1979-07-31, English, Article, Journal or magazine article edition: THE ARTS A production strictly for masochists (31 July 1979)

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THE ARTS A production strictly for masochists (31 July 1979)
 
Bookmark: https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/264749809
Physical Description
  • 773 words
  • article
  • photo
  • Journals
  • Magazines
Published
  • xna, John Haynes and J.F. Archibald, 1979-07-31
Language
  • English

Edition details

Title
  • THE ARTS A production strictly for masochists (31 July 1979)
Appears In
  • The bulletin., v.100, no.5171, 1979-07-31 (ISSN: 0007-4039)
Other Contributors
  • By BRIAN HOAD
Published
  • xna, John Haynes and J.F. Archibald, 1979-07-31
Physical Description
  • 773 words
  • article
  • photo
  • Journals
  • Magazines
Series
Part Of
  • The bulletin.
  • Vol. 100 No. 5171 (31 Jul 1979)
  • John Ryan Comic Collection (Specific issues).
Subjects
Summary
  • THE ARTS A production strictly for masochists By BRIAN HOAD THERE WERE several disgruntled customers at the Australian Opera the other night who loudly wished they had gone to see Dolly Parton instead. As the evening wore on . . . and on . . . discontent spread. The bar people reported an unprecedented demand for sugar lumps in the champagne. There was a pretty heavy run on spirits too. By the time it was all, at last, over, thoughts of the statuesque Dolly performing Great Balls of Fire did indeed seem infinitely preferable to the Australian Opera performing Tchaikovsky’s sky’s Queen of Spades. But we can all be wiser with hindsight. Without hindsight, the prospect of the Queen of Spades seemed attractive. Tchaikovsky’s tenth and penultimate opera was composed during one of his most creative floods of genius. His wondrous ballet score for Sleeping Beauty came the year before, that of Nutcracker the year after, and they in their turn sit between the fifth and sixth symphonies. The Queen of Spades can hold her head high in such richly melodic and vividly emotional company. And it must be emphasised that the orchestra under Richard Bonynge played it brilliantly. Intriguing too is the plot of this opera. Based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin, it’s the tale of a compulsive gambler, Ghermann, whose single-minded pursuit of the secret of winning at a rather crude card game called faro causes his girlfriend, Lisa, to drown herself and frightens her grandmother, the Countess (who holds the secret of the cards), to death. It also drives him first insane and then to suicide after losing all at the gaming tables. Admittedly, there is some dramatic deadwood in the libretto which Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest, adapted from Pushkin’s story, but the dramatic drive of the music never flags. The power of the music is the main staging problem. The producer must compel the audience to become as deeply involved in the characters and their destinies as Tchaikovsky was himself. After all, Tchaikovsky tells how he half-frightened himself to death while working on the opening scene of the third act in which the ghost of the Countess appears to reveal her secret; and by the end he was in floods of tears over Ghermann’s sordidly tragic death. Certainly it’s a tricky production challenge. And the Australian Opera can hardly be blamed for believing that the legendary Regina Resnik, a singing star of the world’s opera stages for 35 years and a producer since 1971, was the one to pull it off. Both as a singer (as the Countess) and as a producer, Resnik has become closely associated with this opera. Her last production of it (again with Bonynge as conductor) was for the Vancouver Opera when the work was updated to the 1920 s and set on the French Riviera. But this time we are back again in St Petersburg of the 1830 s. It is yet another production in a vaguely “realistic” manner, cluttered with much vulgar cardboard opulence, embarrassed with dramatic amateurisms (the scene with the Countess’s ghost is almost laughable) and thoroughly out of key with Tchaikovsky’s score. Production horrors start even before the music. The audience is forced to take its seats before a drop-curtain on which is splurged in the crudest possible manner a gigantic portrait of the Countess who is revealing (rather prematurely) the secret of the cards. Miss Resnik’s designer is her husband, Arbit Blatas. Matters are hardly improved when this visual monstrosity is temporarily removed to reveal a St Petersburg cluttered with curved staircases up and down which dowdily dressed frumps wander in a general state of rather stiff bewilderment. Of course, 19th-century St Petersburg, a provincial outpost, may well have been populated by aimless, awkward frumps with appalling dress sense. But this is supposed to be Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades a psychological drama, not a rude social documentary. So the evening dragged on. Attempts at shutting the eyes and concentrating on the music were thwarted by thoughts of more comfortable seating at home and some enthralling recordings of this magnificent work. Anyway, having been trapped, a masochistic curiosity about just how badly opera can be staged proved irresistible. And it may well be reckoned that nothing has been quite as bad as this since Stefan Haag’s unforgettable tussle with Donizetti’s Elixir of Love back in 1975. Perhaps the unfortunate performers mers were reckoning similarly. Fitful attempts to pull themselves up by their own histrionic boot laces were largely swamped by a weird radiant sense of apologetic embarrassment. But everybody body sang well. □ Marilyn Richardson in The Queen of Spades: at least everybody sang well
Terms of Use
  • In Copyright
Language
  • English
Identifier
  • AP7 (LC)

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