Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Maybe the Minnesota Opera Should Read This

By Mitchell

Well, we haven’t written much about the Minnesota Opera lately, the 2006-07 season having recently come to a close. The new season has been announced, however, featuring Rossini's classic comedy L’Italiana in Algeri, or as the Minnesota Opera insists on billing it, “The Italian Girl in Algiers.” As the title implies, the story takes place in Algeria. Rossini wrote this piece in 1813, so it’s a fairly safe bet that the setting of L’Italiana in Algeri takes place somewhere in that time frame.

Except, of course, for the Minnesota Opera. Their description of the staging is as follows: “Rossini’s madcap romantic comedy is imaginatively set inside a colorful 1930s pop-up book.”


Keep in mind that this is the same Minnesota Opera that staged Orazi e Curiazi, which the composer set in the year 650 BC, as an American Civil War epic.

Now, read the following from this week’s print edition of The Onion:

Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play In Time, Place Shakespeare Intended

In an innovative, tradition-defying rethinking of one of the greatest comedies in the English language, Morristown Community Players director Kevin Hiles announced Monday his bold intention to set his theater’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in 16th-Century Venice.

“I know when most people hear The Merchant of Venice, they think 1960s Las Vegas, a high-powered Manhattan stock brokerage, or an 18th-century Georgia slave plantation, but I think it’s high time to shake things up a bit,” Hiles said.


The Community Players’ 1999 production of Othello was set during the first Gulf War, 2001’s The Tempest took place on a canoe near the Bermuda Triangle, and last year’s “stripped-down,” post-apocalyptic version of Hamlet presented the tragedy in the year 3057.

[Hiles] had been planning to center [The Merchant of Venice] around an al-Qaeda terrorist cell before going with an avant-garde take [of setting the story in its original time and place].

Admit it. If I hadn’t told you which story was from The Onion, you’d have had a hard time telling the two apart, wouldn’t you?

I could ask why directors insist on doing this, taking perfectly good stories and tricking them up for no apparent reason other than to draw attention to their own self-conscious cleverness, but let’s have one of the “singers” from The Onion have the last word:

“I guess it’s the director’s dramatic license to put his own personal spin on the play he is directing, but this is a little over-the-top,” said Stacey Silverman, who played Nurse Brutus in Hiles’ 2003 all-female version of Julius Caesar. “I just think Portia not being an aviatrix does a tremendous disservice to the playwright.”


  1. What the Minnesota Opera has done is highly inappropriate from how I see it. I wonder if Ellen Schafer (a local college opera director) or younger students who lack an appreciation of the setting of an opera are involved.

    I've seen student directors do one-act operas with highly inappropriate settings (American West for Bastien and Bastienne; that didn't make sense, but the other two one-acts were set in the West), and I saw a Debussy one-act set in the 1960's, complete with anti-Americanism in one character. I didn't like the setting at all.

    What 1930's pop-up books are they thinking?

  2. I don't know - I'm almost afraid to ask. I suppose we'll have to wait and find out when it happens...


  3. It's obvious, isn't it? They'll do an art-deco version of "1001 Arabian Nights"!


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