Disappointing - Sellars No Match for Smarter Bad Boy - David McVicar
I have always found Peter Sellars's updating of great operas at best irritating. Rock bottom was setting Cosi fan Tutte, Mozart's subtlest critique of man-woman relationships in an American diner. It really cheapened the thesis that men are as bad as women when it comes to deceit and fidelity between the sexes. It took the bottom line and blanched the heart out of Mozart. This heart is what makes Mozart's greatest operas supremely moving when they speak of the darker sides of human nature.
When you have seen the Marriage of Figaro re-configured as a domestic violence piece amidst Trumpian New York elegance, this jokey re-telling of Handel's greatest opera is like some adolescent director who somehow strayed into opera production class, and who is at a loss for a really innovative creative idea. The poorly aimed political barbs at American imperialism have their satirical potential considerably lessened by ill-judged visual jokes. This is not helped by Sellars's direction of his principals.
Count Almaviva threatening the Countess with a gun, and the real possibility of physical violence struck some raw nerve, but seeing Drew Minter (as Tolomeo) cavort in old fashioned bathers, or having Cleopatra sing without distinction her last aria in gold lame bikini is not only NOT shocking and NOT funny, but absolutely BORING.
I can understand Sellars being loyal to singers he normally likes to work with, but Susan Larson (who failed to move me in any way in COSI) is deadly in her hammy performance. She is vocally merely adequate in the role. Dramatically, it is as though Lucille Ball miraculously had a voice transplant and walked onto the wrong set.
Jeffrey Gall sounds positive squawky in his middle register, a voice past his prime. And poor James Maddalena - a great actor and a great singer - but probably not the most brilliant of Handelians.
Dear Mr. Sellars should have a peek at David McVicar's spankingly lively 2005 Glyndebourne production of the same opera with a cast to really die for. And also, watch out for singers who can really MOVE while singing thrillingly.
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