but I remain convinced that opera is simply too good--too exciting, challenging, immersive, magical--not to share. And the art form is, if anything, more diverse than its audiences; when told by someone that opera is "just not their thing," my invariable riposte is "What kind of opera?"
|Parsifal and Gurnemanz in Herheim's Bayreuth production (via Wagneropera.net)|