The brilliant commentator Heather MacDonald has written an article detailing the latest bit of operatic and musical lunacy – Making Beethoven Woke. In it she details the the production of Fidelio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s right – the museum not the opera house. You can read all the antic details in her article.
Ms MacDonald has long been a cogent observer of the pseudo-intellectual scene and dissects like a vascular surgeon the pretentions and all around goofiness of the woke assault on Beethoven. An aside – the late Art Buchwald remarked after hearing the former segregationist governor of Alabama George Wallace’s attack on pointy headed pseudo-intellectuals that he had finally committed a fatal error. Had he attacked intellectuals he would have offended no more than five or six people. But by going after pseudo-intellectuals he had raised the ire of tens of millions. The current cast of pseudo-intellectuals wearing the cape of wokeness may be responsible for the latest maiming of musical masterpieces, but such behavior has a long history.
I being considerably older than Ms MacDonald, have been around the operatic block a lot longer. I vividly remember many assaults on musical masterpieces. Eurotrash productions have clung to opera houses all over the continent like the pox for at least half a century. I’ll mention two shows that demonstrate that while craziness may have a new locus, it has long been a feature of lyric art.
Robert Wilson is a Texan who has become a world renowned director. I saw his production of Madama Butterfly at Paris’s Bastille Opera House, which looks more like a train station than a theater. The sterile setting was perfect for Wilson’s 1993 staging of Puccini’s masterpiece. Only a major theatrical figure could completely drain the opera of all its emotional impact. Wilson had the singers move as if they were in emergency need of chiropractic care. When not moving like Frankenstein’s monster they stared at the audience as if the action there were more interesting than that on the stage. They were correct. If you want to catch the now 80 year old Wilson in action, the Houston Grand Opera will mount his production of Turandot later this month.
Calixto Bieito is a Spanish director who takes a Hellzapoppin approach to opera. I caught a performance of his staging of Don Giovanni at London’s English National Opera in October of 2004. You can read my review of it linked in the previous sentence. Here’s an excerpt: But the best piece of stage business was that attached to Non mi dir. Donna Anna launches into the aria whereupon Ottavio begins to grope her, then he reaches under her skirt and removes her underpants which he tosses onto the middle of the stage. Then he unzips his fly and has at her. All the while she keeps on singing. How that poor woman stayed on pitch is a miracle. You must believe that I’m not making any of this up. Who could invent something remotely like this? The aria ends with three climaxes – one by Mozart and two inserted by Bieito.
My point is that no matter how bad Ms MacDonald finds the woke assault on Beethoven to be, it is just a continuum of a process that has a long history. Nothing new under the sun – or the moon, for that matter. Beethoven will survive, wokeness won’t.