Saturday, February 03, 2007

Opera for the PlayStation generation


Today's Times breathlessly reports - The curtain will rise on one of the more bizarre business alliances of recent years on Monday, when Sony’s PlayStation unit unveils a collaboration with English National Opera.

A website that will give “the PlayStation generation” a glimpse of life backstage at a Sony-sponsored production of Puccini’s La Bohème is part of a campaign by the Japanese group to plough nearly £1 million into the arts in Britain, in an oblique effort to stem heavy losses at its video games division. Sony will also pay to have a PlayStation 3 installed in the foyer of the London Coliseum.

The investment marks a shift in Sony’s marketing strategy, aimed at bolstering its highbrow credentials and broadening the appeal of the PS3 console before its launch in the UK next month. With a price tag of £425, Sony is betting that as many affluent adults as children go for the games machine ..... It hardly bears thinking about The world of computer games suddenly meets the world of grand opera. Think of the sudden exposure to all that sex and violence masquerading as entertainment! No, those poor gamers won’t know what’s hit them.

The truth is that, for every controversial PlayStation shocker — I’m thinking of teen-pleasing romps such as
Carmageddon, Vice City and Grand Theft Auto — there’s an opera plot that’s twice as shocking. The gory frenzies of Strauss’s Elektra, for example, which finishes with two axe murders, a stage soaked in blood and a heroine who dances herself to death while her screaming sister looks on. Or there’s Berg’s expressionist masterpiece, Wozzeck, in which the depressive anti-hero is subjected to a variety of nasty experiments by his sinister employers before stabbing his wife and drowning himself in a delirious trance.

Naturally ENO — traditionally considered the racier, cheekier alternative to the Aunt Agathas at Covent Garden — has tended to capitalise on the sensationalism, and perhaps that explains the link-up with PlayStation. Both of the now infamous productions that ENO presented by the Catalan director
Calixto Bieito certainly owed something to the pumped-up intensity offered by a night in with a joypad, console and the latest shoot-em-up. For his Don Giovanni, Bieito relocated the story in modern-day Barcelona, with a binge-drinking, gun-toting Don Juan who finally met his comeuppance when he was ritually stabbed by his victims in a bloody and wholly invented finale.

Or there was Bieito’s unique take on Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. The opera was shocking enough on its 1859 premiere (the censor objected to the depiction of a king being assassinated), but Bieito gave us singing gangsters on toilets, a liberal dose of wife-beating and a homosexual gang-rape. Was Vice City as vicious? Highly unlikely.

Read the full article in today's Times - the bulk of the article is by the Times' Classical Music Editor, and it certainly is a sign of the Murdoch Times that they misspell 'Editor'.

English National Opera is the company that brought us the universally derided Gaddafi: A Living Myth. So it should come as no surprise that the tag line for the American version of the PlayStation game Carmageddon is 'The racing game for the chemically imbalanced', while Grand Theft Auto; Vice City ' features a total of 35 weapons divided into 10 classes (classified by portability, firepower or function), with the player allowed to carry only one weapon from each class. Each class presents a set of weapons which each presenting their own strengths and weaknesses, such as weight, damage and efficiency'.

But hey, I guess opera needs the new audience.


Or does it?

Now read about another attempt to reach new audiences that actually benefits contemporary composers, musicians and audiences, rather than just grabbing cheap headlines.
My header image is from a Calixto Bieito production, but it's not an opera. It is from his staging of Ibsen's Peer Gynt for Teatre Romea. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

1 comment:

Garth said...

Pliable, readers of your comment, may -- or may not -- be interested in reading opera specialist Roger Parker's "Remaking the Song
Operatic Visions and Revisions from Handel to Berio", which is his set of collected University of California Berkeley's Ernest Bloch lectures from two or three years ago. In it, Parker, an American who I believe still is teaching at Cambridge University (UK), apparently argues for radical deconstruction and reinterpretation of the Western operatic canon: "Opera performances are often radically inventive. Composers' revisions, singers' improvisations, and stage directors' re-imaginings continually challenge our visions of canonical works. But do they go far enough? ... Roger Parker, considering examples ranging from Cecilia Bartoli's much-criticized insistence on using Mozart's alternative arias in the Marriage of Figaro to Luciano Berio's new ending to Puccini's unfinished Turandot, argues that opera is an inherently mutable form, and that all of us--performers, listeners, scholars--should celebrate operatic revisions as a way of opening works to contemporary needs and new pleasures [emphasis added]."

I looked at a mint condition, half-price copy of the book last week, but decided to direct my limited disposable income to other corners of the humanities marketplace of ideas.