Jackass, The Opera
Take It Off, Brünnhilde: On Opera and Nudity
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
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 MacNeil...in 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.