I come to bury Caesar
(What is it with people who apologise for not having posted? Does any response exist other than "That's OK, there's a whole sparkly internet out there that I was reading instead"?
In the interim I have:
--done an avant-garde thing involving a Bach chorale
--started putting a set together with some excellent alternative-musician friends
--had the hideous cold that seems to be going around
--taught, sewn and not done enough practice.
Also, I saw some opera and some theatre. Every director who wants to be all edgy and relevant is inserting a Pussy Riot reference into their show. Obviously freeing Pussy Riot would be a very good and desirable thing, but in the meantime, the performer-with-bag-over-their-head meme is becoming a little tired.
The two new productions I've recently seen at ENO, Martinu's Julietta and Handel's Julius Caesar, both seemed to be the work of directors who are strong on visuals, good at tableaux and Moments, but weak on story. Julietta, being a dream-vision opera in any case, succeeded; despite some excellent moments, I'd have to call Caesar a failure. Quite apart from anything else, very few of the Caesar cast appeared happy to be onstage-- the honourable exception being Tim Mead as an excellently villainous Ptolemy.
This Caesar is a co-production with a dance company, so there's a lot of movement onstage. There are times when this works brilliantly, and times when it seems unnecessarily superimposed, and times of ARGH GET OFF MY STAGE. Choreography at twice the speed of the music, poorly-fitting corsetry and infuckingevitable Pussy Riot masks conspire to ruin Cleopatra's seduction aria, but the dancers create a beautiful moment in her lament (Piangerò in the original; I forget what it was in ENO's godawful translation).
Most of the reviews of Caesar, however, are so taken up with harrumphing at the overuse of dancers that they overlook the real reasons this production didn't work. The dance didn't work because it wasn't integrated into the narrative; neither was the symbolism of the Pussy Riot masks. The singing characters almost never acknowledge the dancers. Do the dancers, then, symbolise the characters' feelings? Sometimes yes, it seems, sometimes no. The costume design seems to have no real character- or story-related purpose either. This lack of clarity of symbolism or story meant the whole thing degenerated into a murky, confused mess that left me struggling to find the energy to care.
However disparate the elements of the production, however, it is a director's job to integrate them in a way that means something. For all this production's flaws, I'm pretty sure that a good director could have taken the exact same list of ingredients and used them to tell a story effectively. There's a good double handful of directors out there that ENO could have called in to do that rather than getting a choreographer to direct AND choreograph an opera. There's enough time in the standard rehearsal period to do one of those things well, but not both.
Having said which, on the night I went, some churl in the cheap seats booed the dancers as they took their curtain call. It was the second night, so the creative team weren't around to receive his ire, and he vented his spleen on talented, hardworking performers who were in no way responsible for the things he'd objected to. Poor form; very poor.
Anyway, enough from me.