Friday, January 12, 2007

Figaro in Vienna

The 232nd performance of Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' was sold out, bar a few tickets for 157 Euros - and those had sold, too, by the time the show started. Unbelievable prices - it would mean that the performance should be about ten times as good as those in Vilnius.....

It was rather startling to be faced, on entering the auditorium, with the large multicoloured iron curtain displaying the worlds 'Angst essen Seele auf' ('Fear eat soul' [sic]). This is the title of a 1980's film by Hans Werner Fassbinder about the relationship between an (illegal?) immigrant from Africa and an older German woman - what would the situationa be now? Anyway, what is it doing in the Staatsoper? Though as a statement it is certainly profound and most performing musicians can relate to it.

The conductor, Philippe Jordan, rather belted through the overture leaving the audience's ears pinned back. Then the curtain opened onto a very traditional setting, with the singers in traditional costumes. Quite often I found it difficult to hear the singers over the orchestra, and even that sounded a bit dull - as if muffled, but that might have been due to my distance from the stage.

The performance was, frankly, a little boring. Maybe because it was the 232nd performance of this production. I have a CD of the opera by the same producer, Jean Pierre Ponelle, who has done some sublime productions - his version of 'La Cenerentola' stands out, but this staging was rather mainstream. Occasionally a few witty Ponelle bits appeared, like at the end of the second act, when Basilio, Marcellina and Antonio did a funny little dance quite reminiscent of a sextet in 'La Cenerentola' - but these were very few and extremely far between. The singers, of course, sang very nicely, particularly Krassimira Stoyanova (who from the distance looked rather older than her part of Countess Almaviva deserved) in her dejected third act aria. But you would expect a brilliant, sparkling performance from the Staatsoper in Vienna, wouldn't you?

This one seemed rather routine, and it made me wonder who the Staatsoper is there for? Certainly it is there to give work to the singers and musicians. Those who perform at the Staatsoper are near the peak of their, and anyone's, career. It is a beautiful representational building in the centre of Vienna. Many tourists flock to the building - I wonder how many Viennese visit it regularly, at those ticket prices (13th row cost 127 Euros). Do the tourists get value for money (do tourists ever get value for money??)? Tuesday night's performance suggests that it might be better to go for the Staatsoper experience rather than the music. Yes, it was a trip of a lifetime for me, and I now know that I don't need to go again, unless it is a premiere. Funnily enough, the audience, even native Austrians, were as drab as the acting on stage - that's not normal in Vienna.

The other question that popped into my mind was about the future of opera. Here I was in an expensive seat in the 13th row, far enough from the stage to miss all facial expressions, with the orchestra packed into the pit and sounding like an old recording, and I was thinking of Ponelle's film of the same opera which was so much more exciting. In a film the camera can go all around an actor/singer, and the sound is recorded such that it will come across better than at the back of the audience in an opera house. Staging an opera is incredibly expensive. Of course attending a performance near the protagonists (eg the front row) is wonderful and a wholly different experience, but it is only ever a minority of the public who can achieve that.

Apart from the social aspect of attending opera, like many sponsors appreciate well, there is the feeling of being together in something - but I wonder if that feeling and the emotions could not be stronger in a football match?

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