Tuesday, May 13, 2008

He Just Stares at the World

**I didn't seek internet access over the weekend, so while this is the second post that I'm just posting now, both this and the post that precedes it were written over the weekend.**

Exiting the Staatsoper and heading north on Unter den Linden towards Alexanderplatz, I removed my glasses, which I had been wearing for the last several hours during Mozart’s Don Giovanni (directed, once again, by you-know-who, Daniel Barenboim), and the city gained a Hollywood movie type glow – the kind that tells you “You are in a city!” by demonstrating that things are going to fast for there be time to focus the lens or capture the light correctly. I find opera to be really quite interesting before even considering individual performances, so I do tend to find myself thinking that opera should be more vital to more people, and I felt this way again tonight, walking home through this Hollywood movie to my room in Prenzlauer Berg (it’s not much of a mountain though – would barely qualify as a hill in Pittsburgh (and, incidentally (yes, exactly the kind of “incidentally” that calls for yet another set of imbedded parentheses), several people that I have met here in Berlin this time around – a Canadian and a Brit – have heard of Pittsburgh for its city stairs, which seems a bit strange to me (I expect them to have heard of Pittsburgh for its collapsed industry, if anything (“Pittsburgh: Gateway to the Rust Belt”)).)).

And this thought – that opera should be more vital to more people – is actually directly tied to film, or Hollywood movies, at any rate. Since, you know, like, movies totally took over from opera on the whole Gesamtskunstwerk tip (though, of course, others (e.g. P. L.-L.) out there like to point out that the Nazi-time in Germany was the end-all of Gesamtkunstwerke, and (movies) are super popular et cetera et cetera. But Don Giovanni, all theory and reasons why I like opera and find it interesting aside (though I would like to mention that my bordering-on-passion for opera (people that were in either of the workshops I was in this past year in school (none of them read this blog (I don’t think)) will attest to that (the bordering-on-passion)) is directly correlated to my spending time in Berlin), is better than most movies, and I really think it could be perceivable as so by a wider audience.

Don Giovanni jumps right into its action, is quickly paced, and features a generally charismatic and bad-ass main character, plus has an awesome ending. And the music, being Mozart, is easy to follow without being cloying or trite. This particular staging (designed by Peter Mussbach) also seemed to me to exist in direct relation to the fact that movies (and television) exist. My seat was a hoerplatz – partial view – but I could see enough of the stage to get a sense of its look. There was only one set, which consisted of large black rectangular blocks that slowly moved around in various ways. There were only a handful of accessories in use, and the characters were generally well aware of these giant scene-forming rectangles, often considering them as they sang, often with looks of consternation and confusion – Donna Elvira at one point actually went so far as to don (ha!) a pair of glasses to scrutinize the surface of one of the walls. To me, the scene-less scenery bespoke of the problem of the unreal-real of cinema verite or its total-bastard cousin Reality TV – the opera is better off abstracting things to the point of total obliteration and letting its characters interact with that nothingness than try to compete with the reality of other cultural outputters.

The fact that this staging of Don Giovanni was so successful calls into question the lack of quality of the unreal-reality of sound film (so to speak) and television. Mozart and Da Ponte are so successful in creating the world of this opera, that a wedding party and a graveyard can both be represented by the same two massive black rectangles. Though the costumes were a bit problematic to me – they seemed a bit too dependent on Hollywood imagery (a sort of Film Noir after the hyper-slickness of The Matrix). Though at the same time, the fact that the costume design was so clearly Hollywood inspired helps to ground my argument about the set design in the first place – the problem is mainly that with such minimal sets, the costumes and accessories carry more weight than they might, so they can’t be seen as just placeholders or clues or whatever.

The fact that Mozart is actually so entertaining is also helpful – there’s no real need to even speak of Gesamtkunstewerke with Mozart, and we can remind ourselves that Opera needn’t be mangled by the Wagnerian project. I think it’s going to be interesting to watch how the Marvel Comics movies continue to unfold, since it seems to me that they are embarking on a serious aesthetic project. I saw Iron Man right before I left the country, and though it was quite good and entertaining as a super hero movie, it was really conservative, and seemed designed for conservative audiences. With Marvel regaining control of the comic stories it had previously sold off and making everything through their own studio, they are exerting a level of control over an incredibly popular universe of stories that seems to me to be a Hollywood equivalent of Bayreuth (I am, admittedly, leaving this thought way too underdeveloped (it may not be worth pursuing (it would probably sound better over a couple of pints))). The main concern being that if they continue to make such wholeheartedly conservative films as Iron Man, then a wider and wider audience will come under that influence. When Iron Man 2 (or The Avengers, or whatever) comes out, we gotta get all the kids out there to go to the opera instead.


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