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Breaking it down

We have officially opened here in Geneva, with an emotional opening night audience to say the least. I don’t think there was any doubt that the performance was received quite rapturously, but, as seems to be predictably common, the production was met with a torrent of – displeasure – shall we say. I hesitate to say too much, because it seems a bit taboo for an artist to speak out on such things, and I do believe to a certain extent that the audience should be presented with an interpretation, and left to decide how they feel about it all on their own. However, I have been in the audience when I felt completely lost and would have greatly appreciated a bit of insight as to what was going on up on the stage, so I’ve opted to give people the chance to get some basic information before attending, for better or for worse!

So, let me first break down our production here in Geneva just a bit, and then let’s have a discussion about the bigger picture. However – this is a spoiler alert!! If you don’t wish to have the details on our production, please do stop reading, and scroll to after the photos for my thoughts. If you would like some insider scoop, keep reading. (and reading!)

The first thing to address, is that our director, Christof Loy, has changed the ending and as a result has taken a few liberties with the score. Elena does not end up with Malcom, but instead with the King. Right, wrong, misguided or brilliant, it is how our show ends.

(**All photos are © of Monika Rittershaus and may not be reprinted without permission)

Elena dreams of love at the start of her journey. She is a kind of worker, set-up girl in a local lodge, which is the central meeting point for the town’s provincial choir rehearsals, meetings, receptions, etc, and houses a small stage where they can put on local shows. She is very much a wall flower, frightfully shy, fragile, and while she wants to be a part of things, she instead lives inside her dreams and fantasies where she feels safe. She sneaks onto the “stage” when no one is around, finding a story within herself that gives her a sense of being alive. Her reticence is even more pronounced as the war between the clans heats up, and her impending nuptials to the warrior, Rodrigo, becomes something she can no longer escape – she finds the freedom she longs for in her dreams:

Elena’s fantasy world becomes a kind of reality as the stranger that has “happened” into her world (or did she create him?) begins to cross the line between real and imagined. She imagines setting up a home with him, but obviously, he cannot stay in this world for long…


…but for a fleeting moment, she finds contentment in her ideal fantasy:


But Elena’s world of fantasy comes crashing down as her idyllic “imagined stranger”, Umberto, learns of her impending nuptials to Rodrigo and confronts her. The tragic conflict of duty vs. love is now unavoidable for her:


After the enormous opening duet between Umberto and Elena finishes, in this production, Elena remains on stage and is confronted with her “subconscious”, Malcom. Christof sees the role of Malcom, played wonderfully in our show by Mariselle Martinez, as Elena’s alter-ego, her guardian angel, or protector. Each time her situation turns quite dark, Malcom arrives to help her through. In this first scene, Malcom tries to get Elena to look at herself and face her situation with courage. Malcom asks Elena to be true to who she really is, to stop running away from reality:


Elena is now faced with the harsh reality of her imposed wedding to Rodrigo (the wonderful Gregory Kunde), and has not found a way to speak out against it. She is trying to honor her duty to her father and her clan by marrying a man she does not love. Her pain is immense as she says, “I have lost any hope of peace.” However, war breaks out before the ceremony is complete, and she has been given a second chance to find her way:


As the act comes to a blazing close (such fabulous music!) with war songs and talk of “fighting to the death”, it becomes too much for Elena, and she collapses with dreams only of her true love, the stranger who appeared earlier, and voilà, he appears at the table, as normal as ever, which sets up the start to the second act:


As the curtain rises on Act 2, normally the stage is left to Umberto (the King himself) to sing of his love for Elena. But in Christof Loy’s version, it is Elena who conjures him up to sing of love and peace. She sets the stage, in her mind, to be the complete opposite of the war and bloodshed that haunts her reality, and for a brief moment tastes tranquility and love. What could be a more ideal picturesque setting, than to flood the stage with romantic Sylphs who surround her for protection:


But Elena is growing up and realizes she cannot escape into her dreams forever. The reality of what she is a part of is crashing down on her, and she is slowly realizing she must take responsibility. As the Sylphs flee her mind, she is left face to face with herself and the situation she has gotten herself into with the stranger:


As Umberto confesses his love for her and demands that she respond, she simply begs him to accept her friendship instead. In this version, she truly loves him, but knows that it is not right, so she continues to fight it. (In “Rossini’s version, it is, in fact, Malcom that she loves, and to whom she remains faithful until the end.) But this struggle sets up a monumental trio between Elena and the two tenors. (My ears are still buzzing from the storm of high “C’s” all around me!!):


But chaos has ensued. With Rodrigo’s arrival on the scene and his discovery of Umberto to be a true threat, in vintage manly fashion, war breaks out. Elena, in turn, breaks down, and finally realizes that one can never, ever escape the reality around them. One must face it directly and in accepting it, there is a kind of peace that can then be built upon. She has been at war within herself for too long (again, the conflict of being true to herself and following her heart, verses the understandable desire to be dutiful to her father), and it is only when she gives over to herself that she can find peace – and in turn, bring peace to those around her:


With this new found peace, Malcom arrives back on the scene and finds that his job with Elena is complete. She has relinquished her suffering and her pain to her other self and says goodbye to it. Malcom takes it on for her and, as was predicted in the beginning, dies for her, in the sense of letting the past fall away behind you:


Once Elena has found a way to her new found inner peace, the world changes and her dreams become a reality, in veritable fairy tail fashion. The stranger is, in fact, the King, he reconciles with her father and asks for her hand in marriage, which she gladly accepts. When Elena sings the line in her famous aria, “Tanti Affetti”, she sings of finally having found “la bella pace” – the beautiful peace – she has been longing for from the opening aria, and for me, this is the heart and soul of the opera. (I am always quite emotional when I sing that line!) After her immense journey, starting out as nearly mute, she finally has found a voice to sing in front of the entire town:


The final word of Elena’s famous rondo, which serves as the finale to the entire opera is “felicità” (“happiness”). Indeed, she is overcome with joy and the vocal fireworks that paint this elation serve as an incredible expression of unrepressed abandon. It is truly one of the great moments a singer could ever be given on the stage, and in this particular telling of the story, carries enormous weight, for the distance this character has come is enormous:


So, perhaps that was a futile attempt to make an argument for our little humble production. I have no idea if it will help or not, but it’s a little synopsis to perhaps fill in some of the blanks. But I would like to share a few thoughts about the different aspects of this crazy world of opera that this experience brings up.

Conceptual opera:

Ugh. It has such a bad connotation, and yet some of the “concept” operas I’ve taken part in have been the most rewarding (Hercules in Aix, Barbiere in Paris, Cendrillon in Santa Fe). Likewise, I’ve had unbelievable experiences with what some will call “stale, old, out-dated” productions that are supposedly the bane of opera today (Rosenkavalier in SF, Nozze in Chicago and Paris, Cenerentola in Milan). I’m a huge believer that any opera that tells the story well, with committed singing actors, a director who respects the art form and the music, and a conductor in the pit that can marry the stage to the orchestra pit can be immensely moving.

But I’m also a huge believer in innovation and exploration – opera can be the catalyst for many things: provocation, revelation, transcendence, laughter, self-reflection, discovery. I don’t dare assume that we have found all the possibilities that exist in the operas in our repertoire. It is one of the reasons they are masterpieces and that we keep coming back to them – they can be looked at from many different angles and we can find new elements that speak to us. Surely, what I find in Nozze now is not what I saw in it in 1998!

So as artists, we need the chance to explore and discover additional layers in these works. Sometimes we will succeed, but often we will not. We are human, we are not machines. And what speaks to one person, will often not touch the adjacent listener.

So let me speak a bit about this production. Christof used as his inspiration the shattering, disturbing, and ultimately uplifting movie “Breaking the Waves”. In it he found a very fragile girl living in an oppressive, closed-minded society, who found a way to her happiness with unconditional love being her only ruling force.


Her fragility is evident, but it is her strength which endures in the memory. I believe Christof wanted to find a way to make a perhaps outdated libretto speak to a modern day audience. Yes, this is the now politically correct dilemma facing directors and producers today, but I wonder if we are making it more difficult than it needs to be. I trust the music and I trust the emotional impact of these stories. I believe in them. But that doesn’t mean a different look at something can’t also bring an interesting psychological journey for the characters and the audience:

What do we do, in our every day lives, to avoid the reality around us? How do we escape? How do we alter our perception of things (for the better or for the worse) in order to cope? How do we handle feeling like an outsider? Where do we go when war, either physical or mental, seems to encompass everything around us?

These are, in my opinion, absolutely relevant questions to be posing – which is, after all, one of the functions of art, is it not? Let’s hold a mirror up to ourselves and find some truth lurking around in the dark corners in there! It’s not exactly that we as a species have learned from all of our past mistakes! But having worked with Christof these past weeks, I believe his pure intention was to find some of these answers.

Now, from a technical standpoint – I believe it was Chris who asked me on my last posting – how much “say” do we as artists have in regards to the production. I would say, in the vast majority of cases, we have 0% say. Nil. None. Nada. When we arrive for the first day of rehearsal for a new production, the set has already been built, and that set is based on the concept of the director. Costumes have been designed. Usually, the general architecture of the piece has been laid out, for there is no time to decide how many functional exits the stage will need, and what period it will be set in, and how we will look. We are essentially puppets on the first day of rehearsal.

Ideally, what happens at this point, is a collaboration begins, and the director works to convince his/her singers of his/her vision. I MUST gain some understanding about the “why” of the character. If they cannot convince me of that, I cannot function on the stage. I simply cannot do it. Without the understanding of what the character is living psychologically, how in the world do I choose my vocal color, my physical stance, the pace of my movements? But if I want the show to work, I have to meet the director half-way under the constraints of what has already been laid out, and I have to find a way to find a voice within the concept.

I can say that with very few exceptions, I have been able to find a way to make the director’s vision work for me. Actually, I’m trying to think of an exception…I’m sure there is one, but in the end, I have been able to reconcile most everything. (There was that one director who wanted Rosina to try to kill herself with Figaro’s razor – yeah, that didn’t go down too well!) We have no responsibility for how a production looks, for the period it is set in, or for the overall aesthetic impact. We MIGHT (and I emphasize MIGHT) get a say in tweaking our costume or wig. A bit. But that’s iffy. Yes, times have changed. (And personally, as much as I have my own artistic ideals, I do still like my job and prefer not to be fired!)

I have found my journey here as Elena to be very rewarding and fascinating. It’s an exhausting night for me, because I never leave the stage, except for one costume change, but I find that by the time “Tanti affetti” rolls around, the journey has been very truthful and real for her, and I think the impact for the finale is all the more powerful. You see a girl with no voice at the start, no sense of identity, come into her own in the most thrilling way. And I think the emotional impact is real.

Booing

So what to make of a torrent of booing for the production team? I’ll be very direct. It’s quite simply the worst feeling in the world to be on stage and be on the receiving end of such violence. Yes, even if it feels as if the boo’s are being directed to a select group on the stage, by the time opening night has come around, usually we are like a family, and when a member of that family is being singled out, it’s nearly impossible to separate yourself from them. We feel it deeply. I completely respect the audience’s right to have opinions and express them – but I believe you fall into one of two camps, and I decidedly fall into the “I hate booing” camp.

To be honest, if the audience really wanted to have an effective impact, they would simply fall silent. This is by far a more potent and effective way to express their feelings, without what feels like some sort of physical attack. Besides, does booing REALLY carry any weight anymore? To be honest, it’s passè and outdated – it’s as if the premiere isn’t a success without some boo’s! No – silence is a much more effective (and to my thoughts, civilized) reaction.

I just wanted to go on the record with my opinion. Again, everyone has the right to express their thoughts – but truly, there are more effective ways to accomplish it. I do hope, however, that in the end, artists are still given the chance to explore and grow. There will always be “misses” (Mozart even had them!), but we all know that in the theater, when we get a “hit” and that elusive transcendence overwhelms us, it is SO good!

Gracious, is anybody still reading this post?!?! I suppose this comes out of wanting the audience to have a rich experience in the theater, and this is my small attempt to help facilitate that a bit. Not that everyone needs it, because I have definitely heard from many people that they find this show profoundly moving. See – it’s so funny how art impacts different people!

Personally, I have found my experience here tremendously rewarding, and look forward to spending a lot of time with this lovely Lady of the Lake (or the lodge!) in the future.

VIVA L’ARTE!!!!

32 Comments

  1. Mei said…

    I really appreciate this post, yankeediva, because yestarday at the theater I have mixed feelings regarding this production: the singing was highly enjoyable but the twaeking in the plot made me a little unconfortable and lost…

    When I don't like a production I prefer to remain silent… My experience says booers are a few that make them very visible/audible, in some places this is part of the opening night ritual…

    Fortunately RSR-Space 2 will bradcast one of the performances next June 12th at 20:00h CET…

    PS: Maybe theaters must give some introductory notes to the audience for free, the same way the give them Ricolas…

  2. alisonames said…

    Christoph Loy says about the role of Elena:
    «Elena, figure centrale et sorte de guide pour moi, est une grande rêveuse, terriblement égocentrique. Une forme de monstre. J’aime bien l’idée d’entrer dans cette monstruosité pour l’accompagner. On peut dire que mon utopie théâtrale serait d’entraîner le spectateur à s’intéresser de la même façon aux particularités des autres…»

    Well, fans are free to boo, say I – and thank you for your long disquisition on the work. Looking forward 2 Paris

  3. Chris said…

    My rule of thumb is that you should be able (assuming you are familiar with the world of opera in general) to tell what opera it is from the staging alone, without the music. In other words, if you can't figure out what opera it is until the music starts, something is wrong. This doesn't mean stagings can't be "modernized", etc., but they need to be clearly related to the story. There is a blog I will not identify in which people are asked to look at stagings and "guess" what the opera is. In most cases it is near impossible to tell. And when I asked why, if you are going to "update" the staging, not also "update" the music and insert, for example, some twelve-tone passages in Mozart, I was made to feel unwelcome. I find all this perverse and I don't blame audiences for rebelling.
    Now, about artists' "clout". I realize that a job is a job and one wants to avoid a reputation for being "difficult". But I would hope a sought-after artist could say "I'll sing in your theater in this opera if you use a staging I can accept" and then indicate the ones that are acceptable. If the staging is new, I would hope the artist could ask for an idea of what it will be like before saying yes. Of course this assumes that artists can pick and choose more, perhaps, than they can.
    Will the Paris staging be the same as this one?

  4. Chris said…

    Going back now and looking at the pictures of the production, I fear I would never be able, just seeing the settings, to figure out that the opera is La Donna del Lago. Hence I would not like this production. I'd stay home and buy a CD, hopefully with Joyce as Elena, instead.

  5. Alixkovich said…

    God! This production seems very very interesting…it makes me really want to see it! Unfortunately it's not possible for me…

    And you're right, booing is a stupid reaction… People should take the time to think about the production before judging.

    Anyway…toï toï toï for the next performances!

  6. Chris said…

    A favorable review (in Spanish) that doesn't mention any booing:

    http://gtltornt.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/la-donna-del-lago-gtg/

  7. Opera Cake said…

    Thanks ever so much Joyce!

    "Breaking the waves" IS the key that uncodes it all. In fact that hat was a hint. ;)

    Regarding the boos for the director, it's nowadays considered to be a compliment. Take it easy or get used to it — it's becoming a global standard for this kind of productions. It used to be a "strange thing" with audiences in Germany, then in France, and nowadays it's everywhere. Loy was booed on the opening night of his production of Tristan at the Royal Opera House (even there!) and then received a Lawrence Olivier award for the best new opera production.

    If he was trying to produce an edgy show and received ovations for it, that would mean the show actually stank. So it's all good ;)

    Cheers

  8. The Marschallin said…

    Thank you, Joyce, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. New productions always require more thought and you've given us much to sift through! Will the production in France be the same, or different staging?

  9. jennmac said…

    Thank you.

  10. Squillo said…

    So now you've made me want to see this production even more–too bad I'm halfway around the world.

    I agree with you 100% regarding "concept" opera; as long as the production has something to to add to my understanding of a work–and especially if it's something wholly unexpected–I'm thrilled, no matter if it's a traditional production in which the revelations come primarily through the contributions of the performers, or a "regie" version in which the production and directorial concepts serve equally with the performers to inform the piece.

    What doesn't work is when the production seems to be competing with the music or the performers, or seems to be so antithetical to the spirit of the piece(and your Rosina suicide-manque seems an apt example) that you come away feeling simply numb.

    In the end, the concept must translate into a complete experience that will have some meaning for the audience.

    The best productions are an exploration and a journey that the audience takes with the performers. If those elements are missing, it doesn't matter what kind of production the opera has been given.

  11. Dana said…

    As a spectator I find booing to be insulting. I don't want to say that it is as insulting as it is for performers, because I can't put myself in performer's shoes, but it is insulting. It is true that there are productions, concerts, performances that leave to be desired, or are not understood, or are simply offending to my concept of what that opera/theatre/music should be. My way to manifest in that circumstance is to leave the performance. And I do that not only to show my disapproval, I do it to protect myself as well, I don't need to sit through something that I find objectionable. However, everybody has a different taste, idea, upbringing that will make them like or dislike a performance. If a person's way of seeing things is different than mine, I accept that, but I also would like to have the same acceptance. I might like what I see, I might enjoy the evening, don't ruin it for me by booing. Not to mention that I feel really bad, and I empathize deeply with the performers and the entire production team. Booing only creates an awkward moment for everybody: performer or spectator, it is rude.

    Thank you for explaining what is going on with this production, especially for those of us that are not able to attend it live. It does seem a very unconventional approach to the story, if not somewhat distorted, but I can see how one might not grasp the full idea. In your previous posts you alluded to the difficulty to understand director's vision, therefore I think it was to be expected that the public might have difficulties too. You said that you have 0 control over a production. Allow me to respectfully disagree. As in any other field, you have the control of human interaction and communication, meaning that by trying to understand director's vision, you can influence it back by expressing your ideas and understanding ("managing up", as they say in corporate world:)). In a field such as this, where egos run high, it could be a little more difficult to come to consensus, but in the end, everybody is human and communication is powerful. This being said, I see you, Joyce, as one that can break more barriers in this respect that others can, just because you are naturally a good communicator (take this blog as best example), and an outstanding musician and artist, more power to you.

    From the pictures and your detailing of the plot, it seems to be a very interesting production. Will there be a DVD release anytime? I try to couple images with Rossini's music, and it doesn't seem to come too natural, maybe this is where some had difficulties too. I can't help but notice that this production aligns with some of the new and "modern" visions of classical repertoire: Salzburg's Traviata with Netrebko and Villazon; Gergiev's "Il viaggio a Reims" and others, that all seem to be transposed to a minimalistic 20th century Europe. So maybe the visions are not that revolutionary, but it is just the latest trend in opera productions?

    All being said, I read a review that spoke highly about your singing, brava… oh how I wish to be there to hear it myself. Have a great time singing this gorgeous music, and enjoy the rest of the performances.

  12. Mei said…

    @Chris The review doesn't mention the booeing because it's not the review of the opening night, it is the review of the last friday, the second performance…

  13. Chris said…

    At the risk of posting one comment too many, I will add this. I regard works of art as pretty much self contained entities. They reflect the taste and sensibilities of the age in which they were produced. To violate this in the name of (shall we say?) "presentism", that is, that everything must be "meaningful to contemporary concerns" shows an inability to accept history as something that is not now. To go to a 19th century opera presented pretty much as it was originally is to enter a different world, and have a different experience. I think this is liberating and enlarging, not the opposite. What is narrowing is to "modernize" everything and not respect the difference involved in something from the past. Rossini operas are 19th century works or art that embody 19th century aesthetics. Why should it be so impossible to enjoy them simply for what they are? One would not "repaint" a da Vinci to make it "more relevant" to the present. Why restage operas so they bear little resemblance to the original intention of the creator? Are we so culturally self-centered that we can't appreciate a different aesthetic on its own terms?

  14. Klassikfan said…

    Where and how shall I begin?
    I attended the second performance of "La Donna del Lago" yesterday, and I took all the way from Munich to Genève for two reasons: Joyce!!…and Christof Loy! I know Christof Loy's productions of "Lucrezia Borgia" and "Roberto Devereux" here in Munich – both with Edita Gruberova – and they are fantastic. I haven't seen "La Donna del Lago" before, so I was completely unbiased when I sat down to see yesterday's performance (well, not really: I was looking forward to hear Joyce and I was interested in Christof Loy's interpretation). I must honestly say: Right from the beginning I was thrilled by the story and how it was told. It is typical of Loy to choose a "simple", but very well-thought-out way of presenting the story on stage. To me it was absolutely clear and comprehensible. I was excited, for example because of the "two stages" – the big one in the opera house and the small one on stage, which showed us Elina's dreams – two layers of reality! All the more I was amazed at the audience and their reserved reactions. At some moments, when 99,9 % of all audiences would bring down the house, they simply were…quiet. Some hesitant applause, that was it. I was musing if this was the typical reaction of the Geneva audience, but having read Joyce's latest posting I think that yesterday's reactions (or non-reactions) were at least some progress compared to the opening night… BUT: Joyce's "finale furioso" even unfreezed the Geneva audience! The applause at curtain calls was enthusiastic, and there were many "Bravi" to be heard. Maybe this was the beginnig of a "wonderful friendship" between the Geneva audience and Christof Loy's inspiring production? Joyce and all the rest of the cast would have deserved it so much!! (BTW: Elena's "winter boots" topped even Rosina's wheel chair ;-)))
    I DO hope there will be a DVD of this production!!
    Best wishes, Herbert

  15. marcillac said…

    Absolutely fascinating. I agree with Mei that it would be nice if European theaters provided free synopsis of the production but generally find that the programs can be worth the money and, occasionally, provide helpful information which enables the viewer/listener to understand the concept better, and even – though I'm sure its not their intent – to enable him or her to try to ignore the production if he/she so chooses. Even so, its obviously much better to have this from the Lady's mouth, as it were, and while this post maybe free it is absolutely invaluable.

    Agree with Joyce (and Squillo) about productions in general. It do think that particularly with infrequently performed operas like LDDL concept productions are more problematic because the listener/viewer isn't as familiar with the music and should be able to access it without too much distraction. Additionally such works are less in need of freshening up.

    With respect to singer's clout it certainly varies from situation to situation but the specific question in this case is whether or not LDDL would be performed in 2 theater in Western Europe in the space of 2 months if Joyce DiDonato were not singing Elena? There is a long way, it seems to me, from "being difficult" and perhaps asking for modicum of plausibility in a particular production. Still, as fans I think we have to respect the professional and artistic judgement of specific performers (perhaps our Hostess more than that of others) and be grateful for any opportunity we may have of hearing them. Still, I'm also wondering weather, and hoping that, the LDDL in Paris might be a tad more "classic".

  16. Raisa said…

    Dear Joyce:
    Thank you very much for sharing your overview of the production as well as your thoughts. Being a relatively conservative opera fan(I do like nice scenery and period-appropriate costumes), I am at the same time , open to new ideas and new visions that some directors have to offer. Many opera stories transfer pretty well to our time, so why not? However, I think it's not the director's place to change the original story (unless he/she can ask the author's permission!) It's the same as writing a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" or "Gone with the Wind": major disrespect of the author.
    All the best with the rest of the run!

  17. AnnaO said…

    Thank you, Joyce, for taking the time to write this detailed and insightful description of the production. I'm very much intrigued and wish I could just hop on a plane and come see it! Whether or not the production suits everyone's tastes, I'm sure the music and singing are glorious!

    I don't mean to start a debate or anything, but I have to say I disagree with what Chris said about staging. There are many operas, the settings of which, even in the most conservative of productions, are so similar that even a slight deviation from the "usual" interpretation would render them indistinguishable based on the staging alone.

    As for the booing, it's definitely rude, disrespectful and discouraging. I'm sorry to hear that happened on opening night.

    Wishing you "tanta felicità" and all the best for the remaining performances… and yes, viva l'arte!!!

    Anna :)

  18. Wolfgang said…

    Dear Joyce, I think this is all about communication: While some people may find a fresh perspective on a well known piece stimulating and liberating, others may wish to see "the original" and be disappointed when it is not delivered. Both points are valid. The question is: how can the potential spectators know what they will get, when they buy tickets, often many months in advance? I believe it would be good for the theater and opera industry to find ways to communicate this upfront at the first announcement of a production. This would increase audience satifsaction (and ticket sales…) and reduce frustration for the hardworking artistic team.

    Now that people can read up about the show before they go to see it, this should be less of a problem. So, keep going and enjoy!

    Btw, love your boots ;-)

  19. Mary K said…

    I agree that no (or tepid) applause is the preferred response. In general, I look forward to opera productions that do not seem to be staged by someone’s grandparent. Even with the almost inevitable disconnects that less traditional productions have to the libretto, they can work and be a positive experience. That said, it can be frustrating (even aggravating) to watch a production that invents characters or events not evident from the text or, in effect, re-writes the story to fit a concept – a concept that the director understands and perhaps those involved in the production but often a mystery to the audience. I am only going to see the production once or twice. No matter how familiar I am with the opera or perhaps its literary source, a bizarre spin will not make sense and will just be annoying to watch. As an audience member, it is usually possible to prepare for the musical experience, but it is often not possible to prepare for a production. With luck, there may be program notes or something to lend a clue. That is a long-winded way of saying, while I cannot envision booing a production, I understand why it happens. And, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the Chicago Nozze and your Cherubino.

  20. Purity McCall said…

    What an amazing insight (post and comments) into the swirl of attitudes and emotions behind and in front of the opera stage. And they say opera is dead! I was keen to read this as I am huge Loy fan. He seems to me one of the few directors around these days who consistently 'presents a vision' as opposed to represents a history (sorry Chris, we could have a long epistemological argument here but really it boils down to – "historically faithful or not, it's all a matter of interpretation"). And though I understand your motivation Wolfgang, really I think as Donald R so nearly – unwittingly, or should that be 'without wit(s)'? – put it, the Unknown Unknowns are what we want to preserve. One can make a guess that a Loy production will not be conventional and will probably involve fairly minimalistic set design (and white shirts…), just as one can guess a McVicar will involve gorgeous bodies in varying degrees of undress, but really isn't the point of live performance to be surprised. And as to boo'ing – well all the world's a stage and I'd much rather the drama of a boo (and usually the consequent shushing and arguing in the upper rang…) than silence! And speaking of offstage drama, I can well understand Klassikfan's bemusement at the Geneva audience if Munich is his stomping ground. I am still recovering from the good clean out my ears got from all the bravi at Roberto Devereux with "Editttttaaaaa" Gruberova a few weeks ago.

  21. Chris said…

    One observation and one question. First the observation(s): I haven't noticed many "repeats" of these very "unusual" modern stagings; most seem one off affairs. I think that says something about them. Now the question: does one think, for instance, that the Met will be doing Zimmerman's staging of La Sonnambula again soon, if ever?

  22. Raisa said…

    Hi Joyce:
    This post spoke to me in more than one way, therefore, it's my second comment. Just thought of sharing some thoughts about booing. I absolutely agree that it's a brutal and very ineffective, but at the same time, the lowest of ways for the audience to express their displeasure. It's not that much better than throwing rotten fruit onto the stage! One would expect the audience of the 21st century to be more sophisticated or at least more civilized than back in the dark ages. How sad is it to see that so many people enjoy following their primal inferior instincts of "chasing their prey"?
    Silence would certaily be more effective and less rude, however, modern audiences are barely ready to give up their right to scream and express themselves in a non-violent way. Maybe in a couple of centuries… How sad and unfair is that?

  23. Irishrover said…

    Gorgeous pictures! And thanks for the insight, it will be very useful on Friday (the volcano calmed down, and airports are open once again, hooray!)

    Indeed, experiencing boos must not be the most pleasant moment, gorgive the euphemism… It's almost as if it was a tradition for the opening night. Anyway, toï toï toï for tomorrow night, and see you soon! ;-)

  24. Saskia said…

    Dear Joyce
    I wanted to thank you again for the meeting this evening. (I'm the one with the glasses who already said thank you at the end :))
    I feel a bit silly thanking you again, but I really got touched by you and your collegues and I would like to express my gratefullness.
    Even though I'm not at the conservatory with Danielle Borst, I'm a “growing singer“ too.
    I take lessons for four years now, and I would like to get into a class at the Conservatory in Berlin next year.
    I'm a really doubtful person, realy perfectionist too. I love music, since I was little I was learning piano and ballet and I have a really close link to classical music because of my family.
    The way you talked about your job, the art, the opera, the good and bad points of the job really clarified a few things I had in mind and confirmed my choice.
    Really, I enjoyed listening to your stories and experiences. It all seemed very rich to me and yes, thank you for sharing it with us.
    You are a great singer. I wish you a good restablishment. Thanks and greetings to Luciano and Gregory too.
    Saskia

    PS: I hope my english was understandable. I tried my best to express my feelings in english (which was quite hard! ) :)

  25. gaulimauli said…

    A class-act of on-the-job reporting, it couldn't have been easy with emotions still running high and plenty of reasons to pout. I'm touched once again-you are a good diva person.

  26. Zsolt said…

    Dear Joyce!

    Hy everybody!

    Im Zsolt, your new fan from Hungary, and new here as well int he blog.

    I have just seen the Donna del Lago in Geneva, the may 9 th performance, since then i cannot forget that amazing experience. Even I meet with You after the performance, at the official autograph session!

    Thank you very much again for this amazing, unforgattable evening. Will never forget it, will always remember for it, for this magical evening.

    Altough im 27, i m very lucky and privilage that i saw a lot, lot perfomance, some very good one, all around the world (from New York to Sydney), and saw some legendary singers as well..but i can tell, till this time this was the best stage perfomance, what i have ever seen.

    The whole perfomance was just perfect, was blowed away about the singing and the production.
    First of all your singing was just fantastic. Your voice is beautiful, the voice material is amazing nice. Your technic is super, your breath control is just amazing, you are a true belcanto singer. You sang long beautiful lines, your coloraturas fantastic….the last scene with you was th ebest part of course the opera, it was a real enjoyment to listen you, it was FANTASTIC
    The whole cast was amazing, all the singers were singing high level. It is very rare, that whole cast super, and not just an one woman show.

    The production was absolutely amazin, Christof Loy is genius.
    The whole idea was very intelligent, deep and sweet. It touched my heart very much, it was about your dreams, about a person who cannot express its emotion easy, about the conflict to live with your dreams int he cruel reality life.

    The whole production gave a very serious meaning to this quiet simple story. But the whole direction was just perfectly harmony with the music, with the story.

    There were so many things on the stage, what were amazing fantastic idea, very sweet moments.

    Example, when Elena meets with Umberto for the fist time, and open for him her inside world, and Elena starts to imitate that they are sitting a small boat..i almost cried, it was so touching.

    Or the fantastic idea of the ballett dancers, and how Loy expressed with them the feelings of Elena, and the similarity with the Giselle ballett…

    or the end, when after Elena’s final aria everybody goes out from the room just for fun, and Elena tours around and for a second thinks that it was just her imagination…all very sweet, touched my heart, i feel very close this production to me. Never, never forget it.

    Your acting Joyce was absolutely amazing, and very sweet.
    During the evening i felt the hard work what the whole production team did, and the great, great team work. Everybody was in harmony with eachother, was not even a wrong movement, or moment.

    That evening was something happening, something wonderful, a true wonder; something very close to the perfection.

    Thank you dear Joyce, you gave me something for my whole life.

    If you meet with Christof Loy, please say that how much i liked his production.

    I really dont understand how could people boow this production, it was nothing provocative, or ultra modern in it, probably they just didn’t understand it.

    And im very lucky, i got ticket for the Norma in Salzburg, where you sing with my other favourite singer Edita Gruberova..

    Its a pity that Geneva opera is so amazing expensive, because i would like to see this perfomance more. It was a production with Vienna, Theater an der Wien..so will be there as well, with you?

    Thank you!!!!

  27. Klassikfan said…

    Hi Zsolt,
    thank you very much for your perfect description of some of these wonderful moments which make this production something exceptional. I even dare to predict that this production of LDDL will become "cultic" like some other productions of Christof Loy (e.g. "Lucrezia Borgia", "Roberto Devereux") – it only takes some time. Many thanks again to Joyce, all the cast and the production team.

  28. foxtrot-search said…

    Congratulations Joyce on the performance, it was so thrilling that I was lucky enough to enjoy it thrice (première, 3rd May 10th and 4th yesterday) !

    Even though I really resented the booing on the première (we used to have a better collective and individual upbringing here in Geneva), allow me to point out for the visitors that it only happened on the opening evening, and even then only at the moment when Christoph Loy and the decorator came on stage; the rest was lauded, and rightfully so.

    Thank you for engracing our regional opera house with your stellar work (and kudos for the very relevant subtext; when my wife mentioned you had a lively blog, I thought: Hmm, we've come a long way since Tintin's Castafiore cliché !)

  29. waterhot said…

    So the performance tonight and it was just out of this world – I've seen you many times, Joyce, and you are one of my absolute favourite divas not just of today, but of all time, and I have to say that I'm not sure I've ever been as thrilled as I was by the finale this evening ! How privileged we are that you come so regularly to Geneva.

    Thank you too, for this fascinating blog. I'm sorry to hear about the booing on the first night, but I would try to reassure by saying that Geneva first night audience's are notoriously reactionary and eagerly looking for the slightest whiff of anything they can whistle and jeer at – I resolved several years ago to switch my season ticket from the premières to the third or fourth performances, simply to avoid this boorish behaviour.

    I agree with many of the commenters above – Loy's reading of this story was fascinating, and contributed enormously (along with your delightfully gawky performance) to the incredible sense of elation that we shared with Elena in what has to be the ultimate happy ending. Bravo to all concerned.

  30. Irishrover said…

    As I told you yesterday, I really liked the production, mainly thanks to this post. But there's one moment I didn't get and as hard as I try, it makes no sense to me. If Malcolm is supposed to be an imaginary character, materializing only in Elena's psyche -at least that's how I understood it- how come Rodrigo can see him and make a pact with him at the end of Act 1? That's the only moment I felt wondering what was going on. Btw, how Loy played with the lights is absolutely brilliant. This production is full of great ideas! (I love how at the end the King is taken away by the crowd and then come bursting into Elena's arms having freed himself ;-))

    I think I can pretty much say that last night was one of the best musical experience of my life -what a gorgeous singing- and I'm *really* looking forward to seeing you in Paris. Toi toi toi for the last performance, and enjoy! :-)

  31. Brigitta said…

    Having seen Christof Loy´s spectacular producions of Saul, Roberto Devereux and Lucrezia Borgia in Munich many times, I dare say that he is one of those directors who have the gift of offering the audience a deep insight into what is in the music the composer wrote. As far as I can judge, he is a very musical director, NEVER destroying the music, but interpreting it in an often enough extremely captivating way. Of course, his interpretations of the music are not the only way the story can be told, but it is one way it can be told and certainly a way that deserves to be watched open minded and not with the inner conviction that it is bad and deserves being booed because it is "modern" or "eurotrashy" as Americans prefer to call productions that are not museal. For me, so far it always was artistically and emotionally extremely rewarding to join Loy and his singing actors on their journeys into the depths of humanity. Thank God in Munich it was not only me who appreciated Loy´s work. I gratefully remember HUGE storms of bravos after the opening nights of both Saul and Roberto Devereux. His production of Lucretia Borgia was not quite on the same artistic level (interpretation wise) but still had scenes of enormous soul shattering emotional power. From what you wrote about Donna, I would love to see this production and am pretty sure that I would love it.

  32. pepita said…

    thanks for taking time for this insight reading and share your opinions.
    Reading really useful as i must admit that i didn't get everything during the performance (why is he dressed like her, but oh dear, isn't he supposed to end up with her … ?).
    But i globally enjoyed the staging.

    I had to be aware to put my nerve cell back on on friday evening ! i was not expecting to see such a detailed and intellectual opera.

    Anyway, that's what makes this art so complete and so enjoyable. It can brings you lots of surprises where you were expecting nothing but voices for example.

    By the way, singers now revolt against stage directors …

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/opera/article7133888.ece

    All the best for your Paris production !

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