Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Prelude to a Tragedy

He caught my eye.

He did not so much as move, but he caught my eye. It would have been bad form for him to move – they are trained to immobility during the sacred rites. He looked like a statue, a column holding up a temple, a noble palm tree – a bit stiff, but well-proportioned. My eye, involuntarily, a reflex, wandered up and up him, seeking the roof or the sky.

The face – not pretty – stern, rather. Piers of bone, eyes strictly forward, not looking at anything, anyone, certainly not at me. It would have been insolent for him to look at me. Something told me he would never be insolent – not with intent. So stiff, so rigid – like a kouros statue – what was the attraction? We like them stiff in Egypt, of course. But sensuality is not the usual response to a statue, unless a pornographic one.

At first, I was aware of no such sympathy. I was aware of him merely from the corner of an eye, through a haze of kohl. It would be a preposterous breach of etiquette for me to look at him – I, in whose veins the blood of Isis flows. A man is a man; I am Egypt – as my nurses, the priests, my father, have always told me. A breach of etiquette, for me from my ceremonial place to notice any man, a breach worthy of rebuke by even the most indulgent parent.

A mere man may give one aesthetic pleasure – like a statue, a column upholding a temple, or a tree lifting its fruit out of my yearning reach – but a priestess does not feel for him the way a mere woman might feel, the way I have been told it is beneath me even to understand. And he did move me, aesthetically – but other men are taller, or more graceful, or more beautiful, or even stronger, perhaps braver. Why did my eye linger on this one?

Ginger, my first look. And the second, the third? A whispering look, a tapping glance, like a sprinkle of salt on bread, so that one might not detect, or analyze, the quality that adds to one’s savor – until that taste is not there, and all else is bland to boredom.

So the second time, the third, the fourth – until I began to seek him with my eye whenever the honor guard of my father’s young captains appeared to take part in this ritual or that, to notice how this muscle flexes and that extends, observe the light flash in his eye or the shadow dimple his clean-shaven cheek, and assure myself that my regard extends no deeper than my eye’s calm appreciation, of his symmetry, of his dignity, of his skill. All the while I compare him to others, and find him superior in this way, inferior in that, until there comes a moment when I realize I have not looked at any other figure for quite some time – not even at my august parent on his throne – and that I have rearranged my life, without thinking about it, so that I attend more often than I did those ceremonies he is likely to attend, and then more often still until my presence perhaps seems incongruous, calling for explanation, an explanation I cannot give, to the grave and ancient formality of those whose business it is to guide us below to match, stately pomp for stately pomp, the celestial procession marching above. It is as if the Moon were rising out of her courses, eclipsed at an unlikely season, or as if the Sun shone by night.

Almost I do not care, how the thing may appear, though inside myself a truer self (or is it?) opens kohl-lined eyes, amazed at my folly, but reassures me I am not so rapt that I cannot cease my mad behavior at any time, only that I do not see the need to do it yet.

But what do I care for their glances, their raised eyebrows, the priests, the courtiers, my old nurse? I hardly see them, in my impatient tension that can only be relieved when he enters, or aggravated when I stand like a statue, a column, a tree, immobile as a carved goddess, through an entire rite not daring to move my eyes yet a tumult behind them – and he does not come at all.

How did I reach such a point, where nothing else matters any longer but the sight of His Insignificance whose name I am not even supposed to know, though of course I have found it out?

His coming can never be taken casually because, as often as I have seen him, puzzling and calculating and appreciating and enjoying every angle of every feature, the play of light and shade, the ceremonial dance of his unselfconsciously athletic movement, when he is not there, though I spend hours of my sleepless nights attempting to call it up to myself, and though a thousand coincidences of shape, of texture, of color in other circumstances call him up to me involuntarily, still his every appearance, his hallowed looks are always a surprise, such that at first I am not sure it is he, it might be someone else, and not even an attractive someone else, for he never stood in precisely that posture, or did he?

Then I realize it is indeed he, and at first I flatter myself that his unfamiliarity means I am over this strange addiction, and I watch this new aspect of him idly, in amusement, only to feel in my inmost heart the familiar quickening of pulse and interest, and know that I have not conquered this perverse and alien feeling. Quite the contrary. Quite the contrary.

I stare, and I do not care who sees it, knows it, so long as one person sees it, knows it, acknowledges what he sees, what seems more obvious to me than the ray of light permitted entrance to the cavernous gloom so that it may magically fall precisely on my father’s exalted self immobile on the throne, or the stifling smell of incense, or the glum and eternal rhythms of the chanting priests, and yet it seems invisible to him, and to everyone – my secret.

Of course his eyes do not flicker in recognition or secret message, for I am the Princess of Egypt and it would be insupportable insolence and indiscipline in him to do so. I admire this, his discipline; one could built empires upon it. One has. Yet, oh, how madly I could wish he were not so disciplined! Though empires fell!

Some others among the captains not so well bred (I surmise – I expect – no, I know there are) who look at me as if I were a woman, and he, he does not, or does he do so only when he knows I do not look at him, at some intricate portion of the ceremony charged to my care, and he is so clever that I have not caught him at it?

But I am cleverer still.

He is moved when I am present.

I see this, I cannot doubt it. Yet I do doubt, do crave the power to see his heart and know its thoughts and reasons, but there’s no help for the wishing it, as they say.

I see that he is moved that I am so often present. His eyes, once so stiff, start and turn, shadowed perhaps, when I arrive with my suite of the noblest and loveliest of the slaves captured in my father’s wars, who surround me in many-hued diaphany, when I enter the place of ceremony.

If it is a ritual where I am not expected and have no fixed part, he stares straight ahead, as he did at first, and I, peering from a hidden place, can feast upon his unconscious posing. But if it is a ritual where I am a principal, where I am to enter in my noblest garb and my hieratic jewels, surrounded by the fairest and most dignified of my ladies, then I find, and blush for seeking it, exulting in it, that he wears the signs of one who has been waiting, anticipating – as I in my time have done for him and his regiment of captains. His eyes seek me out, still cast slightly down or away, for it would be insolent, punishable, for him to stare at the Princess of Egypt. His eyes seek and though they never look at me directly, they find – for I see them aflame, and his bearing straightens, and his color reddens as though the blood in his veins flowed quicker than it lately did, swiftly as the Nile in flood.

I feel the link, from his heart to mine, this though my blood is that of the gods and his merely human. I care not a fig for that. I feel how we know, how we understand each other, and it is not in our heads, this understanding, but in our hearts, our blood. My knees turn to water, but I am the Princess of Egypt, bearer of the ichor of Isis, and I remain as erect, as proud, as if I were a statue, a column, or a warrior trained to march through deserts. Beneath features that never move – for there is no call, in ceremony, for expression upon the kohl-masked face of the Princess of Egypt, and I am well-trained and obedient; I do not move – beneath my painted face, the woman exults, that the proud palm bears its fruit for her, that it will be sweet to her taste and no one else’s!

I exult and yet fear when I learn from my spies, who have overheard the priests and my father’s councilors, that he – he – has been noticed for valor, and skill in command. Perhaps he will have high rank in the new war. Perhaps he will depart, knowing nothing of my heart, which belongs to him now, as truly as my soul belongs to Isis.

So I summon my ladies. I have many ladies, princesses brought in tribute to the greatness of Egypt, or captive ladies whose exotic beauty has earned them a place in the array that follows me, the heiress of Egypt: pale skins, dark skins, skins stung by the sun or the tang of the salt wave; hair of even more exotic hues and textures; eyes that are not always even black. They have been carefully chosen. They are like a ceremonial garment, as they follow me, shimmering, their presence so far from a homeland where such looks are common itself a tribute, an adornment, to the imperial splendor of Egypt. I put them on or off like a garment, an ornament. When I say to them, “Come, let us attend this ritual where the new general is to be named, and the gods of victory are to be invoked for him,” if they raise their eyebrows, it is perhaps because they have realized I have a motive other than patriotism or the ritual place of my duties as a priestess in attending such things. But I no longer care, I have never cared, it is beneath me to care, what they think with minds that have never been trained to the sublime.

When I enter the room, he will see my ornamental robe of attendant ladies, and he will marvel at the woman amidst this splendor, the woman who – he must have realized by now – loves him as a woman, as well as a princess, a priestess, the daughter of Isis, Egypt loves him.

The trumpeters relax; they will lift their full lips to the silver and brass when the signal arrives that my father has come. They relax, their hands at their sides.

He has not been seen.

Beyond the portal of the great room where my father will come to speak the word of command, to name the general, to present the campaign, to be hailed as a living god, I arrive and I see him, speaking in the vestibule to one of the priests. The priest goes but he lingers, longing to hear if his or another’s is Egypt’s glory. I know; I already know; I have learned the unknown; I have my spies. He ponders and meditates, he does not yet know – unless he has come to expect it – as surely he must have done – that I am here, too – that I have observed, am observing him. One of my ladies, a copper-dark captive, intrudes in my way, looking towards that portal, not seeing her mistress – an interference, a slight. I could have her whipped for that, but I am too full of the joy that is coming; I brush her aside like a fly with my fan, to let my eyes gaze and drink their fill of him. I am taut as a cord on the hooks of a loom.

I must speak to him. It breaks the protocol, but I must speak to him. It is time. Bare seconds before the trumpets sound. Motioning my ladies to remain where they are, I step unprecedentedly forward. The thing begins.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oscar Wilde: The opera synopsis

Supposedly the Met has commissioned someone to compose an opera based on the life of Oscar Wilde, to star David Daniels who is running out of Handel works of Metropolitan caliber. Apparently someone else attempted an opera of Wilde's life for the Granite State Opera a few years ago, but it was never completed. Who knows where this will lead in an era where everyone seems to think he (or she) can write an opera but no one actually does it well. Can the librettos be at fault? (Probably not; they're mostly by Sandy McClatchy.) In any case, my friend Jeanne on the David Daniels Fans List asked if anyone knew enough about Wilde's life to sketch out a scenario.

A witch once said she thought I'd been Oscar Wilde in a previous life. I said, "Possibly ... but not in HIS." (Even my inner doubt has never impelled me to quite so self-destructive a working-out.) (I don't think.) But I have helped Jeanne out thus:

The Wilde Life !

Prologue: 1900:
Dying of tuberculosis in Paris (“Either the wallpaper goes or I do”), Oscar Wilde (countertenor) (all right, I see him as a baritone, maybe Mariusz Kwiecien, but the commission is for David Daniels) reflects upon a life mispent … drifting back to:

Act I, scene 1:
A Tuesday evening soiree chez Stephane Mallarmé in Paris, c. 1891, where Wilde (in knee-breeches, with a huge tiger lily in his hand) has been reading his new symbolist drama, Salome, hoping Sarah Bernhardt (mezzo soprano) will perform it (she has sung Salome’s last speech in a very un-Straussian style - part Gluck, part Massenet). Wilde is toasted by the crowd for his wit and defiance of prim British hypocrisy. Friends, however, urge him to tone down his decadence since rumors of his misbehavior with telegraph boys and so forth may get about. He pooh-poohs their fears and flirts with an aristocratic young poet, Lord Alfred Douglas (baritone), an undergraduate at Oxford … as the party falls away behind them, Wilde begins to sing elaborate lyrics to Alfred’s beauty. We understand that, in Wilde’s fever dream, his mind has shifted from the night they met to the height of their affair. "We were destined to meet here tonight, Oscar! It's an omen of a glorious new world, awakened to beauty!" "Oh my dear Bosey - there are no such things as omens. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that."

Act I, scene 2:
A gossiping triple chorus – aristocrats resenting Wilde for sneering at them, middle class types outraged at Wilde for making fun of their aspirations by exalting Art for Art’s Sake, street toughs threatening to do violence to a grown man who wears velvet and knee breeches and a green carnation. These sneers are heard by a lady walking through the crowd, arriving in her home and collapsing.

Act I, scene 3:
She is Constance Wilde (soprano), she’s heard all the stories about her husband, she hopes they’re not true – but she knows he ignores her these days. Her mother-in-law, the poetess Speranza (mezzo soprano), arrives, refuses to hear anything bad about her son, and urges Constance to dress more unconventionally, the sure way to win back a straying husband. Wilde finally comes downstairs – it’s mid-afternoon, he’s just getting up – and they beg him to spend the evening at home en famille. He pays them both extravagant compliments – then a telegram arrives. This, he says, summons him to a special performance he must attend. While tipping the telegraph boy, Ernest (tenor) – whom we saw earlier as one of the nastiest of the street toughs – he offers him a tip if he (the boy) will meet him at a brothel that evening. The boy is delighted to accept.

Act II, scene 1: 1895:
An ecstatic prelude leads into the crowd at the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, cheering Wilde to the echo. As he leaves the theater, congratulations on every hand, someone hands him a note. The Marquess of Queensberry (Alfred’s father) has written: “To Oscar Wilde, posing as somdomite.” [sic] Wilde’s world falls apart (as shown by the tonality of his aria, which is in violent contrast to that of the chorus of praise, still heard in the background, the words subtly changing to condemnation). Despite the apprehension of several friends, urged on by Alfred, he resolves to sue the marquess for libel.

Act II, scene 2:
Trial scene – or rather, several trial scenes, run together in his fevered brain: The prosecutor (bass) trips him up by quoting the love letter Wilde sang to Lord Alfred in Act I, and the telegraph boy Ernest begins damning testimony joined by three other young boys, Constance begs him to flee the country before he is prosecuted for criminal behavior, and at the climax the Judge (spoken part) intones a sentence of Two Years Hard Labour.

Act III, scene 1:
1897: Wilde, in his cell, a broken man, is haunted by the voices of his mother and his wife, both of whom have died of grief. He apostrophizes an imaginary Lord Alfred, who responds with contempt – in the same words the street crowd used of him in Act II. The real Lord Alfred comes in as a visitor and tries to be reassuring, but Wilde is listening to his hallucinations, and Alfred gives up. Wilde begins to sing several stanzas of The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Act III, scene 2:
1900: Back in Paris, tossing around bits of De Profundis, mourning that he has never found true love and that, since his wife is dead, he is forbidden by her relations to see his sons, Wilde sings of the cruel world that frowns on beauty and love … and at the end realizes that he destroyed himself out of a wish to identify with Christ and be martyred for love. He stands in cross-attitude, singing of his bleeding wounds and of his wit that will redeem humanity.

© 2009, John Yohalem

Friday, October 9, 2009

Barber of Seville at the Met

Bartlett Sher’s production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia has proved one of the more admired stagings of the Peter Gelb regime, but I’ve avoided it due to a surfeit of Barbieres and to fond memories of the previous “turntable” production, which satisfied every demand one might reasonably make of a Barbiere: The complicated story was told clearly, the stage pictures were handsome and the set changes elegant, the funny business was funny and to the point, the movement rapid. Even Rossini’s thunderstorm got laughs, as a projected starry sky was gradually effaced by clouds and real rain while the set spun around below. I wasn’t crazy about the barber’s updated costume and I could have done without the donkey – the donkey is the one item Mr. Sher retained.

The new production, which I saw on October 8, does not get in the way of the storytelling (a major point! especially in a comic opera), does not introduce new sub-plots the composer never delineated (a defect of the recent stagings of Tosca, Sonnambula and Fidelio, among others), the stage pictures are attractive and will endure repeated viewing (unlike Tosca), the funny business is sometimes funny – and gives scope, as a comedy staging should, for funny performers to make it more so; there are inexplicable touches (what is that giant anvil in the sky, aside from a sign of Mr. Sher out of ideas? Why does Bartolo’s china closet explode?), and the movement is constant if not always logical. Seville, indicated in the previous production by the city’s famous white walls and a splendid conservatory in the courtyard of Bartolo’s mansion, is now implied by many, many doors and an orangery. At one point, the Count, playing a drunken soldier, makes a swipe at an orange tree with his saber – and appeared to slice it through – the best laugh of the night. I’d give the production a solid B, maybe a B-plus.

The most distinctive part of the Sher staging – aside from the moveable doors that comprise most of the set, and which are often used to delightful farcical advantage – is the platform around the orchestra pit that allows singers to leave the action and come warble to us intimately, duck out of busy action entirely, complain about how badly they are being used by other characters – or hand out business cards to the audience, as Figaro does during the curtain calls. This parade in front of the apron also allows a solid but underpowered cast to make a more powerful effect than they would if they remained center stage. There was certainly an improvement in sound quality when they stepped forward.

Among the singers last Thursday night, the smoothest, most elegant, most satisfying performance came from Bulgarian newcomer Orlin Anastassov, who possesses the requisite size, depth and legato for Don Basilio and is an amusing comic actor to boot. It is no surprise to see in the program that he is singing Boito’s Mefistofele elsewhere this year – that’s an opera that the Met could certainly use back in its repertory, and he’s a likely candidate to put over a role that calls for an agile actor as well as a remarkable voice.

Rodion Pogossov, a showman of great charm and comic energy – you may well remember his Papageno – sang a most entertaining Figaro, with a seductive and self-seductive way of phrasing. John Del Carlo, a familiar and excellent buffo quantity, fudged the racing patter of “A un dottore del mio sorte,” as so many Doctor Bartolos do, but proved an effective foil for the antics of all the others throughout the evening. You can’t have a farce if the villain isn’t convincingly alarming – if he’s not, nobody else’s antics make sense. Del Carlo, tall as a Wagnerian giant, can be alarming while full of self-pity, which is just what we want.

Barry Banks is a comic actor the equal of any bel canto tenor going – his smarmy smiles as the feigned “Don Alfonso” were especial joys – and his coloratura technique is remarkable, but the quality of the voice itself was dry in “Ecco ridente” and rather hollow the rest of the night. Dramatic intensity (as Oreste in Rossini’s Ermione) and delirious self-parody (as Thisbe in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream) are his fortes; romantic heroes are not.

That brings us to the ladies. Joyce Di Donato is a few years into an important career. She is an excellent comic actress – you listen to her, yes, but you also watch, just to see what she’ll come up with next. She works the manic fireworks of “Contro il cor” in the Lesson Scene into a simultaneous show of brilliant vocalism and stage hilarity like no other Rosina I’ve seen, and when she dashes out on that walkway to deliver the evening’s few big phrases, her strong line suggests that many of the grander bel canto roles (Adalgisa, Elisabetta Tudor, La Favorite) would suit her well, but in some of her rapid-fire phrases in “Una voce poco fa” and elsewhere, she seemed too anxious to race up and down the scale to bother with the note-perfect ideal flow of a Horne, a Berganza or a Swenson. She seems to love to play this role and to be on stage with these other singers, but a little more technical focus (and you just know she could do it) would make hers an extraordinary Rosina instead of another very good one. Claudia Waite, the Berta, sang her “sherbet aria” with the shrill, ungrateful tone one expects of, well, Berta the laundress.

Maurizio Benini in the all but invisible orchestra pit kept the wheels turning precisely without calling attention to himself – it was not a Mozartean reading of the score but a reliable base for the farcical doings on stage. The whole evening seemed calculated in that direction, and it was gracious of him to be so self-effacing, but sometimes Rossini works well as a partnership.


In the end the performance does not rescue the dreary new production – still, the reason to visit the Met’s new Tosca is Karita Mattila’s bravura if wrongheaded interpretation of the title role. Mattila plays the prima donna Floria Tosca as an over-the-top old-school diva, all self-dramatizing nervous energy. This is dangerous, as the events of the last day of Tosca’s life would excite a buried Samuel Beckett heroine from torpor into frenetic activity: Tosca endures jealous frenzies, first soothed and then confirmed, a command performance before the queen, the torture of her lover, then betraying him, a brutal seduction, a hot-blooded murder, her lover’s apparent salvation, his actual death, and a desperate leap to her own.

If none of this penetrates her self-involvement, perhaps the business with Scarpia isn’t really so bad – she just gets carried away. You know: divas! Certainly the final scene of Act II in the Luc Bondy production is a tasteless mistake – Mattila’s Tosca seems neither stunned nor shocked by having been driven to murder. She plots it beforehand, hides the dagger, arranges her dress so as to incite him, kicks him off the sofa afterward to present a better “stage picture,” and in describing the event to Cavaradossi later, she acts it all out – clearly enjoying every moment spent in the limelight of her imagination. If Tosca is too self-involved to be touched by murder, if she looks upon it as just another chance to seize center stage, why should we care about her? why credit her with any genuine feelings?

While Mattila is performing, though, such thoughts seldom intrude. She whirls about the ugly barn of a church like a Roman dervish, she seizes her lover’s paintbrush to alter the Magdalen’s eyes; she exposes her legs for Scarpia’s rape; and she insists that Cavaradossi rehearse his “fake” execution with her. She cannot be still for a moment – and the payback is her “Vissi d’arte,” when, drained by Scarpia’s brutality, she goes pale and empty, lets her voice float stunned into the theater. She does not remain crushed – nothing but death will stop this woman’s playacting – but the moment itself is riveting, and the rest of Mattila’s Tosca seems designed to draw our attention to it. Since this is not the heart of the opera – Puccini reportedly found the aria a bit dull – her focus highlights Mattila’s errors elsewhere. Tosca must grow from the flibbertigibbet of Act I to the desperate adventuress of Act III, and Mattila’s Tosca does not make such a change. Her reaction to getting blood on her hands? She puts on purple gloves.

Mattila’s voice is not Italianate – as everyone has been saying since she took up Manon Lescaut a few years back. Her Manon Lescaut indeed lacked the opulent young sound of that teenage sensualist – but Tosca is a mature woman, and Mattila sings her with full-throated sensuality, passion without wilt or waver. I’ve seen Toscas of a dozen nationalities, and her sound is more idiomatic, and more beautiful, than many others of the “Nordic” school – Behrens, Nilsson and Vishnevskaya come to mind. More important is that she feels, and lives, the notes of this extreme character.

Marcelo Álvarez (an Argentine) sings a very Italian Cavaradossi, suave and romantic in “Recondita armonia” and the love duets. He lacked vocal finesse only in “E lucevan le stelle,” which was not the honeyed reverie many tenors give us. Álvarez seemed so involved in acting the words – each one clear – that the anguish of his situation choked him up. The elegiac scene that followed, however, found him Mattila’s match for power and expressive beauty.

Carlo Guelfi sang a gruff, barking Scarpia, brutally effective in Act I, but the nuanced slime of Act II was missing – and was missed. Part of the problem may have been the intrusion of three prostitutes fooling with him at the opening of Act II, and this is typical of the director’s initiatives in adding nothing to the show but unanswerable questions. Scarpia is explaining the trap he plans to set for Tosca – and why: he enjoys sex when the lady resists – and these women don’t take the hint – not at all. Are they the sort of persons in whom Scarpia would confide? No – he’s not the type to confide in anyone, least of all a woman – he’s an egotist who opens himself in soliloquy. So why are the dames here? If we’re not supposed to think about it, or to wonder why they’re hanging around, why their presence and those questions being shoved in our faces? Does Mr. Bondy not understand the words Scarpia is singing? Similarly, if the enormous church is built of unpainted brick – this is Rome? – why is Cavaradossi painting his Magdalen in it?

Tosca is a finely-crafted machine, every effect calculated to a hair; set it in motion with the proper fuel (voices and orchestra) and it will run smooth as a Lamborghini. Each entrance gives us the character: Tosca’s sensuous piety (in a theme that will come back in “Vissi d’arte”), Cavaradossi’s romantic idealism, Angelotti’s desperation. The first appearance of Scarpia is the most terrifying entrance in all opera – because Puccini set it up to be, thrusting it into the midst of a rollicking (but thirty-second-long) children’s scene. We are never supposed to relax after that, whenever Scarpia is around – and that tension pays dividends as Tosca takes her time suspecting what we feel in our skin: this man is setting his trap for her. Why are those whores getting in the way of our focus on a monomaniac evil?

Then there’s dawn amid the bells of Rome, gentle precisely so that it can be interrupted by the grim preliminaries of an execution. To rehearse the firing squad during this serene music does not bring us to the proper frame of mind for a jolt – on the contrary, it gives us a preliminary jolt that undercuts Puccini’s. We should relax until the jailor summons Cavaradossi – but try resting with all that pointless activity on Mr. Bondy’s stage.

To this ugly and irritating concept, the familiar Met forces under Joseph Colaneri brought a symphonic grandeur: the pounding strings rising to climax in Tosca’s scream as Scarpia corners her, the surge of life around the organ processional that ends Act I, the subtle flicks of this instrument or that to comment on character or story or the very real world in which the opera was set – all reminded us of how fine a contraption of interacting parts Puccini devised, even as Mr. Bondy was tearing them apart and flinging them to the winds. I liked Mattila’s abruptly blank face during “Vissi d’arte,” and Joel Sorenson’s (Spoletta’s) look of frustrated, “You’re going to let her get away with that?” during Scarpia’s interrogation, and the way Álvarez was always gazing at, and admiring, his lover – but these touches were probably invisible to most of the house.

The problem with this school of direction is that its practitioners seem to regard the score like music in a film, as an afterthought, mere accompaniment to action. It is not. In opera, the music is the main event – or as much of it as the action is. Action need not be invented to fill up spaces where there is merely music – the spaces of mere music are there for dramatic reasons. To change things without justification is not very good theater.