Friday, April 10, 2015

Don Pasquale

Modern technology is a delight --- yesterday I watched the Zurich Opera's live performance of Don Pasquale. No passport, flight, train, or international travel required: I got to watch from here, where it was broadcast live in a fancy theater. (The crowd was even more homogeneous than usual: mostly gray- and white-haired. Whereas in the nosebleed seats where I dwell at the opera house, I have some coeval audience peers.)

The opera was a delight, too. Zero deaths! It featured many of the little flourishes that make opera buffo such a pleasure: eavesdropping servants in the corners of the stage, silly staging (trigger warning: teddy bear dismemberment and beheading), hiding in shrubberies to sneak to a midnight tryst. Pulling faces behind the patsy's back. The traditional cross-dressing was replaced by one woman pretending to be another woman, each with dramatically different personalities, wardrobe choices, and vocal flourishes. It ended with a wedding, of course, and a big chorus number. The incredible Aspetta, aspetta, cara sposina got cheered back onstage for a reprise before the opera proceeded to the next scene.

The set was a single, large rectangular building which rotated (silently! to not interfere with the ongoing music, even at pianissimo): recto, the titular character's house interior; verso, exterior. Various partial rotations were used for different exterior scenes, with cunning delivery of verdure and lawn furniture, as necessary. The rotating set was briefly used to break the fourth wall during the final scene, but otherwise not as fully, hypnotically used as the incredible set of this production of The Barber of Seville.

If I were in a student setting where an essay, of some literary and scholarly merit, were required of me (a hypothetical to which my brain is predisposed), my thesis would certainly concern the rotating set and the fourth wall. Characters occasionally made asides to the audience (whether in the libretto or at the director's choice), and the fact that the patsy Don Pasquale's house, as well as his interior monologue, intentions, and general mental and physical state, are entirely open to observation, criticism, and judgement --- not only from Ernesto and Norina, but also from the doctor, the servants, and of course the audience itself --- certainly lends itself to the kind of overreading and overwrought analysis in which I delight and (uselessly) excel. Further supporting this approach: the entire opera is staged to open with two characters literally unfurling the wings (walls) of the residence, unrolling them to reveal Don Pasquale's home (and personal state). Plus of course the staging, where certain colors, statues, teddy bears, clothing, and furniture are used as shorthand for his general mental state.

Basically, it's the same hypothesis and academic paper I always write: how form and structure, predict, shape, inform, etc. (your favorite and most pretentious verbs here!) meaning by controlling how, and in what ways, the audience interacts and engages with content.

Meta-essay. My brain always defaults to one level up the hierarchy; I am always in meta-mode. (Simply making this observation has bumped me even one step higher, to meta-meta-mode, which exceeds my late Friday afternoon brain sugar capacity for processing; plus the preceding phrase bounces me one level up the hierarchy, and this observation bounces me again, and again, and again..)

This post's theme word is iatrogenesis (n) or iatrogenic (adj), "an adverse effect resulting from medical advice." Don Pasquale's iatrogenic marital problems are neatly resolved by the end of Act III.

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