Saturday, November 13, 2010

Opera Cleveland: La Voix Humaine & Pagliacci

A double-billing of La Voix Humaine (By Francis Poulenc, Libretto by Jean Cocteau) and Pagliacci (By Ruggero Leoncavallo) brought tonight's audience to PlayhouseSquare's State Theater for one of the last performances in Opera Cleveland's abbreviated season -- and one of the last in their current incarnation as Opera Cleveland.

To the outside observer, the writing has been on the wall in varying shades of darkness since before the season began. Opening the season with Lucia di Lammermoor -- I think my best opera-going experience to date (thanks in no small part to the semi-open rehearsal) both enthusiasm (audience and production) and and production quality were high. The intervening production of The Pearl Fishers was flat for enthusiasm but the production quality was still high. Tonight's operas, I hate to say, were flat for both.

Now most of the "production quality" issues that caught my eye (none caught my ear, thankfully) were minor in and of themselves but combined I got the sense of a struggle to get the show up--and surely no budgets were broken in the construction of the sets.

La Voix Humaine was agonizing. Consisting solely of the suicidal woman's side of a telephone conversation with a former lover, fighting through a party line, disconnected calls, and nosy neighbors. The concept is intriguing but the execution felt eternal; I didn't particularly care for the lone singer's voice. As much as I wanted to feel a sense of drama -- the woman was, after all, suicidal and speaking with a long-time lover on the eve of his wedding to another woman -- it could have been a reading of the daily news for all I could tell. The music, though well performed, was so punctuated--coming in short, seemingly unrelated bursts--that it didn't really add anything.

In Pagliacci, I realized (decided?) that even if Opera Cleveland emerges following the restructuring [and I sincerely hope it does], I will not be in that audience. As much as I want to like opera*, I realized that it's just not for me--and I can't justify the ticket prices for something that's I'm at best apathetic about. The opera opens with two mimes and beautiful music; I truly thought that I was going to enjoy it. Again, this struck me as emotionally flat, and all of the women's voices drove me crazy -- and I don't mean that in a good way. Thought the action on stage was unfufilling the music was beautiful and on more than one occasion dissuaded me from making a mid-opera exit; my favorite parts were all instrumental including a passage at the end that is instantly recognizable.


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