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Monday, October 8, 2007

Let's Not and Say We Did

Geez, I've been watching a lot of opera on DVD lately. Don Giovanni, directed by Peter Sellars, is as great as you might expect, which is to say it might make you sick to your stomach. I felt that way about his Così fan tutte, which doesn't even have any raping in it. Boris Godunov, conducted by Gergiev (again), in the Andrei Tarkovsky production, is really sublime theatre. Even Inferno by Dario Argento has a little bit of opera in it, but that's a whole 'nother post. Anyways, all of this is at least worth watching, at best great. One video NOT to watch is the Peter Weigl DVD of Let's Make an Opera by Benjamin Britten. Anyone who has seen Weigl's somewhat crappy videos of The Turn of the Screw or Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk might have suspected that Weigl had the potential to accomplish something profoundly wretched. His Let's Make an Opera is not only worse than Mtsensk, worse than Screw, it is--I say this totally without hyperbole--worse than murder. Seriously, it is worse than a human body lying facedown in a ditch. Now, I'm not one to be over-critical of opera DVDs. I reallyh tend to be thankful for whatever I can get. But I'm sad to say that the video adaptation of Let's Make an Opera is far worse than no adaptation at all. The piece itself is a wonder of concision, with a tiny cast, brief action, and an "orchestra" made up of just a string quartet plus two pianists and percussionist. (How tiny is the cast? So tiny that the audience has to double as the chorus--the opera's second part doubles as their rehearsal for the finale. See? Concision!) Confronted with the problem of how to translate near-perfect economy to the small screen, Weigl has devised a brilliant solution: lard it up with a bunch of totally irrelevant bullshit. Watch this.

Discerning viewers may have noticed that the above has absolutely nothing to do with Let's Make an Opera by Benjamin Britten. Almost none of the characters are from the original piece, none of the action is in the original stage directions, and most horrifyingly, none of the music is from the original score. Which wouldn't be quite so offensive if it weren't so bad. It's as if Weigl realized just before filming that the piece was too short for feature-length treatment and hurriedly engaged the cast and crew of the Bel Ami production filming next door--hairless Czech beefcake, cheap synths, and ludicrously asynchronous lip-synching of the spoken dialogue. And people, there is SO MUCH MORE of this garbage on the DVD. I've posted only half of the prologue above, and literally every other scene in the video is one more embarrassing, cobbled-together interpolation.

Avoid at all costs.

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