I just finished a book that claims there is no greatness without an intense amount of thought involved. So, I’ve given it a try and applied this "thinking" thing to art in general and opera productions specifically.
What makes great art? Anything that compels us to think or better yet, reconsider our previous thoughts. This could get complicated.
Great art is different than great skill. A skilled technician can copy or reproduce art but it won’t have the same effect or value as the original because there is no thought behind it.
There is a fine line to be walked here. If a piece of original art, be it a piece of music, a poem, painting, or sculpture, is too exclusive with its thought process then it suffers from its own obscurity.
There has been pressure on American Opera companies to abandon traditional opera productions in favor of what is called regietheater.
What is regietheater?
Also sprach Wikipedia,
Regietheater (German for director's theater) is a term that refers to the modern (mainly post-World War II) practice of allowing a director freedom in devising the way a given opera or play is staged so that the creator's original, specific intentions or stage directions (where supplied) can be changed, together with major elements of geographical location, chronological situation, casting and plot. Typically such changes may be made to point a particular political point or modern parallels which may be remote from traditional interpretations.”
I understand some of the pressure to abandon traditional productions. Rarely does a traditional production challenge anyone to think.
The encore of Otello from The Met was in theaters a couple weeks ago. It was a traditional production and I couldn’t help but think that most of the show would have been just as good in concert.
The sword fight and a few other effects were nice but by and large the staging, costumes, and sets didn’t add that much to the experience. However, it obviously cost an arm and a leg to produce.
Traditional opera doesn’t run the risk of becoming a catastrophe. It’s safe.
Regietheater, at its best, can challenge an audience to consider different aspects of an opera that they thought they knew. However, if it’s bad, then it's horrible.
Regietheater is never safe because the concept behind it will only be assimilated by a portion of the audience. Those who don't get it will leave disappointed, at best.
Other times, the concept does not have the thoughtfulness to be great. The director who is merely aping the ideas of other artists is playing a dangerous game. There is also a difference between insightful and insulting, but we’ll save that for another day.
The embedded Götterdämmerung clip does it for me on every level, except for the weird and inhuman convulsions that some opera singers — I’m looking at you, Alberich and chorus — think passes for acting.
Why does this clip work for me?
After watching it I will never watch television the same way again. The old gods are dead and have been replaced by TV. That’s one thought. The creepy dude at the side of the stage is Wotan.
The most gorgeous music ever written is happening and people are blankly staring at TVs and ignoring each other and their children. That’s another thought.
You’ll notice that the rich, middle class, and poor alike are all watching. It’s not about your socio-economic status, it’s about becoming like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
A girl and a boy leave this world to go create a new one. What world am I creating? How many mindless activities am I participating in? Am I watching a sitcom while the world is reborn through love?
Beyond that, the musical performance is from another planet. Barenboim is a god.
The director has prompted me to consider my own existence in a profound and moving way. That is great art.