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Good news/bad news for San Diego Opera 2021

The words "opera" and "puppets" should never, ever be mentioned together in the description of a performance

Do you go to the opera to watch themes?
Do you go to the opera to watch themes?

The San Diego Opera has announced a season for 2021-2022. There’s some very good news here. Productions of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte headline the season, along with a concert by the incomparable Stephanie Blythe. I’m a Stephanie Blythe fan. I’m a Gounod fan. And, of course, I’m a Mozart fan.

Video:

"Ah, jour de deuil" from Romeo et Juliette

Alas, San Diego Opera is also presenting something called Aging Magician. Here is the description from sdopera.org. “Harold is a clockmaker working on a book called The Aging Magician. He has a bicycle he rides around his shop. He plays the accordion. His sister calls him a lot. He takes the F train home. He hears the voices of children. Aging Magician is a meditation on the gifts we leave behind for those who come after us, and the hope that they pick up where we left off. It is also a celebration of youth, imagination, and the peculiar magic of ordinary life. In its west coast premiere, Aging Magician is a hauntingly beautiful hybrid of opera and theatre that combines opera, choral music, and puppetry, produced by one of today’s most influential and innovative tastemakers, Beth Morrison Projects.”

The entire libretto is available on the sdopera.org website. I read it. I’m also currently reading Ulysses by James Joyce. I’d have to say that Joyce is more concise and to the point in his narrative than Aging Magician.

Where to begin with this description of Aging Magician? If the clockmaker rides his bike around his shop while playing the accordion and also talking to his sister on the phone, then I’m in. That would be incredible theater.

One of the themes is, “The gifts we leave behind for those who come after us.” After reading the libretto, I’m not sure who is coming after the clockmaker to receive his gifts. His sister calls, but, from what I can tell, he is a recluse with no other living family or friends.

Video:

Aging Magician

The F train he is riding is bound for Coney Island or the moons of Neptune, or Angkor Wat, or Perth, Australia. It’s difficult to determine. One thing is for sure, this isn’t the actual F train that goes from Jamaica Station (JFK Airport), through Queens, into Manhattan, then out to Coney Island via Brooklyn. No, no. This is a metaphorical train for the dead or dying or those with dementia, perhaps. It’s simply not clear.

Of course, that’s the point. I’m sure that after the show we are supposed to have important conversations about the important themes of the show. That’s well and good but Aging Magician appears to be only themes. Besides leaving gifts behind (I’ve left a few gifts behind in my day — if you know what I mean), the other themes are in the description. Youth, imagination, and the peculiar magic of ordinary life.

The words "magic" and "ordinary" do not go together. I grow weary of those who would illuminate the ordinary for us with their peculiarly magical insights. Just stop. Please. It’s been done. It’s tired. It’s boring and it’s lazy.

Themes do not a story make. There are themes in Romeo et Juliette and there are themes in Cosi fan Tutte. Yet those two operas primarily tell us a story — from which we can discover some themes.

Picking some so-called important themes and then ruminating on them with a stream of consciousness is easy. It’s also usually incoherent to an audience. Writing a compelling and satisfying story that an audience can also follow and enjoy is difficult.

One last thing. The words “opera” and “puppets” should never, ever, be mentioned together in the description of a performance.

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Do you go to the opera to watch themes?
Do you go to the opera to watch themes?

The San Diego Opera has announced a season for 2021-2022. There’s some very good news here. Productions of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte headline the season, along with a concert by the incomparable Stephanie Blythe. I’m a Stephanie Blythe fan. I’m a Gounod fan. And, of course, I’m a Mozart fan.

Video:

"Ah, jour de deuil" from Romeo et Juliette

Alas, San Diego Opera is also presenting something called Aging Magician. Here is the description from sdopera.org. “Harold is a clockmaker working on a book called The Aging Magician. He has a bicycle he rides around his shop. He plays the accordion. His sister calls him a lot. He takes the F train home. He hears the voices of children. Aging Magician is a meditation on the gifts we leave behind for those who come after us, and the hope that they pick up where we left off. It is also a celebration of youth, imagination, and the peculiar magic of ordinary life. In its west coast premiere, Aging Magician is a hauntingly beautiful hybrid of opera and theatre that combines opera, choral music, and puppetry, produced by one of today’s most influential and innovative tastemakers, Beth Morrison Projects.”

The entire libretto is available on the sdopera.org website. I read it. I’m also currently reading Ulysses by James Joyce. I’d have to say that Joyce is more concise and to the point in his narrative than Aging Magician.

Where to begin with this description of Aging Magician? If the clockmaker rides his bike around his shop while playing the accordion and also talking to his sister on the phone, then I’m in. That would be incredible theater.

One of the themes is, “The gifts we leave behind for those who come after us.” After reading the libretto, I’m not sure who is coming after the clockmaker to receive his gifts. His sister calls, but, from what I can tell, he is a recluse with no other living family or friends.

Video:

Aging Magician

The F train he is riding is bound for Coney Island or the moons of Neptune, or Angkor Wat, or Perth, Australia. It’s difficult to determine. One thing is for sure, this isn’t the actual F train that goes from Jamaica Station (JFK Airport), through Queens, into Manhattan, then out to Coney Island via Brooklyn. No, no. This is a metaphorical train for the dead or dying or those with dementia, perhaps. It’s simply not clear.

Of course, that’s the point. I’m sure that after the show we are supposed to have important conversations about the important themes of the show. That’s well and good but Aging Magician appears to be only themes. Besides leaving gifts behind (I’ve left a few gifts behind in my day — if you know what I mean), the other themes are in the description. Youth, imagination, and the peculiar magic of ordinary life.

The words "magic" and "ordinary" do not go together. I grow weary of those who would illuminate the ordinary for us with their peculiarly magical insights. Just stop. Please. It’s been done. It’s tired. It’s boring and it’s lazy.

Themes do not a story make. There are themes in Romeo et Juliette and there are themes in Cosi fan Tutte. Yet those two operas primarily tell us a story — from which we can discover some themes.

Picking some so-called important themes and then ruminating on them with a stream of consciousness is easy. It’s also usually incoherent to an audience. Writing a compelling and satisfying story that an audience can also follow and enjoy is difficult.

One last thing. The words “opera” and “puppets” should never, ever, be mentioned together in the description of a performance.

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