Opera versus theatre

24/01/2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve got another post at MostlyFilm today – a collaboration between me and Lissy Lovett. She’s a theatre buff and I’m an opera fan and we’ve written a dialogue about the differences between the two theatrical experiences:

Josephine: Yes – the music has to do a lot in opera. And it often succeeds amazingly well. The final act of Tristan and Isolde, for example, is practically devoid of action. Tristan and his friend Kurwenal basically just sit around staring at the sea waiting for Isolde to arrive. Without the music you’d just be thinking ‘for Pete’s sake will someone please DO something now!’ but when you see and hear it performed it seems totally gripping, full of longing and tension. Although with Wagner, you know, opinions differ…

Actually Wagner’s quite an interesting person to mention with reference to your point about music, plot, acting & visuals all forming a coherent whole. His idea about opera was that it ought to be a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ – a total or universal work of art – which would unite opera, drama and visual arts into something which had universal relevance and was a peak of culture. I’m not sure he succeeded in that! but I do find that opera generally and Wagner in particular is much more understandable and gripping when you see it live than when you just listen on the radio.

Lissy: ‘for Pete’s sake will someone please DO something now!’ was very much my internal monologue whilst watching the recent-ish Waiting for Godot revival at the Haymarket Theatre Royal.  The whole thing would have been enlivened no end with a bit of singing.

I’m not sure I’m ready for Wagner!  Maybe another couple of entry level operas before going on to the hard stuff…  Did/do Wagner’s operas have fixed set designs and costumes then?  Or did he want them to & to have a hand in that?  OR did the just think that the greatest visual artists of the day should be designing them?  I love the big-headedness of thinking you can make ultimate art.

I really enjoyed the process of writing as a dialogue – it all seemed to come much easier than working on something alone.


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