[Dixielandjazz] Re inventing the presentation - Sex, Drugs & Opera?

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 5 06:10:16 PDT 2004


You gotta love this, whether of not you are an Opera Fan. It is certainly
seems to be a "cutting edge" attempt to make Don Giovanni interesting to
those staid? British audiences. :-) VBG

Hey Pat Ladd, have you seen this yet? Why not stage it at your place, next
summer under the stars. Bound to be a hit. :-) VBG.

Reads like Kubrick's Clockwork Orange met Mozart's Don Giovanni.

How about this production as a headliner to revive flagging Festivals? Or
say, Barbone Street could do an adaptation based upon "Blues My Naughty
Sweetie Gives to Me" & "Straighten Up and Fly Right" with the strangulation
of the Fat Lady using Mardi Gras Beads as the finale. :-) VBG.

Steve Barbone

October 4, 2004 CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK - New York Times

Sex, Drugs and Opera (That's Mozart?) By MICHAEL WHITE

LONDON, Oct. 3 - "I should sooner poke my eyes out and sell my children into
slavery than sit through it again," thundered a columnist in The Times of
London recently. But on Thursday night some 2,000 sighted and no doubt
child-friendly people did sit through it again.

And what they sat through was Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in a staging by the
Catalan director Calixto Bieito, the most reviled opera production in the
recent history of British theater, at the English National Opera. When it
first appeared three years ago, it was universally condemned as "sickening,"
"puerile vandalism" or "subtle as a donkey," and it contributed to the
firing (for misjudgments) of Nicholas Payne, then the company's chief

Mr. Bieito has a trademark style that might be soberly called cutting edge,
though hacking with a ragged blade is closer to the mark. He smothers
Mozart, Verdi, even Johann Strauss in body fluids. His shows come soaked in
blood, gore and urine, and enlivened by relentless scenes of anal rape,
fellatio, masturbation and drug-crazed couplings. This creates a certain
challenge for his singers: it is not easy to deliver nicely rounded phrasing
with your head up someone's skirt. But there is a challenge for the audience
as well, and British audiences do not seem to take it with the equanimity of
those on the Continent.

In Spain, where he runs the high-profile Teatre Romea in Barcelona, Mr.
Bieito is considered a director of vision and courage, an Almodóvar of the
opera stage. His work appears in Salzburg, Frankfurt and in Berlin, where in
July he set pulses racing at the Komische Oper with his new staging of
Mozart's "Abduction From the Seraglio," complete with sadomasochistic
nipple-slicing and a troupe of genuine prostitutes.

He has champions in Britain, too, notably the director of the Edinburgh
International Festival, Brian McMaster, who introduced Mr. Bieito in 1997
and has been commissioning work from him ever since.

But the English National's "Don Giovanni" has gained a reputation (at least
in Britain) as the ultimate Bieito show.

Set in the urban bleakness of an empty parking lot, it portrays the cast as
vulgar, brutal, drug-abusing hoodlums, leading desperate, sordid lives. As
Mr. Bieito explained last time around (in words that proved a gift to his
critics), they are street kids "having a really bad night out.''

The nuances of class distinction and aristocratic power that conventionally
motivate this drama are discarded as "uninteresting." Instead, Mr. Bieito
says, we are given characters relevant to modern times. And modern times, in
his view, are "cruel and ill."

"Young people today have this illness, going to the edge of their lives,
with no God, nothing," he told me. "This is what I show in 'Don Giovanni.'
It has moral intention."

Mr. Bieito's reference to godlessness is curious for a director who excises
any reference to spirituality or the supernatural in his productions. In
"Don Giovanni" there is no statue that comes to life (the resurrection of
the Commendatore becomes a drug-induced hallucination) and no descent to
hell at the end. Hell, in Bieitoland, is on the stage, not under it. So it
is tempting to explain his shows, which can be fiercely anticlerical, as a
classic reaction against a strict Jesuit upbringing.

He denies this. But he was born, in 1963, into a Spanish Roman Catholic
family, and he attended a Jesuit school that sounds not unlike the kind of
institution featured in Almodóvar's "Bad Education." Though Mr. Bieito said
that he felt no bitterness toward the Jesuits, he undeniably rebelled
against them when he left and reveled in the secular, post-Franco liberality
of Spanish theater.

He has since become the bad boy of European opera, whose every show is
guaranteed to generate scandal, preferably of the manageable sort relied on
by theater companies to fill their seats. To many of his critics he is a
cynical sensationalist, building an empty reputation on shock and outrage.

Unsurprisingly, he says this is not so. And in the quiet, thoughtful, oddly
childlike manner that disarms those meeting him for the first time, he says
he dislikes scandal, or boos, and he really cannot understand why his shows
cause so much fuss.

It is hard to know whether this innocence is an act or whether Mr. Bieito is
"a modest, decent, honorable man," as the playwright David Hare has
insisted. But Mr. Bieito trots out the standard line of avant-garde
directors about wanting to make Mozart, Verdi or whomever relevant to modern
audiences. He also accuses his critics of wanting to preserve the repertory
in aspic.

But for the critics, that is not the issue. They contend that the problem
with a piece like Mr. Bieito's "Don Giovanni" is not that it relocates a
candlelit tale of 17th-century Spain to the floodlighted glare of a
21st-century Spanish parking lot; updating is par for the course in modern
productions. The problem, most would say, is that Mr. Bieito does it badly,
with no stagecraft, no consideration for the text and a grotesquely limited
repertory of (mostly sexual) gestures. There are only so many times one can
watch a character kick a beer can across the stage, shoot up with heroin or
fondle his crotch and still be captivated.

The sexual content is toned down in the "Don Giovanni" revival, the pace is
less frenetic and the musical values are higher, all of which make the
production seem less abrasive than it did three years before. But with the
shock value reduced, what remains?

True, Donna Anna's orgasm on the coloratura top notes of "Non mi dir" raised
a few embarrassed titters. So did Don Giovanni's antics with inflated

But the question on many lips as the audience left was not "How dare the
English National Opera revive this production?" but simply "Why did it
bother?." When asked whether there were more Bieito productions in the
pipeline, Sean Doran, the company's new chief executive, said there were "no

The English National Opera repeats this production on Oct. 4,and 9, 14, 16,
20, 22, 27 and 29, and Nov. 2 and 5.

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