Who’s that girl?
1) Alcina is one of my favourite operas (as the amount of random and related posts shows)
2) the show at the Barbican was my most expected this year
3) 3 mezzos
Based on these disclaimers I grant you that I’m always full of enthusiasm when it comes to the subject. There might be worthier operas out there but I like Alcina and with as many mezzos as possible, regardless if they look “too manly” when singing a woman or “too womanly” when singing a man1. According to some, apparently last month’s concert performance managed the curious feat of failing on both accounts. There’s no winning for them mezzos, eh. Stick to Carmen and Rosina, girls (unless sopranos appropriate those roles, in which case suck it up until you’re old enough for Azucena or Ulrica; you might still end up too manly for the first two and too girly for the latter).
Really, though, why rant? I share the opinion that everyone is entitled to their view, that we can’t all like the same things etc. This doesn’t preclude me from finding certain views either silly or suspect. Take this rant as an elaborate “oh, come on!” My biggest eye-roll inducer is people getting hung-up on non-issues.
But onto the hang-ups at hand:
(All quotes come from this review of the Barbican show. I have no qualms with the reviewer’s take on anything else beside the fach and gender business.)
1) Alcina sung by a mezzo
Hi, Fach Police, how are you? Who gives a shit if the person singing a role is usually labeled something else? It’s hardly a new practice and frankly, what is so unnatural about transgressing an illusory line such as a vocal label? They are there to help the singer out rather than box them in.
So if the singer can cope with the role’s tessitura, why the hell not? Which segues right into:
2) Singers either not of the “correct” gender or eschewing gender espectations altogether
Gender Police, is that you? Haven’t seen you in a while. Let me reiterate:
If the singer can cope with the role’s tessitura, why the hell not?
It’s theatre, right? For hundreds of years theatre has played with gender either out of necessity or purely theatrically. Why do we care about theatre in the first place? To discover stuff about ourselves we might have not considered; to turn our expectations on their head; to “virtually” try out different things. I hardly think it’s strange to imagine that in 2014 this should be one of the least common hang-ups. But apparently it is quite common.
“Did they really have lesbian affairs shown on stage in Handel’s time?”
They most certainly showed people faced with the possibility of same sex attraction, what with all this disguise business (which was a very common plot device up to the first quarter of the 19th century – lots of it even in Meyerbeer’s Italian operas). That people didn’t think about gay sex the same way we do today is a different thing and hardly important in this context.
The real point is, what about showing lesbian affairs on stage? Is it harder to accept this possibility rather than Alcina’s being a sorceress? It’s theatre; Alcina, Ruggiero et all can be whatever as long as the story holds. There’s nothing in the story that can’t be viewed from a gay angle.
While we’re at it, were the characters sung by castrati supposed to be gay because they sounded effeminate? No? Right. But they could be perceived as such by 21st century ears. Is that a problem?
“He was utterly dumbstruck when I told him that Ruggiero is supposed to be a man, and Bradamante a woman, since he’d decided – perfectly reasonably on the available visual evidence – that it was the other way round. And he isn’t stupid, just unfamiliar with this neck of the repertory:”
Don’t people read the bloody synopsis? They might not have shown lesbian “relationships” on stage in 1735, but in 2014 we’ve mass literacy and Wikipedia. If not stupid then surely ignorant and bigoted.
“I wonder how many of those present actually knew who was who, or more pertinently, what, given the appearance of it all?”
That’s not patronising at all… I’d like to hope quite a few present had brains and imagination enough to work with what they were presented. Aside from actually knowing beforehand what the bloody opera was about… Some of us can even negotiate regie productions. Weird, I know. They didn’t have those in Handel’s time. Except they kind of did (hint: they painted saints/biblical stories in contemporary clothing/settings).
“(certainly not the woman in front, who laughed like a drain from first to last, as if somebody had told her Handel could be funny, whereupon she’d decided it was a flat-out farce, all three hours’ worth of it)”
I laughed too, I thought it was a funnier than usual take on Alcina and I’ve heard/seen a few (specifically, the surtitles were a hoot and the Morgana-Bradamante interplay hilarious, but that one is more or less meant to be; yes, Handel is funny sometimes). I don’t normally think of Alcina as particularly funny but I don’t mind being convinced otherwise. Different takes on the same subject – funny concept, I know. Funny like not sticking to one Fach or to one gender.
But, you know (in regards to JDD’s coiff):
“from the neck up she looked like a male rocker from the cast of Grease”
Buddy, if you think JDD ever looks anything like a man – short hair, long hair, sideburns, whathaveyou, she’s sported them all on stage – I might have to introduce you to a couple of blokes. Or blokes who are a couple. Or to the 21st century.
- I go to the opera for singers’ voices first and foremost. Eyecandy, whilst highly appreciated, is a bonus. Which is why this blog isn’t called mezzohunks/babes ;-) ↩