Thursday, 20 May 2010

Yesterday I saw an astounding piece of theatre. It was during a rehearsal for our next opera. I hadn't seen this particular aria performed before, and as I had nothing to sing for a while after this aria, wandered into the auditorium to watch/listen (there really should be a verb for opera-lovers combining those activities!).

One of my personal bugbears with regard to modern opera productions is the loss of "theatre magic". Everything is upfront. And in pyjamas. There is no mystique; and the very notion of asking the audience to suspend disbelief for a while and bathe in something rich and strange is unthinkable. I really think that this mindset has thrown the baby out with the bathwater and disagree to the very core of my being. We have MORE possibilities now, for goodness' sake, with video and lighting and computerised props and... oh, don't get me started. So when, occasionally, something utilises the thrill of the theatre, I applaud loudly.

And this was really something. It made me laugh, hold my breath, and cry; sometimes two of those at once. Without wishing to give any production secrets away, it involved a ventriloquist's puppet, and the entire concept gave a real poignancy to the aria whilst staying entirely in keeping with the words that are actually sung. I really cannot praise highly enough either the wonderful singer, or the superb director who thought of this and somehow coaxed such subtleties out of him.

THIS is the lifeblood of opera, and how to keep it alive for the future. We need to take the best of the past and blast it with a barrage of modern possibilities, but keep only that which ENTHRALLS us all. I think a lot of productions have forgotten the bit about enthralling the audience. Fine, make them (us) think, but if all we think is, hmm, that was a bit bland, then we're all lost. A (fairly) recent example I'm fond of boring listeners with is the mask given to the incomparable John Tomlinson in the Royal Opera House's production of Birtwistle's The Minotaur. As the half-bull, half-man Minotaur, he could sing when dreaming and human, but only roar (in a weirdly specific way according to the score!) when taurine. This dichotomy was underlined marvellously via his headgear (a little too overwhelming to term a mask). Fashioned from a simple wire armature with overlapping layers of gauze, it really can't have broken the budget of the Royal Opera House (even given the obvious need to make a few in case the singer trips over his own feet or falls into the orchestra pit); yet given the right lighting, it changed him in an instant from man to beast, and was terrifyingly effective.

Yes, of course we need glorious, heart-rending, soul-baring singing. But such stuff as we have at our disposal as theatre creatures should be used, rather than cast aside as no longer relevant to our profession.

Long live the magic of the theatre. And I can't say just how glad I am that I have firstly a director who is willing to use it, and secondly colleagues who are happy to put their huge talents towards creating such fabulous spells.

No comments:

Post a Comment