Tuesday 11 August 2009

Unkindest cut of all

Recent reviews have been covering the new production of Aida from the Bregenz Festival. Played on the floating stage in the lake, Graham Vick's production is inevitably spectacular and receives a lot of comment. Only one review that I came across mentioned the fact that the opera was heavily cut.

Opera on the floating stage in Bregenz needs to start at sunset and, because of limitations in the transport infrastructure, must last a maximum of two hours. There is no interval because getting 7000 people in and out would take too long. So any opera performed must have 2 hours of music at the most. This means that some 40 to 50 minutes of music has been cut from Aida, whereas an opera like Tosca could be done complete.

Perhaps this is fair enough, given the circumstances of production. But the festival Website does not seem to mention the fact. A simple statement that the performance used an edition specially created for Bregenz would have been enough.

But opera houses seem reluctant to give the details of the edition being used when an opera is performed. Sometimes this is because these decisions are only made when the opera goes into production, but even then some indication should surely be given. The Paris Opera are reviving their production of The Tales of Hoffmann in May next year. The web site gives full details of casting etc., but no indication of what a potential customer might expect to hear. Will there be spoken dialogue or sung recitative; will the production be the tradition edition or does the opera house use their own edition. If you look at the plot summary, you find out that the Giulietta act comes last, which is a positive thing. These are points which many potential customers will wish to know. Its no good buying expensive tickets and turning up expecting the full sung version and getting the spoken dialogue, or vice versa.

Another opera to which these strictures apply is Carmen. Like Tales of Hoffmann there is the issue of spoken dialogue v. sung recitative, plus the changes made to create a traditional version. Though in the case of Carmen these changes are rather less. Similarly, conductors can decide to take some of the alternative versions of Mozart's mature operas and such decisions similarly need clear warning.

When it comes to baroque operas I don't think that advance warning is necessarily required, but I certainly do feel that programmes should print exactly what we are and are not hearing. I hate having to do the sort of detective work required when listening to a relatively unfamiliar baroque opera and needing to know which bits have been missed out.

I know that not everyone is bothered by these issues and that some would argue that I should be happy to take the presentation, whatever it is, as a work of art created by the conductor, director and cast. But if decisions have been taken, for whatever valid reasons, to take variant readings of the composers text or to cut it, then this information should be clearly available.

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