The MET HD performance of Handel’s Giulio Cesare written in on our calendars for yesterday afternoon.
We have enjoyed many of the high-definition live simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera stage. Amazing music, plus wonderful camera close-ups and glimpses of back-stage transformations. Real opera… affordably priced… a fifteen minute drive away. What’s to lose except a glorious June day? But after we checked the reviews, we decided not to go. 4 1/2 hours, plus that “lost time” in transportation, getting tickets, waiting for it to start… And the staging!
My husband loathes what he describes as “gimmicky” attempts to reinterpret or modernize the “classics”. I argue back that a really good plot and interesting characters can override one’s preconceptions and that even jarring anachronisms can be ignored if the whole thing “works”. Then I bring up Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. He will concede that some may consider this the exception that proves the rule… but that I can’t win an argument this important based on one dated and obvious example.
At the Stratford Festival, a friend recently saw Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller “in a new version by Peter Oswald”. A week later she was still annoyed and upset about the way the second act distorted and ignored the integrity of the original. Yet it received wonderful reviews. ” You might think you know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her struggle for the throne of England with Elizabeth I, but in Peter Oswald’s brilliant adaptation, it all acquires new meaning.” Maybe it is a contemporary disadvantage to know the original too well!
Later in the month we will be going to Stratford to see Measure for Measure. Should I take the time to reread Shakespeare’s original before I go… will having that fresh in mind add to or detract from my experience of the stage production?
The Metropolitan Opera and the Stratford Festival are the best of the best… and they perform the classics as no one else even attempts. Should we applaud or regret their attempts to modernize and re-interpret our favourites, to attempt to make them more amusing, interesting, or relevant to audiences who do not know or do not care for the originals?
And what would happen if they don’t?