Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Subtle Exercise of a Much-Needed Judgment Call

I have to say that, as far as my personal tastes are concerned, the most interesting part of Anthony Tommasini’s review for The New York Times of Bartlett Sher’s new staging of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore for opening night at the Metropolitan Opera had nothing to do with the production. Rather, it concerned how he turned his assessment of the performances of Anna Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecien into a punch line for the entire text:
Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Kwiecien will be back on opening night next season. No, not another Donizetti, but a new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Thank goodness.
I am not sure what Tommasini’s intentions behind those last two words were, but I know exactly what they meant to me. I took it as a backhanded citation of the last staging of this opera, which was broadcast on PBS, featuring Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a production staged by Robert Carsen.

Now I shall be the first to admit that contemporary opera productions have been laboring under some really stupid conceptions, some of which disregard the music, others distract the audience, and some even seem oblivious to the narrative in the libretto itself. Carsen’s Onegin seemed to explore every possible opportunity to provoke, ranging from squeezing the waltz scene into a claustrophobic rectangular area on the vast Met stage to having Fleming romp through a pile of dead autumn leaves at the end of her letter aria (which is supposed to take place in her bedroom). It is hard to imagine a staging of Onegin being any worse; but, where new productions are concerned, “Be careful what you wish for” has become the new rule of thumb!

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