I will always remember what a friend of mine told me once upon a time on his way to watching an opera which was being performed at a black box. He said “I’m not excited, operas on small stages do not work.” Obviously, I went ballistic, saying that art can be done anywhere with the right story and the right people. I said his view was myopic, and that’s the kind of sentiment that holds people back. In other words, when I went to see Philip Shneidman’s adaptation of “L’Amant Anonyme,” I really wanted to like it. When I say I really wanted to like it, I mean I went in there ready to fall in love with it. It was going to prove my friend wrong, and put that 10 year old argument to rest. Well, that is not what happened, and to my dismay, it is me who may be wrong. I say may and I’ll tell you why below.
First of all, a little disclaimer: I have little experience with operas, maybe a handful. Take that as you will. What I do have is a vast experience in storytelling, and research. Joseph Bologne, better known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, is a fascinating person to base any play/film/novel on. His life was remarkable. The only opera of his that survived was this one, and based on the music that is a terrible statement. Based on this production, I do not want to find the other ones. This adaptation, which offers an extremely stripped down version of the opera, attempts to intercut the scenes from the work with sprinkles of narrations about his life. It is an ambitious idea, one that if they pulled off, would have been incredible to witness. Instead, what we got was a chaotic mess, in which parts of his life were told that did not connect to the scenes from the play. In fact, it confused the audience and destroyed any type of flow they were having. The actors from this cast (the cast changes) looked uncomfortable on stage. They have the talent, their voices were beautiful, but they lack direction. They seemed unsure of what they were doing. I mean, I was unsure of what I was watching. And the costumes? I know their whole schtick is to bare the complexities of big productions and make them intimate. I didn’t see that, I saw a production struggling with budget. Most productions have that problem, yet you don’t notice it. That’s the job of a good director.
It was not all bad though. The music was marvelous! The orchestra was fantastic, and I got myself lost listening to them. The performers could create beauty just by starting a song, and I could easily get into their symphony. On the other hand, the opera itself has a weak plot, and this production didn’t strengthen it. The musicians and the actors deserved better. So did the audience.
Am I being harsh? Yes. The writing was all over the place, and the story was not told well, leaving everyone on that stage looking out of place until they sang. Was my friend proven right? Nope. I mean sort of, but no. One production will not change my mind, especially since this same company seems to have successfully achieved it before. And I said this in all honesty, I would love to see another production from them, forget this one, and then tell my friend to come with me so I can laugh at him. Right now, I won’t say anything. I do not want him to say I told you so.
Out of 4 stars:
Twisted Talk: Have you ever been disappointed by a show before? What’s your favorite opera? Discuss below!