Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Grumble about Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne is of course the pinnacle of the opera experience in England and I myself went down to Glyndebourne once -- in 1977 accompanied by the beauteous Susan Brooks and wearing a suit kindly lent to me by the quietly affable Hyman Katz of Baker st. I go to opera/ballet for the music, however. Opera libretti are usually absurd and I cheerfully accept that.

Anne and I have recently finished watching the three DVDs of Giulio Cesare which she bought at Glynebourne while she was there recently. Handel's music is of course superb and the singers and orchestra did full justice to it. But the staging was somewhere between absurd and obnoxious. I suppose it was inevitable but Glynedbourne has fallen victim to the cancerous modern conceit that the producer of a show has every liberty to show his HIS creativity in how he presents the play/opera. And he usually shows how creative he is NOT.

The clot concerned in this case seemed to think that having airships and steamships in the background of an opera set in ancient Egypt was somehow clever -- not to mention the revolvers, rifles, sunglasses, cocktail dresses and pith helmets. Why is deliberate anachronism clever? I have no idea.

And particularly in Act 3 a lot of the arias were sung with the actors lying on the ground. How is that for moronic choreography? Most of the live audience would have been able to see nothing at such times.

Glyndebourne is of course known for Mozart performances and Mozart operas are mostly in the opera buffa genre. And such operas can perfectly well be staged in modern settings. I think Glyndebourne should either stick to Mozart or avoid anachronisms. That does not seem to me to be a particularly hard choice.

As for me, I now play the DVDs with the video off. The staging is just a distraction from Handel's marvellous music. And Cleopatra's long triumphant aria towards the end of Act 3 is particularly superb (Track 19 if you have the DVD).