Opera Direction, Revisited
In Sunday's paper: Four Ways of Looking at Wagner's Ring, by Anne Midgette
On Sunday, I wrote a piece about four different directors’ views of the Ring. That piece represents the merest tip of the iceberg of four notably stimulating conversations, and I plan to continue to reveal a bit more of the iceberg on this blog in the days ahead.
But I've also been enjoying the ongoing discussion of stage direction in the comments section of this recent blog post. One comment that particularly stuck in my mind came from ACD (whose blog is well worth a look), who wrote
an opera director can do any bloody thing it strikes him to do in order to evocatively realize a dramatically and aesthetically effective translation of the composer's score (music and text) into its concrete physical realization on the stage so long as what the director does is consonant with the score at every point, and contradicts or diverges from it at none.
What ACD says is quite right. It also touches on a point that’s central to all attempts to present opera of the past in the present, which is: Who gets to be the arbiter of what “is consonant with the score at every point, and contradicts it or diverges from it at none”? What is the yardstick? I have seen some productions where I thought a radical interpretation was convincingly "consonant with the score" (like Deborah Warner’s “Don Giovanni”), but other viewers did not. Some of the discussion between the other commenters on this post shows how differently ideas of what is "consonant with the score" can be interpreted. The Ring in the DC Metro? "Falstaff" in a parking lot? "The Flying Dutchman" in a contemporary seaport city? (That one is Katharina Wagner's, and I know that if I'd only heard a description of it, rather than seeing it in person, I would never have believed how effective it actually was.) Of such stuff is heated - and productive - debate made.
I actually think that most good directors are trying to find interpretations that accord with the score. In fact, I think most good directors see many of the same themes in a given piece. One thing that struck me about my recent round of interviews was that each of the four directors I spoke to - Francesca Zambello, Stephen Wadsworth, Otto Schenk and Achim Freyer - said that he or she was primarily interested in the characters of the "Ring" as people, rather than as gods or symbols. Yet that primary interest became the basis of four radically different interpretations.
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