Sunday, August 03, 2014

More Munich Opera: Logistics

Another fragment on Munich opera--this one I share with almost every American opera goer who ventures to Germany and keep his eyes open. The point is not the variety and the quality (both admirable) but the sheer fact that they so so much of it.   We say that "opera houses all over Germany" produce "an opera every night."  Inevitably, I don't know exactly what that means ("all over"?  "every night"?), but it's close enough to true that we can treat it as given: consider the number of not-quite-first-tier American cities who count themselves cultured if they can stage just one a year.    This has to mean a ton of taxpayer subsidy and yes, I can think of so many other, seemingly more appealing, causes to which the euros could be put.  But I'm impelled to offer three observations, all of them probably familiar to anyone who has actually thought about it.

One: I marvel at the opportunities for steady work among opera singers (and, I guess, pit musicians).  It must mean that there is a cadre of able music-makers--not superstar material, perhaps, but talented enough--who have the opportunity to polish their craft and get as much out of themselves as they have to offer. Or  maybe they superstars, just working off a long apprenticeship: Verdi himself wrote a dozen operas over a dozen years before he hit the trifecta with Rigoletto, Traviata and Trovatore (it's wandering but I guess you could say the same thing about Shakespeare--a dozen or more experiments--some quite good-- before he totally nails it with Midsummer Night's Dream).  Query, can anybody name a product of the German opera house system with a similar career trajectory?

Two: the downside of all this is that they must not have time to rehearse.  Yes, yes, I'm sure there are offsite practice halls but it can't be (is unlikely to be) anywhere near the same as being in the real house, with the real echoes and the real timbre.  And there are also simple problems of logistics. I hear tell (I can't find the source right now) of a Carmen who came onstage and realized she couldn't find her tenor. "Où se trouve Don José?" she is said to have said. --"Suivez-moi, madame!" responded a gentlemanly super as he led her downstage.

And three: sets:  I know that the  Met prides itself on being able to change sets about as fast as the pit crew tightens wheel bolts on a NASCAR competitor.  But on a German schedule, you can't really make too many demands.  Couple tight schedules with the Germans' penchant for really loony staging and you are bound to have some train wreck results. Case in point, last week's Marriage of Figaro.* The curtain rises on the bare interior of a box, painted blinding white--so blinding that I kept wanted to shout "okay, I'll betray my loved ones--just stop making my eyes hurt!"  

But that's not all, folks. The later scene, though not a painful, was even sillier.  Mozart fans will recall that what we've got here is a lot of horseplay in the garden at night.  The very stuff of comedy, and how do you create the garden effect on an indoor stage?  Oh, I have it!  You drape the whole thing in cheesecloth (yes?) and let the singers tumble and stumble among the folds while they try to find their pitch!  So in addition to trying to keep track of who is who, and to check the supertitles in a language you don't understand anyway, there is the extra problem of repeatedly reminding yourself just why everyone is wandering around in an exploded laundry.
*A moment' perfunctory research informs me that this production is not new: actually old enough to drink beer in Munich.  So maybe my argument has nothing to do with anything. Whatever; I like it and I'm keeping it.

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