Showing posts with label Terry Gilliam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terry Gilliam. Show all posts

Friday, June 06, 2014

A big "Benvenuto" to Cellini!

It's the deadline from hell. If Benvenuto Cellini hasn't cast his golden Perseus statue by morning, the Pope will have him hanged. But it has to be now that his rival in love arrives, demanding that he fight a duel this minute. In comes his girlfriend, saying she's run away from home and wants to live with him. Her father runs in after her to say no, no, she has to marry the other guy. Then the foundry workers go on strike because they haven't been paid. The project seems doomed. The flames are blazing, the noose is raised and Cellini is running out of time.

What does he do? He sings a big aria about how he'd like to move to the mountains and be a drover instead.

Any creative artist in the audience is won by then - 3/4 of the way through - because this character has such a ring of truth to him. But then, they're probably won anyway. This rip-roaring, totally bonkers, "semi-serious" opera (yes, that is a genre) in Terry Giliam's brand-new staging at ENO is a knockout from overture to final curtain.

Admittedly it is not the greatest opera ever written - sometimes Berlioz nearly drowns in the well of his own ambition (something that meanwhile happens on stage to our slightly stuffy baddy, Fierabosco). Still, it contains several top-notch arias, particularly in the second half, and some stonking choruses, including one that's much of what we usually know as the Roman Carnival Overture, portraying, well, a Roman carnival - and sung at a tremendous lick while stilt walkers, acrobats, a trapeze artist in a hoop and circus fun are going at full tilt all around.

"Applaud and laud all art and artisans!" sings the chorus, raising the roof - and we rather wanted to join in, because here at last is a work of art that praises the creation of works of art, throws its whole weight behind the artist - however dissolute - and declares with enormous conviction and passion that art is a matter of life and death. Here who dares wins. For Cellini, read Berlioz. And for Berlioz, add Gilliam, who seems to have found the perfect piece to suit his own creative personality. Production and music match to a tee: huge-hearted, overwhelmingly warm and generous, ridiculously OTT and full of thrills.

It's less tricksy than Gilliam's take on The Damnation of Faust, and unlike that production he does stick to telling the story. Nor is it excessively Pythonian, despite the part where everyone is dressed up as monks, trying to abduct the soprano (the reference, with mirrors further confusing matters, is more Marx Brothers than Monty Python). Theatricality is everything: giant carnival figures are paraded through the audience, glittery confetti bursts from the ceiling and twirls down upon us, and inspired coups include the set's inspiration from Piranesi, the final unveiling of the great statue, and a rather creative approach to visualising a tuba cadenza.

The words, in a translation by Charles Hart, award-winning lyricist of The Phantom of the Opera, are very wordy, sometimes cumbersomely so, rich in alliteration and certainly not designed to make life easy for the chorus. They are, though, extraordinarily clever at times and their flair matches Berlioz's and Gilliam's in spirit. One magnificent twist finds "Applaud and laud all art and artisans" transformed into "Applaud and laud all tarts and courtesans".

Tenor Michael Spyres is a strong, beefy, bold Cellini in every sense - it's a huge role with some stratospheric moments to which he gives his all. Corinne Winters is extrovert, sassy and in terrific voice as his beloved Teresa; and Sir Willard White as the Pope is as inspired a piece of casting as one's ever seen, besides the glory of his voice. Highlights in the supporting cast include Paula Murrihy as Ascanio, the business manager, who has the second-best aria in the whole piece, and the duo of Nicky Spence and David Soar as the foremen. Applaud and laud Ed Gardner and the orchestra, perhaps most of all, for holding this sprawling virtuoso feast together, turning it into a musical kite and letting it fly.

As for Gilliam and his creative team, they got a standing ovation, turning the convention of 'director's opera' on its head (the creatives' bow is usually when the booing kicks in). I don't know if the former Python is ushering in a new era of director's opera with a very different meaning - ambitious, theatrical stagings that are true to the spirit of the piece and that everybody is itching to see - or if he's a one-off. I suspect the latter. But he really can cut the operatic mustard, so what's next for him? How about a Ring cycle? Go on, Tez. You know you want to.

We don't do star ratings out of five here on JDCMB, but if we did, this would be a six. (Update: my colleague at the Indy doesn't agree and gives it a two. It's five from the Telegraph and four from the Guardian and The Arts Desk.)

If you can't get to a show, go and see the live relay in the cinema on 17 June.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

When is a bat not a bat?

When it's a turkey. Here's my review of the new Die Fledermaus at ENO.

Odd that Bieito's thought-provoking Fidelio was booed and this one wasn't, though the applause was little more than "well done for trying".

We may need a moratorium on jackboots at the opera. Terry Gilliam got away with it in The Damnation of Faust because of the general brilliance of the whole; and The Passenger, by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, was the real thing and couldn't do without them - though notably failed to sell. But in Die Fledermaus? This is getting silly. Next time someone brings gratuitous Nazis into an opera production, I might just stand up in the auditorium and start singing 'Springtime for Hitler'...

There's a serious point to this. If productions fill up with Nazis the minute anything is German or Austrian, it is lazy thinking and becomes a cliche. And if Nazis are reduced to a cliche on the operatic stage, it devalues the horrors that they (and other fascist/totalitarian regimes) have perpetrated. It devalues their victims. Enough, already.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The naked opera-goer?

Undress for the Opera from English National Opera on Vimeo.

A lorralorra bitching this morning around social media re ENO's new Opera Undressed scheme. You guessed it: whaddya know, you don't have to dress up to go to the opera. You pay £25, you get the best seat, you wear what you like, you can download a synopsis beforehand (wow!) and you can go for drinks with some of the performers afterwards. They got Damon Albarn and Terry Gilliam to make the announcement yesterday.

OK, £25 is a very good price for a top seat. Otherwise...haven't we heard it all before? Only about 50000 times.

This business of opera being overdressed and stuffy and too pricey is outdated nuff and stonsense. You have to put it in context. And in the context of London theatre, pop concerts and sporting events, opera is mostly comparable in price, and often cheaper. Ditto for the bar prices - I bought drinks for some friends at a West End theatre during the Olympics and paid a scandalous £25 for three glasses of house white. Most ordinary theatre audiences seem to be over 44 as well; at Richmond last night for a spot of Alan Ayckbourn, I think I was the youngest person there. So what? We have an ageing population, and this will become more noticeable as the next years progress.

As for dress sense, I'd be terrified of turning up to a football match or a pop concert as a newbie in case I'm too old, being over 25, or am wearing the wrong thing. The pop/fashion crowd is a heck of a lot more censorious about the minutiae of one's dress sense than opera-goers, who, honest to goodness, don't give a damn as long as you don't actually smell.

I wasn't particularly aware that anyone does dress up much for ENO. I go to a lot of press nights there and people turn up in anything from smartish dresses to jeans. I usually wear black trousers and a reasonably nice top, which is what I wear most of the time in any case when venturing beyond the comfort zone of my study and pyjamas.

It's not ENO that needs to think of this. Covent Garden is much dressier and they are doing squeaksville. As for the Salzburg Festival...I wore my very best Glyndebourne gear and still felt as if I'd arrived in mountain boots, because there didn't seem to be an evening dress there that'd cost under £800, or a necklace that weighed less than 5kg. At Die Soldaten I chatted to the chap next to me. He was a car mechanic. He'd put on a DJ for the occasion. To him, it was part of the fun.

In the end, the dressing is in the windows. These measures are superficial. What needs to be addressed is the continuing existence of those preconceptions: how/why do people think all this in the first place?

It's a prejudice, and like all prejudices it springs from ignorance. They don't know because they don't go, and they don't go because in order to like music you have first to hear it. And hear it several times, and be familiar with it, and that happens via the radio and TV. Only it doesn't - not where classical music and opera are concerned, not in sunny old Great Britain. Unless the real thing is given regular, prominent air time on mainstream television, ie BBC1, nobody is going to know that these art forms are there, let alone wonder what to wear to attend them. And they're not - only those dumbed-down "reality" or "talent" shows and Apprentice-like contests. (But for possibly a very wonderful opera now and then on Christmas Eve.)

Result of this philistinism? Most people are missing out on some of the most wonderful things in the world. Everyone deserves good music in their lives, of any type they desire. Everybody, being human and having, presumably, a soul, deserves to have that soul nourished. Nobody should ever be fed the idea that they are "not good enough" to be able to appreciate great music. It's there for everyone, and today more plentifully than ever before, if you know which button to press. But if you never hear it, you won't know it's there. The problem isn't just snobbery - it's also inverted snobbery. I'm not convinced the second type isn't the worse one.

That's what needs to be addressed: music and opera in the media, in the environment and in education, as a proud and celebrated part of our own multifaceted culture. Which it is. Sod the dress sense.