Thursday, March 19, 2009

Every Narrative Deserves an Opera

Narratologists are not particularly given to such things as party stunts, but there does seem to be an ongoing game concerned with conjuring up a narrative analysis of Karl Marx' Capital. Nevertheless, if we are to believe a report by Colin Freeman of the London Telegraph there seem to be some Chinese willing to take such a narrative approach seriously:

Normally disdained by revolutionaries as a bourgeois art form, the show's producers insist that in the confident, modern-day People's Republic, opera is a novel way to explain the proletariat's triumph in the class struggle.

"The particular performance style we choose is not important, but Marx's theories cannot be distorted," said director He Nian, in an interview with China's Wen Hui Bao newspaper.

Mr He, who is best known for a stage adaptation of a martial-arts spoof, plans to open the production in Shanghai next year, and will borrow elements from Broadway musicals and Las Vegas shows. There will, however, be no trivialisation of the book's core messages: an economist from a local university has been asked to ensure that it remains intellectually respecful of Marxist doctrine.

To that end, audiences can expect a storyline that appears to be only marginally racier than the original Das Kapital, a dense, 1,000 page tract which has traditionally tested the commitment of even the most ardent Communist reader.

The opera's plot will involve a business where workers begin to realise their boss is exploiting them. They then embrace the Marxist theory of surplus value. Far from uniting to overthrow the established order, though, some of the chorus line mutiny, others continue as they are, while some engage in collective bargaining. Mr He insists it will be "fun to watch".

I personally take the Telegraph seriously enough to have set up my own blog there (as I recently reported). On the other hand it was through the Telegraph that I learned that the Royal Opera House was planning a new opera about Anna Nicole Smith (with a composer whose work I already knew); so I have to wonder whether the Telegraph has some long-range plans building up to April Fools' Day. Given He's assessment, we should ponder whether an opera about Anna Nicole will be more "fun to watch" than one based on Capital. Since the first volume already runs to 1000 pages, does this mean that the opera will only cover that volume? Is there a long-range plan for a trilogy, perhaps with a "prologue" opera based on "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," thus providing opera lovers with a Ring cycle for our times? What kind of hilarity may we expect to ensue over the coming opera seasons around the world?

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