Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Curtain Calls and Scene Changes

For some reason, when watching an opera video, I really dislike seeing the curtain calls between scenes and after each act. But I don't mind at all seeing behind-the-scenes stuff.  In the Met HD Elisir, I liked seeing the (excruciatingly long) set change between scenes in Act 1. In the Neuenfels' Lohengrin you can see the chorus getting ready for the final scene, and during the prelude to Act 3, there is a specially produced video of backstage stuff. But those are video-only bits. The audience in the opera house doesn't see that. It's part of the video production. 

This video continues past the Act 3 Prelude. 
The mice/rats singing of the Bridal Procession 
is pretty cool (and yes, a little weird.)

I guess that maybe why it doesn't bother me. Scene changes don't take me out of the drama, because changing the scenery is part of the production. I enjoy the mechanics of theater. Sometimes you even get to see the scenery changes right on stage (e.g., the wonderful Minghella Butterfly) and those changes really are part of the show.  Somehow that artificiality is not distracting to me. 

And if the production is self-conscious about being a production (Neuenfels'  Entführung or Loy's Nozze), it's OK that the actors include the audience in the scheme. Although, ironically,  most of the applause was cut in the video of  Neuenfels' Entführung, and there were no curtain calls at all, which ended up being disturbing in a whole different, but deliberate and effective, way. 

Katharina Wagner's controversial Bayreuth Meistersinger had no curtain calls between acts "due to the nature of this production." I'm not sure what was different to her about that but it worked for me in video form. For the video of Kupfer's  Fliegende Holländer (Bayreuth again), there was no audience present for the taping (ergo, no curtain calls), although it is a live performance. I have to admit it was slightly disturbing (as in the Entführung) to have absolutely no applause at the end

In Guth's Ariadne, Zerbinetta acknowledges the audience reaction to her  bravura  Grossmächtige Prinzessen, and that's fine because it's Zerbinetta taking a bow, not Elena Mosuc. In that production, one is never quite sure whether the opera portion is an opera performance or the representation  of an opera performance. 

Elena Mosuc as Zerbinetta, toasts her audience's ovation 
and acknowledges the Maestro.

In that Ariadne and in Robert Carsen's Toscathe leading lady's first curtain call actually is staged as part of the performance (In both cases, the leading lady is, of course, an opera diva.)

Emily Magee as Tosca, taking Tosca's curtain call. 

But I hate it when the singers break the fourth wall and step out of character to acknowledge the audience's applause. These mid-act, between-scenes, and between-acts curtain calls are an intrusion on the drama. In another Entführung production, Edita Gruberova even takes a bow in the middle of the act, after Marten aller Arten. I mean, she was wonderful, but really, couldn't she at least have waited till the end of the act? 

In the Don Carlo I am watching now, Agnes Baltsa does a good job of staying in character during the between-the-scenes curtain call. But is she staying in character as the vengeful Eboli? Or is she really just as annoyed as I am by the way this particular operatic convention intrudes on the drama? 


  1. "In that production, one is never quite sure whether the opera portion is an opera performance or the representation of an opera performance." I liked that about Guth's Ariadne as well: the line between theater and reality was so blurry. It was great. (And Magee was a terrific Ariadne)

    I'm not a huge fan of curtain calls in the middle of acts either - it does seem like the appreciation (however well deserved!) can wait.

    1. Of all my opera DVDs, that Ariadne is the one I go back to most often. Sometimes to view the entire opera, and other times just to pop around to different scenes. I have to say I mostly only see the mid-act curtain calls in "older" videos (before 1990)

    2. This is another manifestation of the infuriating habit of some concert goers at popular music events who drown out the start of any song they recognise with applause, almost as if to say "Aren't we clever, we recognised the intro before anyone else...."

    3. Yes, yes! And then there are the ones who start to applaud before the music ends.


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