Conversation piece

On Saturday with D to see Opera Australia’s revival of Capriccio.

We sat in our normal seats, in the middle of the front row. The tickets state that there is “no surtitle view” but our experience has been that if you are prepared to brave a crick in your neck you can make the surtitles out. Usually I do so only sparingly, depending on how well I know the piece and the language it is in.

Capriccio is an opera where nothing very much happens. It’s all in the conversation about opera. There is a debate between the relative importances of words and music with a further rival claim to the importance of the machinery of the theatre itself, personified in the rival claims of a poet and a composer to the affections of a Countess, with interjections from a theatrical impressario on behalf of the theatre and by her brother who has, in loose terms, more Philistine or carnal tastes. I suppose I should have read up the libretto in great detail before I went, but I didn’t. I thought I could glance up, if need be.

It was a shock then to find that the old projected surtitles have been replaced by what appears to be an LED display. I don’t know whether this is an innovation by OA or by the SOH. The lettering is smaller, the positioning is higher and the angle is less favourable, at least for those in the very front. I could just read it if need be but it was an effort and D and my neighbours could not. They were basically stuck with “la musica.” That was luscious but rather defeated the point of the opera for them.

Opera Australia features a blog post by Adrian Collette, entitled: Capriccio: Fostering artistic development at Opera Australia. I have mixed feelings about this title.

On the one hand, I think it means “putting on productions which we want to do although we may not sell tickets” – and I am sympathetic to that, even though, as ever, I think the company is not flexible enough at all in its attempts to sell tickets. As with other such less popular works, only the matinee is a full house. There is a promotional code around which will get you a modest discount on single tickets. I don’t really see why such a code should be restricted to those few in the know when the sales are so sluggish and obviously the discount will need to be greater if those empty seats are to be filled.

On the other hand, I think it means “casting the opera from within the company and especially from the younger artists.” Unfortunately that can really be code for undercasting. Certainly, the casting was quite a bit less luxurious than that which we were treated to when this production premiered as part of the Olympic Arts Festival in 2000. That’s understandable, and after all, the departure of Simone Young a few years after that was in part about whether the company could afford to sustain such standards and costs.

I’d rather see the opera than not see it at all. I accept that casting and undercasting are relative to the resources available. My expectations if I were to go to next month’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor by the Rockdale Opera Company would obviously be quite different from my expectations of a night at the SOH with OA – as would be the ticket prices. In this case there was one clear case, to me at least, of not simply undercasting but also miscasting in terms of voice-type. I’m not a critic and it’s not the singer’s fault (Shortcomings or mismatches are all relative, and I thought the singer in question did well in terms of that particular singer’s development) so other than to say that it wasn’t Cheryl Barker I won’t offer a name. To be fair to Mr Collette, other junior artists bloomed with their moment in the sun, even if there were a few hairy moments.

I did my best with the German and my rusty recollection: at least I could follow the references to Piccini and the battle of the operas. D found it harder going. He and his neighbour both agreed that the ending seemed like it would never come. Actually that’s the whole point of interminable endings, but it’s only the point if you are enjoying and able to follow what’s going on – at least that’s my opinion.

I shall go again. I could go again more often if price were no object and prudence no consideration.

6 Responses to “Conversation piece”

  1. wanderer Says:

    One easy solution would be ‘sidetitles’ on each side, low down, and then they could charge more as well – win/win/lose.

  2. marcellous Says:

    I’ve thought about that. It is the Chinese solution (applied not only to western operas I have seen there, but also to Chinese “operas” Kunju, Jingju, etc). It is probably more visually distracting than surtitles.

    You’re right that the front seats are cheaper because of the restricted surtitle view. What was disappointing for us and our neighbours was that, without warning, the view has become more restricted.

    I guess if this is a permanent change (as seems likely) I shall have to reconsider my seating and preparation strategies.

  3. wanderer Says:

    They have them in the new Grand Theatre in Aix-en-Provence and Tokyo, as in China. Yes, more distracting, but they can be smaller, and probably less bright in that they don’t need to ‘travel’ so far. The main point I was hinting at is that should they do it in Sydney, not bloody likely (I’m taking a cab), is that the best seats would no longer be so affordable.

  4. marcellous Says:

    Indeed. Agreed (see first sentence of para two of comment above) but nevertheless (see second sentence) aggrieved.

  5. Legal Eagle Says:

    :-( That’s annoying! I remember once watching a movie behind a really tall guy – the only way I could see the subtitles was by bending my head to the left – had a tremendous crick in my neck afterwards.

  6. Capriccio « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] the libretto and the benefit of having seen the opera once already, I was in a better position than before to enjoy it even though (relative) frugality again dictated a front-row no-surtitle-view […]

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