Monday, May 24, 2010

A Figaro for Corigliano

I went to see Northwestern University's production of The Ghosts of Versailles yesterday, an opera that you don't get to see too often (the Met did it twice, which is not bad for a commissioned piece). John Corigliano is a great modern composer, and I quite enjoyed the opera, even if I am a traditionalist who likes crap like, y'know, melody. It's a very referential little opera, since it picks up Figaro from Rossini and Mozart's operas and throws him into the French Revolution -- that is, the ghost of Beaumarchais throws him in there and then follows him in! It's not quite Stranger than Fiction, but probably the biggest laugh of the performance came when Beaumarchais shouted, "Singers aren't supposed to think!"

There's some quite beautiful music, mostly in the duets. I more often find myself quibbling over the libretti of modern operas, which sometimes stink! Sellars, for example, is incredibly uneven. This one wasn't bad, though I think it was trying to make too many reflections about 1) love, 2) love, 3) the nature of existence, 4) art, 5) history, 6) the artist as a dead man, and I don't know what else in there, using the French Revolution as a kind of prop and totally ignoring issues of, oh, class and freedom that arise even in the Rossini and Mozart. As an aria of villainy, I have to say that "Long live the worm" really falls very far short of, for example, "La calumnia e un venticello" (Slander is a little breeze [that becomes a storm]) from the first Figaro opera, The Barber of Seville. Not to mention that Rossini's patter music is far superior to Corigliano's, which was very Gilbert and Sullivan, and not in a good way.

In any case, the opera really was very good, and the students did themselves proud. I am annoyed that I didn't know that Corigliano was coming in for a talkback on Friday night -- I would have gone! Oh well.

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