Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The armchair critic strikes again

The notes below may be of some interest to others but they are not intended to influence anyone.  They are just a reminder to me of some things I have been thinking recently.

I have always had music beside my bed but I have recently added a DVD setup so I can watch videos of opera and ballet in bed. So I am not so much an armchair critic as a bedborne one!

I usually go to bed at a routine time even though I am not yet fully tired.  That means I do have time to listen to music or watch things on video.  I have drinkies until Tanqueray carries me off to the land of nod.  Tanqueray was also the Queen Mother's favoured drop and she lived to be 101.  So let the health freaks get their heads around that one!

Two DVDs I watched recently were Australian performances of Madama Buttlerfly by Puccini and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.

I did not like the Puccini at all.  It was an extreme example of a "modern" staging -- set outdoors in some Sydney park.  I loathe anachronistic settings.  The sets and costumes are meant to help you get the story but guys in modern business suits walking around a Sydney park told me nothing.  It might have helped if there were English subtitles but there were not.  And Puccini's music is no good.  With Handel and Mozart the music is engaging throughout but Puccini's music is mostly pedestrian. He does some great arias but they are rare. I am afraid that I am not big on 19th century opera at all.  Opera/oratorio for me mostly stretches from Monteverdi to Mozart.  But in the 20th century Philip Glass also does well at times.

Swan Lake was much better.  It is amazing how well choreographers can convey a story without words.  The sets were rather minimalist but fitted in well enough.  And Tchaikovsky's music is of course always superb.  Once again the men were mostly in modern suits rather than in the 19th century garb that Tchaikovsky would have envisioned but it was not too distracting in the circumstances.

When people comment on Swan Lake they mostly comment on the dancing, not the story.  Yet the story is an engaging one.  It is the old old story of a married man and the "other" woman.  I rather related to that for reasons that are probably too indelicate to discuss.  I have been cheerfully monogamous for most of my life but there were other episodes in times past.  And I rather liked the "other" woman in the ballet.  I would have had her.

But there was some fabulous dancing.  I didn't realize the heights to which Australian dancers could rise. I found the asylum scene in Act 2 disturbing.  Knowing of the real life abuses in psychiatric institutions it was a bit too real for me.  And the exaggerated wimples on the nuns were both amusing and yet appropriate somehow.  Kudos to the costume department.

The scene when the newly-wed wife catches her husband kissing the other woman amused me.  In response to being caught the danseur does the strangest dance in order to get himself out of the situation.  It reminded me of John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks.  It rather cracked me up.  I imagine it was supposed to portray his agony of soul or some such but I could not take it seriously at all.

But definitely a credit-worthy production overall.

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