Wednesday, June 4, 2008

semi-staged opera

i have become, in recent years, a great fan of opera. i get to new york and the met a couple of times a year, and to whatever opera is in the boston area when it's here.

it's an expensive hobby, even if you get the cheapest seats. and if you don't live in new york or london, there usually isn't a lot around. but the boundaries expand if you get to concert operas--operas which, as their name suggests, are performed as if they were concerts and the singers extensions of the orchestra, standing in place and singing. for me, this has worked fairly well: if you are very familiar with the opera's story, you can follow it well enough, and usually you are provided with a decent explanation in the program. i've seen two at the boston symphony orchestra, conducted by the wonderful james levine. the first, 'moses und aron,' was new to me, but i was able to follow it. the two main singers were extraordinary. they had done this at the Met fully staged, and were able, even in this confined presentation, to display in body language as well as voice the emotional content of the piece. that was last year; this year they did 'les troyens,' a two-opera sequence about the trojan war based on 'the aeneid.' i know the aenead well, so i had my own 'production' visually clear in my mind. what an astounding expereince!

but there's a third kind of production that i've come to cherish--the 'semi-staged' opera. in boston at least this approach has expanded, and often performances defined as 'concert opera' turn out to be semi-staged. usually the singers wear the formal evening wear of the concert opera--gowns and tuxedos. sometimes, as with the yearly Boston Baroque opera, they wear their own clothing, not necessarily formal, and often match the clothing to the character. but in either case, while the orchestra and chorus are on the stage as in any concert, the singers act out the action, even ocassionally with very small props [a small table, a glass, a pen and paper, etc.] most importantly, they don't just stand there; they interact according to the plot. often the women vary their clothing [typically a woman will wear a plain gown, with different shawls or scarves].

these productions tend to be less expensive than fully staged operas, for obvious reasons. sometimes they are far better--large choruses, etc. and they extend the operagoing possibilities for the audience. they engage the imagination, and at the same time enlarge the visual and emotional information. there was a wonderful 'carmen' here recently, semi staged but artfully including the orchestra and chorus into the theatrical elements [in the first act, the vamp carmen flirted not only with the various male characters but with the conductor himself! clever, and leaving no doubt about the character of carmen, and the fate of her doomed conquest don jose.

a wonderful invention, semi-staging!

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