Opera is a truly bizarre concept; on the one hand it is glorious, soaring and epic, and on the other it is awkward and embarrassing, for all too obvious reasons. Character psychology is more often than not extremely basic, while the plot lines are ridiculous and lack any tangibility.
Furthermore, it is incredibly expensive, which is galling given that it lies in direct conflict to our mostly realist perspective – it often involves bizarre, fantastical creatures which are simply not relatable, and of course fundamentally, words meant to be spoken are offered up through song.
Opera directors themselves seem to share an appreciation for the ridiculousness of it all. They attempt to make a piece relevant, or they merely attempt to disguise their over-the-top silliness. This has of course, led to phenomena such as the relocation to 1950s New York of Verdi’s Rigoletto, or Patrice Chéreau’s Marxist re-imagining of Wagner’s Ring in Bayreuth; which are some of the most striking and awe-inspiring images the theatre has seen.
Sadly, though these highlights are absolutely worth mentioning, they are in the minority as successful attempts to make opera both more serious and more relevant. It is easy to think of half a dozen failures for each undoubted success. One problem is that present political or social relevance are often obscured by modern interpretations. Class conflict, for example, lay at the heart of Mozart’s work, but numerous updates have seen this theme destroyed.
It is far too common for an interested follower of the industry to feel as if a unique interpretation has been applied and attached to an opera, giving it a tacked-on feeling, rather than that interpretation being grown, almost organically, from within the piece. Visitors are left with an unfair decision as to whether to focus on the scenes or the music.