You Can Teach an Old Opera New Tricks… But Is It Really Necessary?

Stephen Wadsworth gives the Met’s <em>Rodelinda</em> a Zeffirelli-strength injection of dramatic activity

But there is still a sense that Baroque operas need to be helped along, that, unembellished, they are essentially boring. The da capo aria form can be relentless in its formal purity: there is an “A” section, followed by a “B” section (often in a contrasting mood) and then a repeat of the “A” section, usually with some degree of ornamentation.

Mr. Wadsworth has been praised for solving this “problem” and making Baroque opera work for a contemporary audience. He directs the arias with lots of action. Something on stage almost always happens to “trigger” the B section, and then something else happens to bring the mood back to A. But grafting a sense of modern dramatic continuity—Stanislavski-style “motivation”—onto a form that predates it sometimes leaves the singers, especially the less talented actors among them, looking less motivated than merely busy.

When Mr. Scholl sang “Dove sei,” when the great mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne used to sing “Vivi tiranno,”: in these moments, performance itself is the point. The content, the emotions, are clear just from the singing.

editorial@observer.com

Comments

  1. PS says:

      The difficult Baroque  Opera Handel’s  Met HD Rodelinde 2011 was absolutely mind bogglingly well done.  The average Opera goer, not critics,  is the one performers should cater to and we, the public have the good sense to know that perfection isn’t mankind’s natural resting place..  Near enough suits us very well indeed if it is as pleasing  in every sense as was this 2011 HD production.

    1. Plixfeld says:

      To, PS…………DITTO DITTO AND DITTO again……………..There is an old saying:  ‘Those who can,  DO………….those who can’t, ‘review’…………….As it, thank God,  the public who buys the tickets……………not always is ‘perfection’ its expectation!….:-)  Again, ‘ditto’ and very well articulated, PS

    2. Plixfeld says:

      To, PS…………DITTO DITTO AND DITTO again……………..There is an old saying:  ‘Those who can,  DO………….those who can’t, ‘review’…………….As it is, thank God,  the public who buys the tickets………not always is ‘perfection’ its expectation!….:-)  Again, ‘ditto’ and very well articulated, PS

  2. I agree with you PS. A lot of critics go waaaay overboard with their reviews. If the public enjoys a performance, that’s all that matters. In fact, sometimes, people like shows not mainly because of the performance, but of something else that makes them feel good – which is what shows are all about, aren’t they?