Sunday, October 28, 2007

Passion at the Opera

Well! Pretty Lady is mildly bemused to report that, contrary to lifelong precedent, she has today created somewhat of a Public Scene. She screamed, to tell the truth, at a Total Stranger. Moreover, she was not cut off in traffic; she was not given an Unjust Citation; she was not subject to physical violence of any kind, nor were any of her loved ones. No, the person who aroused the sudden Flaming Ire, such that Pretty Lady did not know she possessed, was a mere, diminutive opera director.

It is not that Pretty Lady is such an extreme fan of opera, as an art form. Just yesterday she was explaining to her Gentleman Friend that she is more inclined to change the station during Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, than not. Opera in general strikes her as unduly pompous, schmaltzy and Over The Top.

This does not mean that she has no respect for opera singers, however. The discipline and training required to achieve proficiency in the genre absolutely commands it. A lady or gentleman capable of rendering an aria with grace, clarity and projection is not an individual who one day decided to open his or her mouth and bray; this person, at a bare minimum, has dedicated a decade or two to study and practice, and the concomitant sacrifices thereof. Such a person is, by definition, a Professional.

And Professionals, to Pretty Lady's mind, deserve to be treated professionally.

It does not matter, then, if a hypothetical opera company is operating on a shoestring. It does not matter if the auditorium is furnished with folding chairs and the occasional dumpster-picked sofa. It is immaterial if the entirety of the stage design consists of three lame Powerpoint slides and seven floodlights. As Pretty Lady knows, it is possible to do a great deal of Art on no budget at all; one merely has to be Ingenious and Resourceful.

Thus it is thoroughly, criminally inexcusable for an opera director to produce a pivotal scene wherein the hero sings his dungeon aria--not in chiaroscuro, not in Dramatic Shadow, not in Dim Spotlight--but in utter pitch darkness. In pitch darkness sings the hero, invisible, while seven floodlights brightly illuminate a swath of bare floor in front of him. In illegible, invisible, inscrutable pitch darkness perform three of the main characters, for twenty-five minutes, until the villain comes along, with the self-serving ingenuity to illuminate his own face with a flashlight.

This, friends, is not simply a Risky Choice. This is not a Creative Blunder. This is not explainable by Youthful Ignorance. This is the sort of pigheadedly stupid directorial decision that only arises out of lifelong wilful jack-assery.

For no human being who has ever seen a play in a theatre, let alone an opera at the Met, let alone a high-school musical, would think it apt to render his performers invisible while expending all available wattage upon forty square feet of naked masonite. No human being who possesses the faculty of sight, that is.

Pretty Lady is well aware that some unfortunate humans do not possess this faculty; she does not fault them for it. However, when a person sets himself responsible for a group, and leads that group into a vulnerable position, it is that person's obligation to acknowledge his or her weaknesses, and accomodate those weaknesses in some way, by requesting assistance.

This opera director, Pretty Lady knows for certain, is surrounded by professionals. He has a his command an entire orchestra, two conductors, and a chorus of excellent opera singers, all working for cheap or free. He is in continuous contact with one theatre director and a couple of techies.

The only way that he could possibly have perpetrated such an egregious blunder, then, is if he has made a habit of categorically rejecting all input from all professionals on a subject he knows nothing about. Period.

This is why Pretty Lady felt no compunction about buttonholing this alleged director after the performance and reaming him a new one. She did not Hold Back; she displayed none of her signature Tact and Diplomacy. She dwelt at length upon lack of professionalism, wilful ignorance, and the egoistic asininity of such. She dismissed outright any attempt at plea by poverty. She concluded with a strong statement to the effect that this fool of a director had grossly insulted his own excellent performers, and bid him a curt good-day.

For, dear friends, today the issue is Opera; yesterday and tomorrow the issue is War and Conflagration. A person, she maintains, who has the careers, lives, safety and well-being of others at his disposal is not justified in maintaining a state of pigheaded Denial about his own shortcomings at their expense. A performer is dependent upon a director to light his laboring figure as effectively as possible, within available means; a soldier, a student, a child is equally dependent upon the wise allocation of resources by his own Dear Leader. Dear Leaders everywhere would do well to recall this.


Doom said...

Pretty Lady,

Hmmm, you still seem steamed, so this may not be the best time to say this. I thought the idea was interesting, novel, and exciting. As a (hopefully) some-day engineer, and tinkerer in the meanwhile, though I enjoy some acclaim, I also know that my work isn't always about me. Sometimes, the work, or the song, aria, opera, IS the point. Or more precisely, more often it should be the product, not the professional, which should be the focus. The source really is secondary. Or, that it could and maybe should be, sometimes, is of note.

I won't berate your passion or righteousnous. Perhaps it is good that you believe, in this case, in coloring within the lines. Can you see the artistic license the director used was avant garde(sic?)? Can you not see the risk he took. Still, your passions and sensibilities are yours. And, in this, of course, it is sufficient to be as it may.

Be well.

Pretty Lady said...

Doom, I certainly understand what you are saying, and I agree with you. My point was that this was not at all a conscious risk on the part of the director. I know that it was not conscious, because if he had wanted to focus on the aria in genuine darkness, he would have turned off all the lights.

He did not turn off all the lights; he turned on all the lights and had his performers perform elsewhere. This is not an artistic decision; it is sheer blind cluelessness.

And there is no excuse for cluelessness when a person is surrounded knee-deep in Persons With Clues.

Anonymous said...

Point taken, Dear Leaderette. ;)

My brother and his wife used to work with an amateur opera company that usually performed in (I don't even know how to express this) southern Manhattan. I don't know, SoHo, the Village, Chinatown, somewhere in that general vicinity - north of the Financial District. (Well, all of Manhattan is north of Wall Street.) Anyway, about 15 years ago he was commissioned to write the score for an opera to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first arrival of Columbus in this hemisphere. His librettist was going to use the recorded experiences of a young girl indigenous to the island where Columbus landed for his source. (I believe her name was something like Anacoona. [OO pronounced like two consecutive long Os.]) So, all was good and properly PC. Unfortunately, as the time grew close, the librettist wimped out and left my brother floundering for a solution. He became his own librettist and opted to use Columbus' diary as a source. (Very, very PI.) And changed the opera to an oratorio. A very Christian oratorio. In any event, he (and the company) did pull off the performance. For whatever reason (or reasons), he and his wife broke off their relationship with that company a few months later.

Anyway, afterwards I don't think my brother thought much of his would-be librettist. The man's behavior was not exactly professional.

Pretty Lady said...

afterwards I don't think my brother thought much of his would-be librettist.

NO, really? I can't imagine why.

New York is FULL of people like this. It shocks and astonishes me, how many people there are, tearing around, making Big Promises and pathetically failing to deliver on them, with nary a red face nor an apology. I have finally come to the conclusion that you never, never, never, never, never believe ANYONE when they say ANYTHING, unless you have known them for several years and observed their characters thoroughly.

It's not 'who you know,' it's who you know.

Desert Cat said...

I hate when I'm forced to conclude that someone is "all talk". I hate it. Because I'm always giving people the benefit of the doubt, and I myself prefer to err on the side of underpromising and overperforming.

The couple of times I did not come through with a big promise were mortifying to me, and I still cringe to consider them.

Some people want promises. Some people demand to extract promises. I resist, kicking and screaming if necessary, then usually deliver anyway.

Doom said...

OH! Yes, actually even my blind eyes see the problem now. I must have misunderstood your initial statement(s). Yes, I see the poverty of function, the emptiness of form. Blessings.