Estival Festivals: IV. Santa Fe
In today's Washington Post: Natalie Dessay's "Traviata" and the world premiere of "The Letter" at Santa Fe, by Anne Midgette.
Monteverdi's "Ulisse" at Wolf Trap, by Mark J. Estren.
I have been going to the opera in Santa Fe for almost 30 years, and it always holds a special place in my affections. The new general director Charles MacKay, who is a Santa Fe native, appears to be hitting the ground running, and the festival seems to me in good shape even though I wasn't crazy about the operas I saw.
But here's a question that recurred during both "The Letter" and "Traviata": Why are audiences, artists, and production teams ready to jettison their usual sense of drama when it comes to opera? It doesn't take any special powers of perception to see that the 1940 film of "The Letter" is highly dramatic and the opera that premiered this weekend is not; why is it that we tend to be indulgent of opera not meeting the same standards as a stage play? And Bette Davis's performance, though in ways over the top, also displays a kind of restraint that is utterly foreign to Natalie Dessay, who as Violetta epitomized the kind of frantic non-acting that is today heralded (and not only from Dessay) as the pinnacle of the "new" operatic achievement. Why is it that in opera we are ready to accept this kind of thing as art?
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