Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jackass, The Opera

More lunacy in the world of opera:
Take It Off, Brünnhilde: On Opera and Nudity
Published: September 17, 2008

It had to happen. Nudity is coming to opera.

In recent years, with all the talk from general managers, stage directors and go-for-broke singers about making opera as dramatically visceral an art form as theater, film and modern dance, traditional boundaries of decorum have been broken. Opera productions have increasingly showcased risk-taking and good-looking singers in bold, sexy and explicit productions.

How explicit? On Tuesday the soprano Karita Mattila returns to the Metropolitan Opera to portray the title character in Strauss’s “Salome,” a revival of the modern-dress Jürgen Flimm production created for Ms. Mattila and introduced at the Met in 2004.

Ms. Mattila’s emotionally intense, vocally molten and psychologically exposed portrayal four years ago made her seem born to this daunting role. And yes, during her uninhibited and kinetically choreographed performance of the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” she shed item after item of a Marlene Dietrich-like white tuxedo costume until, in an exultant — and brief — final flourish, she twirled around half-crazed and totally naked. Expect the same this time.

Now, just think about this for a moment. Pavarotti...Joan Sutherland...Cornell the nude. Do we really want to add another criterion for success in opera - not a beautiful voice, but a beautiful body? Why not just have attractive actors and actresses lip-synch the music, as they did in China for the Olympics?

I started getting a little crazed as I read the article, to the point where all sorts of bad thoughts began intruding upon my mind.
The question of exposing flesh in opera to make up for subpar music hovered over “The Fly.” At both its world premiere this summer in Paris and its recent production in Los Angeles, critics found Mr. Shore’s music ponderous and undistinguished. But most reviewers praised cast members for giving their all to the production, especially Mr. Okulitch, a sensitive singer and dynamic actor with a warm and appealing if modest-size voice. That he also has a handsome physique takes nothing away from the courage it took to strip bare for the telepod scene. If only the music had matched the moment. Still, the dramatic situation absolutely called for Brundle to be naked, and Mr. Okulitch complied.

Knock. It. Off. If I can't even READ about opera in the nude without being hit by a thousand flying double-entendres, WATCHING it would be entirely out of the question.

The discussion of nudity in film reminds me of a funny incident from my schooldays. Every year, we studied a Shakespeare play, and one year it was Macbeth. As an educational treat, we went on a field trip to local repertory theatre, to watch Roman Polanski's film of the Shakespeare play. As some may know, Lady Macbeth's plays her sleepwalking scene in the nude. It's tastefully done, of course - you can see everything from the back, but it's above-the-waist from the front. Still, this was pretty titillating stuff for 17-year olds in the 70s (especially the boys).

Well, the scene progressed with the Doctor and the Gentlewoman watching and commenting on her actions. Until the moment when the Doctor said "What a sigh is there!" And of course the whole class burst into laughter, having misheard "sigh is" as "size". The teacher afterwards was very flummoxed and asked why everyone laughed, and a boy helpfully explained, "Well, she's washing her hands, and the Doctor says, 'Ooooh, big ones!'" Good, old-fashioned, straight to the point boys.


Blogger Matthew said...

It's a fad. For a while it was daring and trendy to do Shakespeare in non-period costumes.

And like all theatrical fads, it will seem horribly tired and dated in three years.

4:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw Gwyneth Jones bare all in a production of Salome in Vienna in the 1980s. I didn't take it as edgy or avant-garde, just what the libretto called for. And meaning no offense to Dame Gwyneth, she was well past the age where the visual spectacle would be a big thrill for anyone. I went to hear her voice and wasn't disappointed.

5:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, an opera-history textbook from the '70s showed a topless scene from Le Coq D'Or. It's been done.

I still agree it's pointlessly silly, but it's pointlessly silly to do it in a regular play, too. It usually doesn't contribute anything at all beyond male (or female) heightened interest -- like a nude Lady Macbeth.

7:38 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Of course it's a gimmick, but it makes me wonder why now? I think it has nothing to do with fidelity to some artistic vision, but it's driven by crude economics: opera promoters are finding their market share of the entertainment sector shrinking, and this is an attempt to attract viewers. Opera fans are likely an aging population, and this might be something to appeal to the younger market.

But it's bound to fail: opera is singing, after all, and if you don't like opera singing, nudity isn't going to balance the scale, unless the whole show becomes frankly pornographic.

Remember the 70s, when there was an attempt to popularize opera? I still remember great stars like Beverly Sills going on talks shows like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas, to sing an aria and then do a friendly interview. Those shows reached millions of viewers; there's nothing similar today, the general public just does not get exposed to opera like that. At most, it'll come up in some commercial for a few seconds.

That sort of thing probably recruited more novices to the world of opera-listening than any amount of flashy gimmicks like nude scenes will do. Frankly, if they want to reach a wider audience, they'd probably have better luck if they'd just lower the price of an opera ticket.

8:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't think of ANY opera singers I'd like to see nude. . .

Ellie M.

12:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Knock. It. Off. If I can't even READ about opera in the nude without being hit by a thousand flying double-entendres, WATCHING it would be entirely out of the question."


10:39 pm  

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