Friday, July 1, 2011

One Song Does Not an Opera Make



This was our conclusion after seeing Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, and the song within it, which certainly has had and will have a long life, was Barcarolle, in this YouTube version sung by the sisters Iordachescu, Irina (soprano) and Cristina (mezzo-soprano). We went on an opera marathon here recently and saw two versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Godspell. Andrew Lloyd Webber composed Superstar in 1970 and Joseph in 1968. Superstar is much better; in Joseph a few songs call attention to themselves, but the work as a whole appears to be a loose stitch-together of the songs. We found Godspell weak—but filled with memories: Monique had played in a version produced at Eisenhower (that used to be a high school in Hopkins, Minnesota).

We noted, this time around, that Superstar and Godspell, both of which trace Jesus’ final days, both stop short of the resurrection—which gave us things to talk and think about beyond opera and music …

The older a thing, the more we approach it with awe—at least in anticipation—hence we waited for the first strains of The Tales of Hoffmann in appropriate awe. In its final, finished version the opera was first produced in 1879, one of the last works of Jacques Offenbach, widely celebrated by that time as the composer of fifty some odd operettas, among these Orpheus in the Underworld. Well. We were not very impressed by Tales. Perhaps romanticism is too far in the past, perhaps we’re tired of recycled Mephistopheles, and the music, here and there almost achieving beat and melody, invariable fell apart, distracted as we were by the kitchy baroque of the production-values of this 1951 film.

One song does not an opera make. We did enjoy Barcarolle. But it only consumed 3 of 128 minutes of this seemingly endless confusion.

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