Thursday, September 27, 2007

In the Box

I was beside myself. I just wanted to know: where the hell are we? Not hell, Heather. "We're in Venusburg," my opera-going companion stage-whispered, and he would have patted me on the head reassuringly if he hadn't been so intent on mimicking Venus à la Jack the Ripper. Her toga vs. his sport coat? I have to say that the sport coat striptease, particularly in the opera house's marbled hall, packs a terrifying and hilarious punch! But, I digress. We now return to Venusburg. Right. The tree, the mounds of dirt and patches of weeds, and that ring of fire? (Does anyone else hear Johnny Cash?) Ok, sure, these details all seem quite Edenesque to me. I'll even buy the enormous French doors; we could be in a fancy courtyard, after all. But what's up with the obvious ceiling, a ceiling so structurally delineated by arching wooden crossbeams that I had to wonder, are we inside a ship's hull? (No, that would be Tristan.) Why do I feel like I'm in a third grade diorama? Why does the stage seem so small when the musical vision is so huge? And why are we still here in Acts 2 and 3 when the scene has so obviously changed?

gothic_the design of San Francisco Opera's new production of Tannhäuser raises too many questions. I mean, I should be telling you all about the impressive vocal performances (like gymnasts with a marathoner's stamina and a diver's fearless grace) or about Wagner's beautiful music (sure, you hear everything before the curtain rises on Act I, but who isn't a sucker for that horn writing?) But I can't tell you about all that, because I'm hung up on the set design. Are we going medieval, or are we going modern? There were a few moments of choreography and staging that I read as purely 2007, but the overall feeling (costumes, big men with manes of hair, wild animals trussed for the spit) was of medieval Germany. The set favored neither time period, though the singular lighting trick--stark, shadow-casting spots streaming sideways through the French doors (the French doors!)--seemed a weak gesture towards mod.

Where am I? Where am I? Maybe SF Opera is cultivating a theme this year. On Friday I plan to be on hand at opera at the ballpark. Gaza or Giants? Barbershop or baseball field? We'll see if I'm able to feel transported outside the box this time...


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