Wednesday, May 04, 2016
A Night at the Opera
Last night I attended my last performance at the COC for the 2015-2016 season. The opera was Rossini's seldom performed Maometto II directed by David Alden. While the opera is long and drawn out it was nice to see something that has seen so few performances. The performance began with silence as the curtain rose to reveal two rounded sections of plastered classical inspired walls. Visually it was understated beautiful and muted in tone and colour, focusing on greys and dramatic black costumes. I was hoping that the evening might be akin to one of Robert Carsen's minimalist takes on opera. Entering the stage a group of soldiers dressed in nineteenth-century styled uniforms, which looked like they walked out of the Union Army from the Civil War carried guns with bayonets. Seeing this I wondered what did this have to do with either the text of the opera which takes place during the 1470s or when it was written in 1820. The head scratching I experienced did not bode well for the rest of the evening.
I have written before how opera directors need to be aware that every element that is used in opera to tell a story needs to come together cohesively. When certain elements leave the audience wondering what is going on in the director's mind it takes away from the overall beauty of the piece. The story is pretty straightforward featuring love between rivals and mistaken identities, between the Turkish leader Maometto II and the leader of the Venetians and his daughter. What makes the opera so beautiful is the music which predates Wagner's use of music to set dramatic mood. Unlike other bel canto pieces the story features no identifiable arias and instead opts for an overall development of place and mood through music. While there are no real standout arias the singing throughout is still an exercise in skill featuring lots of scales, trills and embellishments.
While there were a few dramatic touches in the staging, especially the church scene and Maometto's tent, Alden used some movable panels in interesting ways. However I found myself distracted by the blocking Alden used to move people around the stage. More often than naught people came and went in a manner that did not add anything to the overall story or experience. Added to the awkward blocking was a lot of standing and singing which meant that there was little drama. This combined with odd costume choices, why were the Turks dressed like ninjas and why did a witchy woman run around with a skull and a scythe? I also did not understand the hanging bodies (although this seems to be a common theme at the COC lately). There were too many directorial choices that just didn't make sense. I understand what Alden was trying to do but to often it felt forced and didn't really place the opera in time or space. I guess I was hoping for more colour and style after all operas like this which placed with the fascination with the east in the 19th-century loved the exotic. At the same time Alden could have easily update the piece making it more relevant today, instead for me the whole thing felt confused.
The singing on the other hand was stellar. All three of the major leads, Eriso sung by Bruce Sledge, Anna by Leah Crocetto and Calbo by Liz DeShong were standouts on their own and were also beautifully blended when they sang together. Luca Pisaroni on the other hand as Maometto I found weak. While he had a nice voice it didn't have the power or gravitas of the other three which meant that when he sang with them his voice disappeared into the background.