Monday, October 22, 2012

DVD Extras – The Making of...

I know a composer who is reluctant to provide program notes, feeling that the work should speak for itself.  In so many cases, art does speak for itself. But sometimes art needs a little help, especially when it comes to Regieoper

Kušej does not, in fact, tell us why
the Three Ladies are blind. Sigh.
Personally, I am a firm believer in program notes. I don’t need a step-by-step walkthrough of the piece, but a little background would be nice so the audience isn't going in blind. 

Dear Mr. Producer/Director:

Give me a general idea what is your point in making Count Almaviva president of his car company, or:

    • Why did you decide to stage Ariadne in a restaurant?
    • Why are Tamino and the Queen of the Night rolling around on the floor together?
    • What the heck were you thinking when you staged Theodora as some sort of concert/opera/semi-staged oratorio/hybrid thingie?
    • What all this about Rinaldo in a boarding school?

          Enter the DVD Extras! Circumstances vary surrounding opera broadcasts and their subsequent release on video. Sometimes there are no extras. But when someone went to the trouble to interview the artists, or provide an introduction to the opera, let me have it! One of the coolest things about the M22 set is there is a “making of…” for nearly every opera. It really helps!
          This Zurich Zauberflöte benefits greatly from the TV special that comes with the DVD set. My favorite bits are viewing the set from the flies while chatting with the designer, and the strange but interesting interview with Martin Kušej.  It was also kind of cool to find out that Alice Harnoncourt gets to play in the orchestra when her spouse conducts. 
          I like to usually view these as intermission features, but I think it’s worth checking this out before viewing the opera. It may not explain everything but I think it helps.

          In addition to gaining insight to this production, I learned two other things from this "making of..." feature:
          1.     Opera singers, makeup artists, designers, directors, and orchestra players can be just as boring as regular people.
          2.     So can Swiss TV interviewers, who can ask the stupidest, most vacuous, most uniformed questions imaginable. I now know what it would be like if the E News team of Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic did the Met backstage interviews. Heaven help us! (Of course, opera singers interviewing opera singers can be superficial and boring, too; but I'll save that discussion for a different post.)


          1. "Opera singers, makeup artists, designers, directors, and orchestra players can be just as boring as regular people." Yes, yes yes. I have made this sad discovery many times - I always have this idea that artists that are insightful while singing or playing are going to have insightful things to say, too, and this does not always turn out to be true.

            Re: DVD extras - I actually tend to avoid these. Sometimes I prefer my own explanations - more fun that way! (On the other hand, I do probably miss out on interesting things sometimes . . ..)

          2. Figuring stuff out is fun. But I am the kind of guy who likes to know "who done it" right up front, then see all the stuff that led up to it.

            I also love all the backstage stuff (even when the people have nothing really to say.) I think there's a big difference between backstage interviews that are immediately before or during the performance - when the performers are in a hurry and/or distracted (imagine that! They might be thinking about their performance or something) and ones that take place at other times. The M22 "Making of" vids were all done during rehearsals. And so were Glyndebourne Cosi cast and director interviews. In those situations the subjects are more or less relaxed and have time to chat, and consequently the interviews are more substantive.

            I think my love for all the backstage stuff is why I particularly enjoy opera productions that are basically about the opera: The Paris Capriccio, the Neuenfels Entfuhrung, etc.

          3. Don’t bemoan the lack of extras, for there is actually no need of them. Don’t even bother to consult them if they are present. They are a smokescreen. There is a single, overarching reason for every mysterious contrivance in opera production in the modern age: the angst-driven, corner-of-the eye, nerve-shredding psychosis that commands every new production to surpass in the outlandish, the bizarre and the grotesquely inappropriate all that has gone before.


          Comments are very welcome! They won't be moderated; but rude, abusive, and/or radically off-topic posts will be removed.

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