Monday, October 8, 2012

What Did Entführung Ever Do To You?

Reri Grist as Blonde - 1980
My readers know I am a fan of reworking the classics. Many new angles and insights are revealed when we rethink tradition.  Sometimes these Regie-rethinkings are crap; sometimes they tell us something vaguely interesting, and sometimes they can be real eye-openers.  No opera is immune to a regie approach, but some get much more attention than others.

Lately, I've been pondering why Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail gets the regie treatment so often. More importantly, why do directors feel free to add and/or delete spoken text willy nilly?

I keep trying to watch Stefan Herheim’s M22 version. He completely discarded the text, and apparently the plot as well. I’ve been working through his Parsifal (there is a lot to absorb), and I’m very impressed. Herheim is smart, talented, and creative. But I cannot get my head around his Entführung. It’s so darned unpleasant at the beginning. Not gross, like the Bieito version, but repellent.

Speaking of Calixto Bieito, who also replaced a lot of the dialog, I recently read a very good discussion (at least I think it was good—instead of English, it was written in I-need-to-publish-something-soon-so-I-can-get-tenured Academese) that convincingly justified Bieito’s interpretation of Entführung.* Now I kind of want to see it to satisfy my curiosity. **

On the surface, the plot of Entführung is kind of icky and yes, confusing. But is there really any good reason to make it ickier and more unpleasant? Well, apparently making it ickier worked to sell tickets to the Bieito production. I am all for new interpretations, but I don't really appreciate graphic violence (or even simulated graphic violence). 

Admittedly I don’t know this opera that well. I used to have a complete recording, but mostly I am only familiar with selected musical bits. So before I start to seem really prudish (I’m really not), I'll wrap up this post and take a look (and listen) at a traditional staging and maybe write a review. Then try out some newer interpretations.

This is the DVD I am watching now: We don't get a full monty Osmin, but barichunk fans will appreciate seeing Martti Tavela from the waist up, taking a bath at the top of Act 2. And Reri Grist is either wonderful or terrible, depending on which review you read. Edita Gruberova from 30+ years ago is marvelous and Francisco Araiza does a great job, too! Stay tuned for my full review. 

While you are waiting for said review, I'll link you to fellow blogger Earworm's discussions of three very different productions (from each other, and from this one) of Entführung.***

Blonde explains to Osmin how to treat a lady.

Were they true or untrue? C'mon, guys! 
I can see why a director might take issue 
with this rather inelegant flip-flop.
(I love the English—very English—translation!)

Full review of the above recording of
Die Entführung aus dem Serail – Munich, 1980

*I went back to that book to see what changed my mind. It turns out it 
wasn't anything specific about Bieito's production, but more what the author said in general about re-imagining opera. Someday I will slog through the book again and try to do a brief review. If I were retired, I would undertake the project of translating it from Academese to standard English, as I think there are some really helpful thoughts in there, but they are mired in (what I consider) unnecessarily complicated, obscure, and alienating language. I guess since I am blathering on about the book, I should tell you what it is:  Unsettling Opera: Staging Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Zemlinsky by David J. Levin. It's fascinating, but a very tough read!

**The only video I can find is a trailer on YouTube; and actually, that manages to pack a lot of grossness into just over a minute. (The trailer is NSFW-not safe for work, and not recommended for sensitive folks; frankly it bothers me. There's also an amateur 6-minute video of the overture that focuses exclusively on the trapeze artist. Yawn.)

***The "one with the double cast" is also one of the examples in the above book. 

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