Friday, March 13, 2009

Un scandalo, un disordine!

In NYC, and in the opera circuit, the talk of the town lately has been the new production at the Met of La Sonnambula, by Mary Zimmerman. The reaction of the traditionalists is nothing short of absolutely furious, and interaction between the various factions has been heated -- dare I say operatic in its furvor?

As to the qualities of the production, I can't comment. I haven't seen it yet, and having had a fluctuating state of personal finance, I won't be able to until the cheap seats are available.

The lastest On dit regarding the production, and what I wish to address, is the suggestion that the starring soprano, Natalie Dessay, was responsible for some of the changes in the staging -- particularly the things that the dissenters found the most objectional. (Ms. Dessay, if you believe the loggionisti, is also personally responsible for the coming goetterdaemmerung of opera. I am amazed at how one soprano has managed to accomplish so much!)

If Ms. Dessay was indeed responsible, then criticizing her choices is fair, if perhaps overly zealous. With artistic freedom comes the possibility of criticism. But! (And what a big but!) There is also a common complaint among opera fans and opera singers as well, that singers are no longer allowed much artistic input in most productions. The common agreement seems to be that opera has suffered for this. In light of that, one would assume that Ms. Dessay's taking charge would be welcomed, even if the results weren't perfect.

What bothers me, therefore, is the reaction to Dessay's input. The general response has been, if one puts it succinctly, "shut up and sing." Cognitive dissonance, anyone? If opera has suffered from singers being told to "shut up and sing" by companies and directors, this (over)reaction is doing nothing to encourage other directors/companies to involve their singers in the artistic process.

As a singer, we have little enough control over many aspects of our performance. We control the voice, the words, the person -- but we rarely control the costumes (often unflattering and hindering), the staging (frequently unhelpful for either good acting or good singing), and so on.

So I have to ask: what is it fans really want? More artistic freedom, and possibly (probably) more things one may find objectionable, as well as more things one finds enjoyable -- or back to the "shut up and sing" and the same-old same old?

No comments: