I like all things live more than I like their filmed counterparts–musicals, plays, sports, operas. I’d rather be there in person, in the thick of a basketball game, than reduced to watching it on TV. I’d much rather be gazing at a stage through the invisible fourth wall than be plopped in a comfy air chair watching some cinematic treatment I ordered through Netflix.
As a faithful proponent for live vs. taped, I’m keenly attuned to production values. Yes, of course, I’m always wowed by the extraordinary. But more than that, I want balance. All parts of a production should support the whole. Someone, hopefully the director, but maybe the producer or the conductor, has to be gutsy enough to strive for that all important balance.
Here’s a recent non-operatic example. A week after it was released, I was dragged along to see Eat, Pray, Love, the movie. I’ll grant you that the previews augured some magnificent scenery. But I had already read portions of the book, and frankly, it failed to impress me like it did friends of mine. Well, no surprise–I didn’t care for the movie either. Was the scenery magnificent? Absolutely. Did the magnificent scenery overshadow the rest of the movie’s elements? Absolutely. Which made the whole experience utterly disappointing for me because I wanted a seamless experience.
Last weekend, I saw Pelléas et Mélisande at the Met. And the production as a whole didn’t work for me. I’ll admit I had some very high expectations for the event: Simon Rattle conducting in his Met debut; Debussy’s luminous, haunting score; and of course, the fact that it was a Metropolitan Opera production featuring some very talented and accomplished singers.
Why didn’t it work? The attention that the audience was expected to pay to the set (yes, the set) was out of balance. First of all, it was a huge mansion, stories high, an overpowering hulk that lumbered around the stage in slow motion during the musical interludes. For me, it didn’t support the story or the music. It stole too much focus–mental energy– away from the rest of the production.
Undue attention had been paid to the set as opposed to balancing the set with the rest of the elements. Had more attention been given to the overall work, to advancing the whole as a whole, such a set might have been reenvisioned as something that would lift up all the other production elements.
If a production takes pains to show me its parts more than its virtues, on the whole, I know I’ll be disappointed. After all, parts is, well, merely parts.
What do you think? If a production is very strong in certain parts, is that good enough for you, as an opera- or theatre-goer?