Friday, March 14, 2008

Kooky cutter

After seeing maybe ten shows and pieces of his, from opera to evening-length works, I remain unconvinced by Mark Morris's genius. The staging of Purcell's King Arthur I saw at City Opera yesterday did not change my mind; When it comes to opera, Morris probably should not be left to his own devices; that is, he should not direct and choreograph. (Big exception: Orfeo, which was pretty great indeed but feels like a fluke.)

Having gotten rid of the plot, Morris staged King Arthur as one kooky tableau after another. His worst tendency—sentimental cuteness—quickly came to the fore and didn't depart for the rest of the evening. While I did enjoy the first-act orgy (who wouldn't?), the show felt pat, pandering, lazy. And still, I applauded just to shush the lone booer. The idea is to encourage experimentation with opera, not deter it. So what if it didn't work? You could close your eyes, block out the silliness on stage and bask in the glorious music. Fine, so it kinda goes against the point of live opera, but you also gotta make the most of what you have.

And the music was beautiful indeed. You may be more familiar with King Arthur than you'd think: Peter Greenaway and his composer Michael Nyman used Purcell, and KA in particular, as the departure point for The Draughtsman's Contract (the cue "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds" is probably the most famous), and back in the early 80s Klaus Nomi had an unlikely European hit with "The Cold Song", from the first act.

Klaus Nomi "The Cold Song"


Tristan said...

I totally agree with you (and with the NY Times, who called Morris fatuous). The entire show seemed like a series of whimsical whims. I thought it was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen. The paper planes that flew over the stage during the final number pretty much summed up the level of thought I perceived in the costumes, direction and choreography.

And yet I have to admit that many in the audience seemed really happy with the show. I'm trying not to rain on other people's parades, but it reminded me of PT Barnum. I guess no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of operagoers, either.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I doubt we'll see this type of cutesy production with incoming City Opera boss Gérard Mortier—he's just announced a Cosí fan Tutte staged by Michael Haneke, and cute is pretty much the last thing you can say about Haneke. Our local opera cranks have four years to prepare. I for one am psyched!