The 'opening' of my season at the San Francisco Opera this year was:
"Rodelinda" by Handel. Briefly: It sucked. Gretchen LOATHED it. Here's why:
First, I really like Handel. His music, anyway. There's something about baroque fugues that makes me twitter! There's a lot of that going on in "Rodelinda" and I appreciated it. However, the man simply couldn't write a libretto. NOT that I am an expert on Handel operas, mind you, but this is the 4th or 5th one I've seen, and only 2 of those ("Semele" which was brilliantly directed and performed and "Julius Ceasar" which at least had characters we're familiar with!) made any sense what so ever. This thing has a cast of only 7 characters, so you'd think it would be easier to keep track? Well, no. I'm not even sure I want to go into a synopsis. However, I must, it seems...
Rodelinda (competently performed by Catherine Naglestad) believes her husband (who was king of ??? We dunnno...) is dead. Some Duke (dully performed by Paul Nilon) has plans to ascend the throne. (Who he is and how that is able to happen?? We dunno...) Meanwhile, her sister-in-law (Phyllis Pancella, attempting some sort of misdirected comic relief) seems to be plotting on becoming queen herself by seducing the Duke's right hand man (yet another DULL bass, Umberto Chiummo). (Why seduce him? We dunno...) In the meantime, Rodelinda's husband does pop up along with HIS aid (wonderfully sung by TWO countertenors: David Daniels and Gerald Thompson!) and then chaos and confusion really begins to ensue. Oh, their son is on stage too, as the 7th character, but he's just a prop.
So, you've got this story about royal intrigue, more or less. Which would naturally lead any contemporary director, in this case, David Alden (remember that name! The Guilty Party of this fiasco) and his design staff to stage it in 1940's film noir. Yeah. That's it! Baroque = Film Noir!! The entire stage is grey. EVERY INCH OF IT. Except for a splash of red in the third act. So, we've got these gorgeous baroque fireworks coming from the pit and the singers and they're just standing in front of a HUGE grey brick wall. For most of the first hour, anyway. It does fly away to reveal two more HUGE grey brick walls, that will 'symbolically trap' our characters. Then there are the cubicles in Act 3...
As far as costumes, except for a brief appearance in a red dress by the sister-in-law (apparently her cue that she is 'comic relief'?) and a stunning silver sequined gown she gets in act 2, EVERYONE is in black and grey. On top of the grey set and the black and grey clothes, it was of course lit from the sides and below. In harsh whites. No pinks. In fact, the side lighting was so harsh and extreme, we got to watch the cast obviously maneuver themselves out of each other's shadows. It sort of made me giggle at one point as they were shuffling around trying to keep out of each other's light.
So, this silly attempt at 'updating' Handel to a "...a sinister setting that Raymond Chandler would have loved..." (the SFO Press Release) only got sillier. As we visit our characters who are in cubicles (why? we dunno...), our thought to be dead king 'finds' a knife. That knife is being dangled by some guy from behind the set over the top of his cubicle. It was the silliest bit of 'stagecraft' I have possibly ever seen. At that point, the audience started laughing. I think we were laughing AT it, and not with it, as the director might have hoped? From that point on, the thing just fell apart dramatically. The single death is committed by a shooting. This is only significant in that the gun is left on stage and picked up by the (mute) son and aimed at some of stage target, during the overjoyous finale, in an attempt to darken the whole thing up again.
So, three and a half hours of music and I haven't even really mentioned the singing? THAT is how frigging distracting this production was! The sopranos and countertenors did wonderful jobs, really. The two other guys were dull. However, the entire cast looked uncomfortable. They knew this was wrong.
(I've just read what I've typed here and it's as much of a mess as the production. Garbage in - Garbage Out!)
Monday, September 26, 2005
The 'opening' of my season at the San Francisco Opera this year was:
Sunday, September 18, 2005
I guess it isn't official Autumn yet, or is it? Anyway...
"The Overcoat" at A.C.T. A "play without words" though it is not mimed. It is danced. It IS a ballet, or as Gretchen said, "If it sounds like a duck, if it looks like a duck..." The creators refuse to admit that it is a ballet. It is the story of "The Overcoat" by Gogol, set to about a dozen excerpts of music by Shostakovitch. Visually, it's quite striking. The cast (most of whom seem to have been in the original Canadian production) were quite good, I guess, but it IS a ballet and that's a bit out of my 'field' as it were. It looked cool and I liked the music. Dramatically, I thought it was pretty anticlimactic, as there aren't any real relationships developed, except for his relationship with The Overcoat. And that's just so... ARTISTIC, that I was not emotionally caught up in it. Apparently Mark Morris and Matthew Bourne have inspired, or at least launched a whole new genre. Hmmmm.
Filmwise, I may have spent too much time with "March of the Penguins," as I have seen it three times now. However, this past weekend I was able to squeeze in:
"Broken Flowers," the Bill Murray/Jim Jarmusch 'comedy.' I don't 'get' Jarmusch. He just seems to try to be so C O O L. Bill Murray gives a "Lost in Translation" minimalist performance. Because it's cool. On the other hand, Tilda Swinton was completely unrecognizable in her all to brief appearance as Jenny! She can be amazing! I also enjoyed Jessica Lange, as she looked incredible, as did Frances Conroy. Oh! And Jeffrey Wright is always a delight to watch, though he is given a single joke/plot to play out throughout the film. Out of the half dozen or so people at the theatre, there was one guy who found it to be LAUGH OUT LOUD FUNNY, which I found annoying too. But speaking of laugh out loud funny...
"The 40 Year Old Virgin" was! I had a FUN time at this thing! I'm not a big Steve Carrell fan, so I walked in kind of skeptical, but he did a marvelous job performing his script. The script gets a little bogged down at times, however, he was quite generous in giving some of the best gags and lines to his supporting cast, which is always admired and appreciated! The three guys playing his 'pals' (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogan) are a hoot of an ensemble. Catherine Keener has the unenviable job of having to play it straight and be the love interest in what is a farce. However, she does give it a good go and this is possibly the warmest character I've seen her play. I almost winced at what I thought was going to be it's ending (it was giving itself applause and a standing ovation), however, I was fooled! The actual ending is FABULOUS!! The film is pretty obscene, in an almost "The Aristocrats" kind of way, but I love that!
"The Brothers Grimm," Terry Gilliam's latest release (though I can't wait for "Tideland" - his version of Alice in Wonderland, which just premiered in Toronto!). This was grim, indeed. I don't know where to start or where one would place the blame, but the thing just doesn't click.
First, the script is pretty messy. We've got the conflict between the brothers: One is The Cynic (Matt Damon) and the Other is The Hapless Romantic (Heath Ledger). We throw in The Girl, which they both sort of like. Then toss in the French occupation of Germany (it is the 18th century, during Napoleon's reign, apparently), represented by a comically over acting Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare (who is playing an evil Italian professional executioner - Italian? Why?), who seem to have a personal vendetta against the Grimms and continually threaten to execute them, no less than 4 times during the picture. Oh, and then there is the actual Evil Enchanted Forest that ALL of the above must face, at some point. Though, of course, only The Hapless Romantic believes is actually an enchanted forest, regardless of the abilities of the trees to toss horses three stories up off the ground. Then there is the continual insertion of fairy tale references, which I understand why they are there, but at some point they became as intrusive to the plot as spotting 'cameo celebrity appearances.' It made me stop being involved in the story to say, "Oh, there's red riding hood! Oh, there's Hansel and Gretel! Oh, there's Snow White's Wicked Queen!" etc. There was just too much in this soup to actually find something or someone to care about.
So, even though Gilliam has worked with messy scripts, one can usually just sit back and watch some pretty spectacularly witty visuals!! Not so, here. This is visually the darkest, nearly monochromatic, palette I've ever seen him work with. In fact, it almost seems to want to be a Tim Burton flick. One might dare to say that it was an homage to "Sleepy Hollow" in fact. There is a brief bit of Gilliamism in the armor that the brothers wear and the Evil Witch's tower and mirror, but... overall...
The entire production lacked wit or at least a sense of joy. Some of that might be due to the much talked about fights between Gilliam and the Weinsteins, his executive producers. Matt Damon looks sort of miserable. And, in fact, the end credits list a staff of nearly a dozen people for Mr. Damon (including TWO drivers and TWO personal chefs?!). So, one might be led to believe that the Harvey Weinstein spent some time trying to keep Damon on the set, if not happy. Also, the logistics might have been a problem. The costumes were built in Italy and the shoot was in Prague. There are credits for production design and costume design interpreters. I can picture Gilliam having just had another long distance blow out with Harvey Weinstein and then walking on to the set, unable to directly speak with his crew without an interpreter, and REALLY LOSING IT! Anyway, it's sort of a pity...
Also, this week on video:
"Live Flesh" by Almadovar. LOVED IT!! It's twisted Almadovar. FUN twisted Almadover from 1997. There's sex and shootings and revenge and more sex and death, all over a 25 year period! Javier Bardim gives a great performance, as usual! Liberto Rabal (who I've never seen before and has a fairly small resume) is totally gorgeous! Rent it! BUY IT!!
"Place Without Limits" by Arturo Ripstein was lent to me by SueJean, of Filmsluts fame. Made in 1978 in Mexico, I can see where it could be considered ground breaking, as the protagonist is a transvestite. He's brilliantly played by Roberto Cobo! He has a dance sequence towards the end of the film which is just mesmerizing! Other than that, I admit I was a bit bored, though could appreciate it's artistically historic and sociological value. I think I need to try "Deep Crimson" next, though...
That's it for now.