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The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci (Operas); Wild Tales (Movie)

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni; starring Eva-Maria Westbrook, Marcelo lvarez, George Gagnidze, Jane Bunnell, Ginger Costa-Jackson; and Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo; starring Patricia Racette Marcelo lvarez, George Gagnidze, Lucas Meachem, Andrew Stenson; conducted by Fabio Luisi; directed by David McVicar; with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus; HD Live Transmission, April 25, 2015

This popular double bill was the first operatic production that I saw live. It was around 1960 and the Met was making its spring visit to Detroit. The production featured stars of no less magnitude than Eileen Farrell as Santuzza and Teresa Stratas as Nedda. Mightily impressive for a neophyte opera-goer!

But now? Hmmm.....I guess these two operas are ok if you want some nice music, as long as you can stomach the implications of a culture in which machismo and male prerogative prevail and where it’s taken for granted that they lead to violence. It also helps if you don’t mind a lot of melodrama, with chorus members milling around pointlessly much of the time.

As for the particular look and feel of this production, it seems to me that when you’re going to stage something in a way that isn’t the traditional one, the question is whether your new approach is going to add anything to our understanding and appreciation of the work. David McVicar’s intervention is somewhat iffy in that respect. He has decided to set the two operas in the same venue – a village square – separated by about fifty years. That helps to provide a sense of unity between the two operas that is otherwise lacking. But why does the setting have to be so bleak, particularly in Cavalleria? This looks like a village where the sun never shines. And what’s the point of having all the characters in dark clothes? It never occurred to me that this opera would benefit from appearing to take place in an Amish community. If there’s any meaning to be found in Mr. McVicar’s approach, perhaps it would be that life is pretty dark at the best of times, that it’s dire and gloomy even when we don’t want it to be – i.e. times like Easter.

Perhaps the point of having chorus members seated, at times, on chairs in a circle around the stage was meant to convey the sense of a community passing judgement on an outcast woman. During the famous orchestral interlude, there was a striking moment (even if I don’t know what it meant) when some chorus members surrounded Santuzza with glowing candles. The set revolved at certain times, to no particular purpose, as far as I could see. And what about Mr. McVicar’s idea of having Santuzza onstage all the time? I think that was too much to ask of any actor. During the overture, Eva-Maria Westbrook was obliged to stagger around, trying to emote in a distraught way for about ten minutes. Perhaps that was effective in the house; maybe you could be struck by the sight of this solitary, abandoned figure lurching back and forth. On screen, though, the close-ups made it all too obvious that this was hard work for Ms. Westbrook.

During the intermission interview, Ms. Westbrook came across as a pleasant, unassuming person but her singing voice, unfortunately, seems to be past the stage of the ideal Santuzza. It has that wobbly, broadened sound that comes from pushing too much and for too long, often in Wagnerian roles. Musically, the highlight of the afternoon was Marcelo lvarez’s ringing, resonant delivery of Turiddu’s farewell to his mama. That, in fact, was the only moment of the whole production that engaged me emotionally. While Mr. lvarez and Ms. Westbrook may be – in the way of many opera stars – somewhat mature to be credible as romantic leads, the one character in Cavalleria who seemed perfect, exactly who she was supposed to be, was Jane Bunnell in the role of Mama Lucia.

Mr. McVicar’s staging of Pagliacci in the same village square in the 1940s worked better, thanks to the addition of lots of colourful props, the entrance of a live mule decorated with gorgeous plumes and the players’ battered truck belching sparks and fumes. The little play within the play is necessary, of course, in order to capitalize on the ironic overlap between theatre and reality as related to the theme of jealousy. Musically, though, the playlet is a waste of time, as my ears hear it. Mr. McVicar tried to enliven the proceedings with a lot of clowning and farce, none of which was very interesting, except for one old Vaudeville shtick wherein a character appeared to have three arms. The highlight of this second half of the afternoon was, again, Mr. lvarez’s singing.

 

Wild Tales (Movie) written and directed by Damin Szifrn; starring Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Mnica Villa, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Csar Bordn, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado, Ricardo Darin....and many others.

The makers of this movie must have cringed at the news of last month’s tragedy in the world of aviation. In the movie’s first scene, all the passengers in a plane are discovering that they have connections with a certain guy – bad connections. You could say that these folk are all enemies of his. And guess what? They discover that he’s the captain of this flight, he has locked himself in the cockpit and he is clearly in the process of crashing the plane.

Well, you can’t blame filmmakers for the correspondence between something they’ve imagined and something that has subsequently happened in real life. In this case, however, the unfortunate coincidence doesn’t make it easy to love this movie right off the top. Nor do several of the subsequent episodes, although the problem with them is more about the esthetics of movies than about any unintended reference to recent events. The question in my mind for much of the watching is: what do people want from a movie? Do they want outrageous incidents? Do they want a lot of slapstick and violence? Silliness?

They’re getting all of the above in this offering from Argentina. Each of the movie’s six short stories pictures some hapless person or persons venting their fury at some of the exasperating aspects of contemporary life. To give the overall thrust of the film the best interpretation, you could say there’s an element of social satire to it. Perhaps it’s meant to depict what we would all like to do, if we could only unleash our inner wild person, when we’re up against it big time. (And maybe we have to grant that, for Latin American audiences, there might be special delight in seeing the little guy pushing back against bureaucracies that are widely seen as corrupt.) On the other hand, the strain of gallows humour running through the movie would seem to suggest that the stories might be taken as morality tales with clear messages or warnings: Watch what you say, or, Try to keep calm, or, Don’t sweat the small stuff!

And yet, each episode is like an anecdote, a collection of incidents. Stuff just happens, fuelled by one person’s extreme emotion. It’s all very spectacular, but I’m not involved; I’m just watching. But then comes the case of a guy who goes to outrageous lengths in his anger about parking tickets. His wife tells him that she’s fed up with the way he’s always finding something to blame for his problems. I’m thinking: Oh, good, we’re going to work through some relationship stuff now! But no, the wife’s intervention turns out to be just one more damn thing that happens to the guy, and he moves on.

Admittedly, there’s very stylish movie-making going on here. Super acting. Great photography and lighting. Very effective music. Excellent pacing and editing. The movie’s brisk and efficient story-telling shows to best advantage in the penultimate offering. We’re in somebody’s dark bedroom. A young man is trying to wake up his dad. Next scene, the mother is opening the front door to a lawyer. Turns out the son has caused a hit-and-run accident. The parents want the lawyer to figure out how to get the kid out of trouble. This is the first of the six stories that works as actual drama. You keep wondering how everybody’s going to handle the complications that keep piling up. But even here, there’s a satirical slant, in that the whole thing turns on the venality of human beings.

The movie’s final scenario, a wedding reception, is in some ways the most ridiculous. We start with an explosion of flamboyant hoop-la  – singing and dancing, strobe lights and glitter, almost like one of those Bollywood weddings – but things start to go wrong and something of a Donnybrook breaks out. And yet I found this the most engaging of any of the stories. Why? Because now we have a couple – a bride and groom – who have to deal with some serious stuff between them. As they do so, what takes place in that ballroom and in other parts of the hotel on that one evening is almost a metaphor for life: the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, all packed into one event lasting an hour or so.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com