Thursday, July 29, 2010

Romanticism vs. Modernism in opera

This clip from a mid-1990s British documentary about the Royal Opera House exemplifies the conflict between traditional, reverential opera productions and the modernist approach.

It begins with a group of opera traditionalists protesting the house's staging of a horrid modern opera, Gawain, that is marked by its dissonant style. Next we get a glimpse of a postmodern production of Mozart's The Magic Flute (which proves to be an artistic and commercial failure).

Then, in the highlight of the clip, we see a glorious, traditional production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, conducted by Bernard Haitink, which is a bona fide triumph, and wildly popular.

The video concludes with a look at the opera house's plans to stage a ridiculous, revisionist version, bordering on self-parody, of Wagner's Ring.

Note in particular the music director's concluding comment that opera is a "battlefield between the musical and dramatic elements." But must it be so? Or rather, isn't the concept of harmony between the musical and dramatic elements (such as we see in the Die Meistersinger clip) aesthetically preferable, and more artistically fulfilling?

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