Monday, October 30, 2006

Bobby's Reflections

By Bobby

I looked at an old column of Mitchell's last week and reflected on the following comments about the state of opera in America, or at least up there in Minnesota :

"Or take Menotti's The Consul, the story of a woman trying to get a passport to escape a totalitarian country. This would seem right up the alley for a company that likes 'message' operas. (And, in fact, the MO [Minnesota Opera] did do The Consul - back in 1979.) You might ask yourself why the MO doesn't revive it? Maybe they can't figure out a way to suggest to the audience that George W. Bush is the leader of Menotti's totalitarian state, I don't know. My point here is that to bring Menotti back (and several opera commentators have mentioned that the time is ripe for a revival of Menotti) It would show something that the MO doesn't often exhibit - creativity. They like to think they do, what with their new, provocative productions - but new doesn't equal creative."

Being someone who was very new into opera at the time (only my third opera attended, and I was 27!), I have always associated The Consul with the Facists or Nazis of World War II. It seemed that was how I saw it because of the time it was written, having a history degree from college.

Unfortunately, in a strange way, what happened has been drilled deep in my brain. A few months later, after my alma mater was trashed in a football game against its rival, I said I was seriously considering suicide, and the next morning at church, I collapsed in the same way as Magda did in the end of Act II, in the room while awaiting everyone else to come from their early rock service. All of it was a joke, and today, if I'm angry, I'll say I am this mad that I'm taking my own life, and then say like Magda Sorel, explaining the humourous line because of the nature of Magda.

Of course, the "punch line" is the lady who played Magda in the performance in question has always known the joke when I say it. (My voice teacher!)

As someone whose parents and grandparents escaped from China to Taiwan in the late 1940's, I can associate it with people escaping from a Communist nation. But after studying facism and the National Socialist Workers' Party of Germany in World War II, I can also associate with those nations.

(As an aside: My voice teacher called me the Monday before The Consul, saying, "Bobby, I need to postpone our (final) voice lesson (of the session). I have to do this scene." After watching Magda's suicide scene, I could understand. Just 21 months previously, she lost her mother to suicide. This was intended to be my last voice lesson with her, as she took a position after graduation in a college in Winter Park, Florida. After signing a deal with her friend for a year, I didn't know what my future vocally would be. Somehow, the homesickness for the palmetto trees erupted during appearances at an opera contest and when her graduate school professor retired, she told her closest confidants -- including myself -- that she was returning to her beloved Palmetto home. Of course, when that was announced, I inked a new deal.)


  1. Great comments, Bobby. And great timing - we've got tickets to the MO's performance of Hoffman this Thursday. And while I'm looking forward to the gorgeous music in ths opera, I don't mind telling you I'm also apprehensive as to what kind of staging abomination the MO's planning to inflict on us this time. I suspect either Judie or I will be reporting back, so stay tuned.


  2. Bobby,
    You make a good point in talking about how you associate The Consul with China and Germany, which raises this question: how effective do you think it is to change the setting of an opera from that in which the composer set it? Can you still maintain the integrity of the story by changing the time and/or place, or do you inevitably put the director's own personal spin on the production, rather than that of the composer?

  3. In many instances, I would not think so, because you have to change so many things when you change the time, and we are not discussing costuming. Some stories are not "set" correctly with anachronisms in many instances when a story is set incorrectly. When a story is set improperly, the flaws will easily be seen.

    One concern I hope will not happen is for directors to attack the President and our brave heroes who are fighting the good fight, especially nailing terrorists and attemping the best to keep Iraq safe from Iranian insurgents makes sense. The Zimmermann Telegraph of 1917 reminds us why we are in Iraq -- attempt to make the world safe. But you don't win games on the opening kickoff, and that's why we're in the fight for the entire match.

    Turning an opera into an anti-American or anti-Christian theme would be highly inappropriate and would even offend many operagoers, including myself.

    The Deutsche Oper incident regarding Idomeneo shows the absurdity of director Hans Neuenfels.

    IMO, such disgusting opera would never have been approved by the great composers, since many wrote songs Solely for the Glory of God. In those days, what was on the stages of the great theatres and opera halls were influenced by the music of the church. In today's era, it has gone completely the other way, with the music of the rock arena influencing the music of the church -- for the worse.

    Adding X-rated themes of which the composers never imagined would destroy the composers' works, since many of these were written for the family to enjoy.

    P. S. Countdown to Messiah - 16 Days to Go! (On November 18, I plan to attend a production of Handel's Messiah by the South Carolina Philharmonic -- my voice teacher is the featured soprano!)

  4. Well put, Bobby. I hope you'll let us know how Messiah goes.

    P.S. The review of Hoffman is now up.



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