[Dixielandjazz] Does Too Much Visual Effects Ruin The Musical Performance

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 11 07:13:10 PDT 2004

Below are excerpts from an Opera performance review. NOT OKOM but there are
some interesting parallels. It brings up questions about how to perform
"traditional" music and/or art in these modern times.

Like it or not, the current staging of aural art from the past has become
more and more visual. Note that even though this reviewer plainly does not
like the new visual effects, he believes the general audience does.

Titan Hot 7, Boondockers, Barbone Street, et al., your time has come. But
temper the visual lest it destroy the music. Worry not about the occasional
esthete in the audience, but about the jazz oblivious audience in toto.
Bring them to the music.

Write me off list for the full review, if interested. It is 3 times as long
but will be fun for those who enjoy "Die Zauberflote"

Steve Barbone


Coloring Mozart's World With Puppets and Gewgaws

Julie Taymor's highly anticipated new production of "Die Zauberflöte" ("The
Magic Flute") for the Metropolitan Opera opened to a packed house on Friday
night. You can bet that word will quickly spread beyond the world of opera
about the elaborate stage effects and exotic imagery that Ms. Taymor, the
popular director, costume designer, mask-maker and puppeteer, has brought to
Mozart's mystical fairy tale.

Yet Ms. Taymor's production is so packed with stage tricks, so peopled with
puppets, kite-flyers, dancers and extras of sundry description, that the
exceptionally fine musical performance given by the conductor James Levine
and a strong cast was overwhelmed. Recruiting Ms. Taymor, the director of
"The Lion King," to oversee a new staging of this magical opera had seemed a
good idea. But though the audience gave her a frenzied ovation, I found her
production a perplexing disappointment.

Ms. Taymor's stage imagery often undercuts the musical impact of a scene,
for example when two armed men guarding the entrance to Sarastro's Temple of
Wisdom sing a stern duet, evocative of grim and sturdy Baroque counterpoint.
Here the men were dwarfed by huge puppet versions of themselves, towering
figures with flaming faces and ominous moving arms. The singers (Garrett
Sorenson and Morris Robinson) were rendered so irrelevant that they might as
well have been performing from the orchestra pit.

The production boasts a natural charmer in the strapping young Russian
baritone Rodion Pogossov as Papageno. With his goofy grin, robust voice and
physical nimbleness, Mr. Pogossov was utterly endearing. So why couldn't Ms.
Taymor just trust him to sing "Ein Mädchen Oder Weibchen," Papageno's
wistfully upbeat song? During this scene Papageno, who is clearly meant to
be alone on stage, plays his magic bells and fantasizes about finding
himself a girlfriend or wife. But as Mr. Pogossov sang, he was encircled by
a flock of huge, prancing dancers on stilts dressed as exotic, long-beaked
bird-women, who pecked, tickled and teased him. Instead of pondering
Papageno's romantic dilemma, you were invited to marvel at the creatures Ms.
Taymor has invented.

The moments when music came first, when the singers walked close to the edge
of the stage and simply sang, were few, and even some of these were ruined
by the necessities of Ms. Taymor's staging.

This is all the more frustrating because the musical performance was mostly
excellent and might have been extraordinary.

My feelings notwithstanding, the Met probably has a huge hit on its hands.
There were rapturous ah's from the audience with every new stage effect, as
when the boys singing the three spirits (Aiden Bowman, Jason Goldberg and
Lev Pakman), who looked like albino child-gurus with fluffy white hair and
Methuselah beards, flew over the stage on a gliding platform suspended from
the wings of a giant dove. At least parents who are tired of taking their
children again and again to "The Lion King" have a new Julie Taymor
entertainment in town. And Mozart's score beats Elton John's with a stick.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list