Sunday, May 30, 2010

Opera Note: La Scala Das Rheingold

In the realm of opera, I generally do Wagner only if it is a condition of my parole, but we got a chance to see Daniel Barenboim conduct Das Rheingold at La Scala last night and I figured this was an opportunity I shouldn't pass up. As it happens, we hit it at a dramatic moment. As the curtain rose, we encountered not swimming nymphs but a gaggle of (I guess) stage hands in their everyday combat togs with a banner saying


That is: no to the decree (?); yes to music, yes to culture. Somebody then read us some kind of manifesto denouncing a (n as it appeared) recent funding cut. Actually, two people--a man read it in Italian, then a woman in English. You might think they were greeted with an outpouring of labor solidarity, but recall this is Italy and if there is one thing they love better than work stoppage it is opera. Strike that: booing at the opera, or specifically at this gaggle of agitators who stood between them and their Wagner fix.

Oh, yes, the opera. Ah, let's put it this way: Barenboim is a wonder. Everything about the orchestra was crisp, disciplined, forceful, expressive (though loud, but that is not really DB's fault). The singing seemed fine although I'm not really competent to judge. Friend more competent than I said that Barenboim finds a natural ally in René Pape, who sang Wotan.

Staging seemed remarkably restrained for Wagner (I should think you would want it to be, considering how much you'd have to pay for a cast): a lot of projector visuals, chiefly what appeared to be a worked-out Kentucky coal mine:I assume this passes for heaven in some circles. There were dancers; the dancers got roundly booed, more, I think, for there mere presence than for the quality of their work. My thought was hey, at least they weren't singing.

Which brings us back to the opera itself, and to Wagner, and I swear I just do not grt it. I'll grant a fecundity of musical ideas--the notorious leitmotifs. But a lot of them are just not that interesting. And sorting out leitmotifs becomes a kind of obsessive game, like sudoku. And I barely want to speak of the plot. Recall that when all is said and done, this is an opera about a guy who tries to sell his sister-in-law to a couple of building contractors. For my money that is a plot fit for Married with Children. Yes: Sudoku and Married with Children, what a pair.

Afterthought: Forget about the decreto, this is a time when governments all over Europe are talking about painful budget cuts ("lacrime e sangue," said one Italian paper, tears and blood). Even though it won't be more than a gnat's eyebrow, I should think that the (sometimes lavish) European opera subsidies will have to be one item on the block.

1 comment:

elrojo said...

didn't there used to be a local beer in NYC called Rheingold?