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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Six Blogs From Away

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

While away for L’elisir d’amore with Longborough, I thought of various things that I’d normally flesh out into a whole blog.

However, rehearsals take up a lot of time, especially while also preparing to launch Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2023.

So I made notes of the core concept, that I could potentially enflesh them later on.

However, I suspect that the general thrust can be announced now, and if I decide it’s fun, I’ll return to these ideas later.

1. The Bouffon of Creep

Bouffon is a form of clowning that (loosely) forms an absurd, inverted version of our own. The king is a baby, the binman is the president. It’s anarchic, satirical, and often biting in the proper sense of ‘can really goddamn hurt’.

I, on the other hand, am very good at (I am told) a form of physical performance that is astonishingly creepy. A disconcerting body, twists of the head, odd speech. And I wonder what a horror-focused clowning would look like, even as I realise that Elf Lyons probably has the answers as to whether there is a specific form focused on horrific performance.

Because I want to form more people towards playing monsters.

2. Revolutionary Opera via Austen

A problem many directors have in opera is that they might like to add politics, because that excites them as directors, but they cannot find a door.

Austen is remarkably somewhat useful here, because she emphasises the centrality of money in many of her works. It matters that her heroines lack access to money, because without it they will be lost to poverty. It goes without saying in her world that falling out of the landed gentry would be terrible.

This is the world of most operas too. There is gross inequality between rich and poor, and a desperate lack of mobility. It’s the world that was dying as Chekov’s Lopakhin celebrates buying the estate where his grandfather was a slave.

That is to say, the world of most operas is the world that made the communist revolution desirable in the 19th century. Because if you cannot better your station without violence, if you cannot feed yourself in your current station, then there is a strong temptation (indeed, a plausible justification) towards violence.

During some of the revolutions of the period, the middle class joined in against the aristocracy. After all, the middle class’ labour was contributing to the wealth of their state, while the aristocracy’s inheritance was allowing them political power and a chokehold on opportunity.

There are a number of operas that can be given a fun production with an awareness of these dynamics. I am sure that these productions already exist.

Imagine Eugene Onegin in a world where the Act 3 ball resembles the one in Doctor Zhivago: a decadent moment of luxury as the disenchanted world marches outside.

3. Opera as shared physical feeling

The unique thing about opera is that when Musetta sings, my body is physically shaken by her sound, as is every other person around me.

Not by amplification, but by that body.

There is an intimacy in sharing that.

It’s part of what makes opera special - beyond the liveness, beyond the technical feat of doing that, but the embodied nature of being shaken at the same time, united by the same vibrations as in everyone else’s body, all to thus share the internal feeling or concept conveyed by those vibrations and, for a brief while, to briefly be allowed to internalise that essence as it is clarified into a musical form.

It’s somewhat pretentious, but I challenge anyone to stand at the receiving end of a tenor singing a love song and not be at least somewhat moved.

Somewhat akin to singing with a group of people, or at a less gentrified level, shouting chants together at a protest or sports match.

4. Storytelling as challenge

It is easier to tell The Three Little Pigs than it is to tell War & Peace.

This is because of many factors: the narrative structure comes more naturally to those of us raised in the UK, it is shorter and simpler, it does not involve anything like as lofty a set of thoughts, and above all, it has little beyond its narrative, whereas a mere synopsis of War & Peace would miss most of the point.

Some stories are harder to tell than others. That’s not necessarily a problem.

5. Real life opera

We act as though turning a real story into an opera is a compliment, and not warping it into melodrama and bourgeois respectability.

I’m not sure, any more.

I’ve seen too many stories of ‘real, authentic’ life flattened out by becoming opera; stretched into a scale they did not want to occupy for little gain in return.

The main gain was opera trying to clad itself in the respectable, rugged clothing of reality and engagement with it. Not the other way around.

But there are many who pretend that lifting something to opera is elevating it, rather than the old aristocracy sponsoring the inventions of Austen’s bourgeoisie and hoping it will save them.

On occasion, the authentic opera works. But often, it does not.

6. A possible game

In The Unimaginable Liberation of the Singer, I mentioned singer-led opera houses.

What if I made a platform where singers could enter as teams, pick a season, and see what happened? There would be various factors to consider - the scale of shows, how risky they were, and how much resource their team had.

But it might be fun to run.

Anyone interested?


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