Saturday, April 19, 2014

Night at the Opera

I am not really a fan of opera or classical music - enjoyment of Amadeus aside. But I loved Ariadne Auf Naxos (1999), a movie recording a performance of the Richard Strauss opera. The opera is pretty high concept: The richest man in Vienna is throwing a party with 2 entertainments: a heroic opera and a burlesque dance. Due to time constraints, however, they will need to present them simultaneously.

The staging was a lovely mix of modern abstraction and realism - they fit together well because it is set in a rich man's modern abstract home. The opera starts backstage focusing on the Composer of the opera and Zerbinetta the dancer, then moves into the actual performance. I understand that Zerbinetta, the flirty carefree spirit, is considered the best role, but in this performance, the Composer was my favorite. This travesty role (man's role written for a woman) was sung by Sophie Koch, and what lovely singing in such a lovely role.

It's funny, I actually found the staging, action and book more interesting than the music. The Composer is presented as a stuffy, self-important nitwit, who gets distracted by an idea and starts writing beautiful music at the drop of a hat. The Diva who plays Ariadne and the Tenor playing Bacchus look like overstuffed dummies, but sing beautifully, and so on. The librettist von Hofmannsthal hs fun with the themes of popular and pretentious art. There is even some interesting camera work, with the camera, performers and guests mingling together.

As I said, I'm not much of a fan, so I shouldn't judge the music, but I have to say I didn't come out whistling any of the tunes. It barely seemed to start turning over until the opera-in-the-opera took off. But with the great acting, writing and staging, I can't complain.

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