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Re-setting the ClassicsWhat do you think?


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#16 Ray

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:11 AM

When extensive research to re-create baroque operas as in the era they were created and extensive effort to find what is considered to be appropriate voices for the creation of a performance that shows fidelity to the works and their creation, why is the above question being posited for production of century old ballets?

I find someting nihilistic in such proposals.


I think Hans has replied to leonid's comments in a nuanced and thoughtful way. But I see leonid's point, as I am a huge fan of the baroque opera re-creation "movement"--indeed, I don't enjoy hearing Mozart played by a modern orchestra anymore--and often bristle at the ballet world's paradoxical elitist recourse to "tradition" and coarse market-driven resistance to historical accuracy (ballet company rhetoric often sounds more strategic than principled: middlebrow?). Yet I just don't think the playing fields are equal. The development of music/vocal technique has occured on a far different and older track than the development of ballet, with far less comprehensive documentation of past productions and performance details. "Revived" baroque operas don't entail any diminishment of technique or virtuosity on the part of the performers either. That's why I think we do need to posit questions about how to revive ballets, and consider carefully the effects of that reconstructing. For instance, I think Scholl's "revival" of Sleeping Beauty is amazing, but my love of it doesn't eliminate the problems in reception ("where's the dancing?") that I also acknowledge. (By contrast, historically "accurate" re-creations of baroque operas have found nearly universal acclaim.) While dance tends to operate in a zero-sum mentality--"if this version exists it will render all others impure/inaccurate/missing the essence, etc."--we might back up a bit and imagine that there's room for multiple interpretations. The Met Opera still does Mozart, after all, even if I won't go to see it there.

#17 SanderO

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:20 AM

Is this all about the notion of "interpreting" a set piece? I would think when you have artistic people and all sorts of new possibilities because of "technology" etc. they will think, let me interpret this classic and bring something "new" to it. It brings out the creative juices in a way that hyper accurate facsimiles can't. And I think the ADs and so forth have a need to be creative more than "historians".

I think there is a place for both and I think that companies need to be more clear that what they present is an interpretation and not a historical "reproduction". We seem to be more comfortable with the artistic latitude found in theatrical productions, don't we?

I, for one, would love to see a very accurate reproductions of some of the classic ballets.

#18 Ray

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:28 AM

Is this all about the notion of "interpreting" a set piece? I would think when you have artistic people and all sorts of new possibilities because of "technology" etc. they will think, let me interpret this classic and bring something "new" to it. It brings out the creative juices in a way that hyper accurate facsimiles can't. And I think the ADs and so forth have a need to be creative more than "historians".

I think there is a place for both and I think that companies need to be more clear that what they present is an interpretation and not a historical "reproduction". We seem to be more comfortable with the artistic latitude found in theatrical productions, don't we?

I, for one, would love to see a very accurate reproductions of some of the classic ballets.


Points well taken. I think, though, that many modern historically minded revivals of baroque operas are also creatively superb. (I'm thinking now of productions that employ very contemporary stagings coupled with rigorous, musically authentic practice) That is, the opera world to me seems to be moving beyond the romantic-era dichotomy of tradition/history vs. innovation. Perhaps it's all that MONEY.

#19 SanderO

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:48 AM

I attended a dress rehearsal at the Met recently for Manon Lescaut. When the rehearsal was concluded, the producer (I think... don't know who it was and wouldn't recognize him if I did) stood on stage and had James Levine run through a number of passages. Whomever he was, HE was telling Levine (I thought) how he wanted those passages to sound. perhaps change the tempo or something. I am not good enough to know what was actually being done.

But what was clear is that there is lots of interpretation going on, even at the level of the music and it is a collaborative effort with the AD or the producer calling a lot of the "shots". Franco Zeffirelli has made an imprint on opera and I don't know if he ever studied music! Weird isn't it?

#20 Ray

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 09:57 AM

Ray, I think you and I are on the same page. :off topic: Your post makes me think of the "Semele" with John Mark Ainsley and Rosemary Joshua (a clip can be found here) in which the music is performed appropriate to the Baroque period but the staging, sets, and costumes are modern. Obviously in ballet the staging cannot really be altered, but one could still do something different (but still tasteful and considerate of the ballet) with the sets and costumes.


I think it's far more difficult in ballet to maintain such a clear distinctin b/t elements of performance practice ("the steps" or "the formations") and all the other, mostly visual, elements of the staging--perhaps b/c dance is a visual art? (Though some would argue that opera often crosses a line of propriety.)

But yes, Hans, I really do enjoy opera's ability to juxtapose modern sensibility and rigorous, traditional/authentic practice. Often the results are quite poignant, as in the recent Met production of Peter Sellar's Lohengrin.

#21 EAW

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 01:04 PM

But yes, Hans, I really do enjoy opera's ability to juxtapose modern sensibility and rigorous, traditional/authentic practice. Often the results are quite poignant, as in the recent Met production of Peter Sellar's Lohengrin.
[/quote]


I believe the Met's Lohengrin is the work of Robert Wilson, not Peter Sellars.

#22 Ray

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 01:18 PM

I believe the Met's Lohengrin is the work of Robert Wilson, not Peter Sellars.


OOPS you're right, sorry about that Robert and Peter! For an example from Sellars, his wonderful, modern setting of the St. Matthew Passion at BAM a few Easters ago. Again, a modern staging but impeccably performed "authentic" reading of the score from both vocalists and instrumentalists.

#23 dirac

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 06:16 PM

Ray, I think you and I are on the same page. :clapping: Your post makes me think of the "Semele" with John Mark Ainsley and Rosemary Joshua (a clip can be found here) in which the music is performed appropriate to the Baroque period but the staging, sets, and costumes are modern. Obviously in ballet the staging cannot really be altered, but one could still do something different (but still tasteful and considerate of the ballet) with the sets and costumes.


I think it's far more difficult in ballet to maintain such a clear distinctin b/t elements of performance practice ("the steps" or "the formations") and all the other, mostly visual, elements of the staging--(Though some would argue that opera often crosses a line of propriety.)

But yes, Hans, I really do enjoy opera's ability to juxtapose modern sensibility and rigorous, traditional/authentic practice. Often the results are quite poignant, as in the recent Met production of Peter Sellar's Lohengrin.


perhaps b/c dance is a visual art?


Yes, it's more difficult because there is no 'text' to work from - in some cases there's nothing more than muscle memory!

I think a certain composer would be most upset if we referred to the opera as anything other than "Wagner's Lohengrin." :)

I would suggest, and this is not aimed at anyone in particular, that we avoid locutions along the lines of "Are you accusing me of This?" or "Are you calling me a That?" unless someone has actually said, "You THIS!" or "You THAT!" in which case we moderators will step in, have no fear. Thanks, all.

Otherwise, great discussion. Carry on.

#24 Ray

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 05:43 AM

I think a certain composer would be most upset if we referred to the opera as anything other than "Wagner's Lohengrin." :clapping:



Well, it's quite out of his hands now, isn't it. But I'm sure no one will forget who wrote it.

#25 Andrew73

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 07:37 AM

I don't see anything intrinsically wrong about making production changes; it's all down to why and how. Too often, perhaps, the updating is a gimmick to draw attention away from a generally inferior production, and I think audiences are right to be a little suspicious - but not to dismiss them on principle.

Take a step sideways and consider Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet; in most theatres today, it would be simply impossible to stage it 'as Shakespeare intended', and few would argue that it always should be presented that way.

While Shakespeare could never have forseen the vaiety of developments to his work - including West Side Story and the Ballet - I don't think revolving remains is a likely scenario. And some versions have probably made the original more accessible to modern audiences.

If it's true for R&J, It's probaby true for "The Taming of the Shrew", which would otherwise have faded out almost entirely.

Back to ballet, change has breathed new life into many classics, and perhaps made some of us more appreciative of the original as a result of having to consciously compare. And potential audiences always have a choice.

Producers should surely be free to use new materials for costumes, 'see thru' curtains and back lighting to create effects limelite could not, and back projection too.

We can judge the various versions on their own merits.

Also, with the wonders of the digital age, we can keep a record of the original / pure form for later comparison, and possible revival. That's assuming the companies don't refuse to release them on the grounds that "it's no longer part of our programme".

#26 SanderO

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 08:16 AM

Andrew makes very cogent points.

I suppose the issue is more about when a company, rather than "re interpret" a work, massages it a bit so that much of what was there in the past is very recognizable and that "classic" becomes the yardstick by which it is measured.

In that sense it is a rather a bolder move to try to "perfect" a classic than to offer up something new. In ballet when you strip away all the production, a classic work is the music and dance, in opera it is the music and the singing.

I think both the ABT's Sleeping Beauty and NYCB's R+J were not well received because they in fact were too close to what came before and not a refinement, but were coarser in appearance.

#27 dirac

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 04:54 PM

I don't see anything intrinsically wrong about making production changes; it's all down to why and how. Too often, perhaps, the updating is a gimmick to draw attention away from a generally inferior production, and I think audiences are right to be a little suspicious - but not to dismiss them on principle.


Thanks for posting, Andrew73. I think you've put the central issue in a nutshell. The devil, of course, always being in the details. :clapping:


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