Speaking of opera as we were yesterday, our readers will recognize that we aren't all that crazy about opera productions that are updated out of the time period in which they were originally set. It's true that some of these productions work, but most of them are abject failures. Or worse.
Here's one of the worse ones - the Flanders Opera's production of Samson et Dalila, written by Saint-Saëns and originally set, as the title might suggest, in Biblical times. This was clearly much too dry for the directors, Omri Nitzan (an Israeli) and Amir Nizar Zuabi (a Palestinian), who sought to make their production more relevant. I mention the nationalities involved because it has a direct bearing on the following discussion.
I'm going to take a chance here and assume that most of you know the basic Biblical story of Samson, so we're going to cut to the chase. According to the New York Times,
Mr. Nitzan and Mr. Zuabi, however, turn the Hebrews into Palestinians, the Philistines into Israelis, and Samson into a suicide bomber, donning a dynamite-loaded vest when the curtain falls.
That comes after Jews, in fancy dress, dance atop a shiny, black, two-tiered set, oblivious to the swarm of robed Palestinians under their feet. In another scene Dalila’s Jewish handmaidens, in red underpants, sprawl on their backs, legs spread in the air, helping to seduce Samson. Samson and Dalila court by pointing a pistol at each other. Young Israeli soldiers clad in black humiliate blindfolded Palestinians and shoot a Palestinian child, who reappears as a kind of leitmotif during the opera like the holy spear in “Parsifal.” Then, for the appalling bacchanal in the last act, a disaster in most productions, Israeli soldiers dance orgiastically with their phallic rifles.
The author of the article mentions that aside from a scattering of boos that accompanied the bacchanal, the performance "received several rounds of generous applause." (Although, not surprisingly, it has generated a great deal of controversy with the country's Jewish population.) He goes on to say that a similar production "would be nearly unthinkable in New York or Washington."
I'm not so sure about that. Alarmists aside, there's no question that anti-Semitism (or at least pro-Palestinianism) is very fashionable in this country. It's not hard at all for me to imagine such a production in, say, Ann Arbor, Michigan. And if there isn't one now, just wait - there will be.
I don't know what bothers me most about this - the politicization of opera, or the bastardization of it. The Times reporter, Michael Kimmelman, says that "all art is political in the end," and I'm not sure I agree with that either. I suppose you can make anything political if you really insist on it, but do you have to? Jay Nordlinger at NRO, whom I greatly admire both as a stylist and a political thinker, is sick to death of how art is constantly politicized, and I second the thought. Just play the damn music, and let me make up my own mind as to what it's all about. Or, better yet, relieve the stress on your mind - just let Saint-Saëns tell the story himself. It worked for him. And we don't want you getting a headache from all that thinking, do we?