Monday 19 June 2006

I've seen that one before

Saturday night's sparkling productionL'Elisir d'Amore at Grange Park (review to appear in due course) was set in the 1950's. This is the 3rd time that I've seen this opera transposed to this period. Part of the charm of moving the setting to mid-20th century is the ability to give Dulcamara a motorised vehicle.

But more than this, the production set me wondering about the influence of older productions and whether its possible to come up with anything new.

When Josephine Barstow went to the Soviet Union to sing her husband, Ande Anderson, took her through the possible productions (seven I believe) so that she'd be prepared for anything. The idea that there are a given number of basic configurations possible in a production is both appealing and appalling.

I first saw L'Elisir d'Amore in the 1970's in Scotland. Scottish Opera's production was set in the 20th century and Dulcamara made a very striking entrance in a stylish car, quite a coup on the relatively small Glasgow Theatre Royal stage. I have since seen 2 further 20th century settings for this opera (including Grange Park), plus a couple of traditional ones. Does this mean that the 20th century setting says something profound about the way producers see the opera. Or was is simply that a whole generation of UK producers grew up knowing about a particular influential production of the opera, perhaps even the Scottish Opera one that I saw.

If there is indeed nothing new upon the earth, then the air of desperation that attaches itself to some rather modish productions, becomes more understandable; the producer's desire to say something new fighting with the essential inability to create anything which has not been tried before.

Similarly, Scottish Opera in the same period had a production of Don Pasquale set in modern times. This is again a conceit which re-occurs. Though I did not like it much, Jonathan Miller's new production at Covent Garden at least had the apparent novelty of mining a vein not tried before, moving the opera to the 18th century.

Another area where production repeats occur is in the operas of Richard Strauss; it has become a common place to perform them set during the time of their composition.

The most recent productions of Arabella and Ariadne auf Naxoz at Covent Garden tried to get out of this rut by being determinedly modern, but simply fell into another of the 'standard' seven productions. In fact, when ENO first mounted Ariadne they managed to be totally unusual by setting it in the original period of Strauss's intention.

Perhaps there is scope for a book of production family trees, tracing the influence of notable productions. Not necessaily the biggies, like Wieland Wagner, but those productions which have stayed in memories and produced numerous sibilings, children and cousins.

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