Thursday, 9 August 2012

Staging Baroque: What is Correct?

A scene from Hippolyte et Aricie at Opera de Paris
Photo Agathe Poupeney/Opera National de Paris
In a recent article for The New York Times, Zachary Woolfe takes a look at recent restagings of Baroque operas and asks some very big questions about the decisions artists make when they put these classics onstage.

Perhaps the hardest question to answer: was this production correct?

The Baroque repertory, Woolfe writes, is defined by its precision and stylistic rigor (its correctness). But executing that today without a point of reference is a huge challenge for contemporary opera artists.

"Most can agree that there are elements that should be present in Baroque opera, broad principles that should be observed, like the tension between restraint and release, the exhilaration of spectacle, both embrace of artifice and depth of feeling. But there is no agreement about how to observe them. It took many decades and the arduous work of Baroque opera's advocates to insert the works of the period firmly in the contemporary repertory. They won. Now what?"

"Baroque style was about illusion and extravagance, and opera - then a new medium, multidimensional and multisensory - was perhaps its ideal form. Yet it is nearly impossible now to imagine the stimulation provided by theatrical performance in a world far more visually and sonically muted than our own, just as it is hard to imagine the impact Beethoven's symphonies had when they were the loudest sounds their listeners heard all year....Should performances of Baroque opera seek to recapture the dazzling impact these works once had? If so, how? The same effects wouldn't astonish in the same way now, so should it involve reinvention? Or should the goal of productions be a kind of scrupulous conservation, a presentation of the operas as they were that lets audiences fill in the difference?"

You can read Woolfe's full article here. As you ponder what correct means to you, enjoy this video from CMC's last Underground/Opera: Orlando/Lunaire. If you don't think it was correct, bring it up with Ashiq :)

Orlando/Lunaire Distilled from Patrick Eakin Young on Vimeo.

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