Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A View from the Bridge


It seems almost cruel, readers. The morning after I've suffered through 2.5 hours of some of the dreariest opera ever (and believe me that's saying something), I come here and whinge about it. They say that misery loves company, but surely my own misery will not be attenuated simply because I make you miserable. What can I say? Sucks to be you. (I apologize in advance for using "dreary" so frequently, but it could not be helped.)

On the other hand, I have included some pretty pictures, beginning with a picture of the thoroughly delicious (I don't know from personal experience, but I have to assume that's literally true: is there any part of him you wouldn't bite into?) Christopher Meloni playing Eddie Carbone in the stage version of A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Meloni nor any other thoroughly delicious thing was in evidence last night, when I sat through the operatic version of A View from the Bridge at the Kennedy Center, but I'll get back to that momentarily. First, some eye candy.
I sometimes have trouble remembering the names of things (and people: I spent a day and a half in Italy trying to remember Helen Mirren's name; in case you're wondering, it's "Helen Mirren"), so when b&c mentioned that we were going to see AVftB, I had a sense that I might have seen a student production of it at MIT. When I got my program last night and read the plot summary, it all came vividly back to me. Slightly more than twenty years ago, I went to the Kresge Little Theater at MIT and saw the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble put on a stunning production of the play. I still remember a great many images and sequences from that production. I don't even know whether the Shakespeare Ensemble (or, indeed, the Kresge Little Theater) still exists, but back then, they were a kick-ass ensemble, and I saw them do very well a lot of Shakespeare and a few other things, including the Miller.

I was thinking back over that performance last night before the curtain, and I couldn't help wondering why anyone would want to make it into an opera. Then I read some of the program notes from the composer, William Bolcom, who said that he had initially wondered the same thing before finding the earlier version of the play and becoming convinced that it needed an operatic treatment. He should have gone with his initial impulse. Time for more eye candy.
It's not that the story in AVftB is poorly suited for opera: it's extremely well suited for opera. The problem is more that, as b&c says, "people have got to stop writing music for words and get back to writing words for music." Bolcom started with the earliest version of the play as the basis for the libretto and then composed to it. The result is a whole lotta recitative sung to unpleasant music. Every time either of the sopranos sings a piece of dialog, Bolcom has her go up to really high notes on words that really don't seem to call for a higher pitch. I can only assume that he knew I'd be having trouble staying awake. It worked: no one could sleep through that. The recitative is interrupted by the occasional song, but with the exception of the first act tenor aria, the songs are unrelentingly dreary. The dreariest of these is "A Ship Called Hunger," the second act bass baritone aria. Bolcom apparently through that in because the second act -- much more tightly paced and dramatic than the lugubrious first act -- had actually generated a lot of momentum, and he needed to bring it to a standstill. The unfortunate (and kind of cute) bass baritone singing Marco is forced to sound like a shovel scraping across a bed of gravel. When we were walking out of the theater, I was quite worked up about that aria. I believe I called Mr. Bolcom a "tenor-loving queer basher." I am sick, sick, sick to death of gravelly bass arias. Mozart wrote good bass arias. Gershwin wrote good bass arias. Jerome Kern wrote "Old Man River." It can be done. So why does anyone want to take the beautiful bass or bass baritone voice and make it sound like you're killing a grizzly bear with a belt sander? Damn. I need another picture of a scantily clad hottie.
Anyway, b&c may be correct that AVftB is rife for a good operatic treatment, but as I said to him last night, "Right. Because except for the music and the libretto, this one was really great!" And the singers (pity them) were all in good voice. They just had so little to work with. As just one more example, at the beginning of the second act, there are four drunken longshoremen hanging out near the docks. They start to sing, and I thought, "Oh, good, he's going to have some fun with a male quartet." I thought we might get something reminiscent of either madrigals or doo wop, but no such luck. It was yet another minute of tedium. Sort of like doo wop without any of the fun or interesting harmonies.

Worst of all, last night's production (I think it was more the opera than the performance), failed to generate any sympathy at all for its lead character. I'm pretty sure that when I saw the play on stage, I felt both pity and terror, but last night, Eddie Carbone was little more than a douchebag. The staging, in particular, made him look a lot like Archie Bunker, but without any of Archie's lovable parts. Alas. More eye candy.

Anyway, for a story with so much textual and subtextual sexuality, there was precious little sexiness in the production. On the drive home, I was whinging about that to b&c:
Ted: God. You know what that production needed? It needed Erwin Schrott in a jockstrap.
B&c: You mean tonight's performance or the Don Giovanni last week?
Ted: Dude. Can you think of any opera that wouldn't benefit from Erwin Schrott in a jockstrap? Hell, he's a bass. Let him play Zoroaster. In a jockstrap.
B&c: I'm not sure even Erwin could have saved this performance. Would you want to put him through "A Ship Called Hunger"?
Ted: I was thinking more of just having him walk around the stage. At least I'd have been distracted.

Anyway, let's give praise where it's due. Despite the snail pacing of the first act, we were out of the theater and back in the car by 10. Even after having to stop back by my office to pick up my car, I was home by 11, so there was plenty of opportunity for horizontal quality time with b&c. It turns out that an anger fuck is just as hot when you're angry at some random composer as it is when you're angry at the guy you're fucking.

2 comments:

Will said...

I saw the operatic "A View" at the MET several years ago. I didn't have the tremendously negative reaction to it you had, but neither waqs I carried away by it. The production was good and the casting very strong, so I may have had an advantage over you and the rest of the DCaudience.

Kresge Little Theater is still there. The ]Shakespeare Ensemble still exists (for several years part of my job was to design their productions when they were temporarily under the wing of Theater Arts). I was designing for Dramashop and Theater Arts during your time there--did you ever work for either? If you did theater work there we might actually have met.

What up with "Alas, more eye candy"? Eye candy and "Alas" are mutually exclusive--eye candy being something for which one never has to apologize or regret.

The idea of Chris Meloni as Eddie C. is brilliant. The idea of Chris Meloni as anybody or anything is brilliant.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

That's a period, not a comma, between "Alas" and "More eye candy." Alas refers to everything that came before. I may occasionally sigh over eye candy, but it's never a rueful sigh.