It’s summertime, a season when young men’s minds turn to mush, in the presence of humidity and hotness of various kinds. Of course men have no monopoly on this, but I was just mis-quoting Tennyson. I’m thinking of this as the opera season winds down, as even the most hard-working begin to dream of vacations, even if they’ll never get away for long.
Tonight I gave Against the Grain Theatre’s adaptation Figaro’s Wedding another look/listen on their closing night.
I’m inclined to think about it in romantic terms.
Shortly before we got to the theatre, we stopped at “La Palette”, a French Restaurant I know from its previous incarnation in Kensington Market. It seemed entirely apt that we did something totally unorthodox, a push me pull you meal, where she ate soup and I had dessert/coffee, and they welcomed us without batting an eye. “La Palette” had some notoriety briefly when protesters descended upon them for serving horse-meat, a response that reminds me of the conservative critics we sometimes see singling out certain aspects in productions, without applying their rigorous standards with any uniformity.
Am I over-reaching in seeing a resemblance between gentrified neighbourhoods and operatic texts? I remember AtG’s Boheme at the Tranzac, everyone involved deporting themselves in a suitably bohemian manner. Just as “La Palette” has migrated to a nicer neighbourhood, so too with AtG. Figaro is not just a tale of starving young lovers but a story of the search for happily ever after, the same story we’re all living. Mr & Mrs Figaro may not be wealthy –and struggle to get their wedding paid for—but they’re at least conversant with the language of material comfort, and are on the lowest rungs of the ladder of wealth & prosperity, looking to climb.
In the theatre we wondered if there was something romantic in the air. The audience was more than friendly. Couples seemed very much at ease, holding hands, and making public displays of affection. It was kind of cute, actually.
A few days ago I had a chat with a former teacher of mine, namely Professor Caryl Clark at U of Toronto. In observing something about a recent history book that seems to stick to the most old-fashioned approach to musicology –locating opera in the text rather than the stagings & interpretations—she said she was disappointed. I mentioned that I’d heard York University’s Theater department was getting a new name that paralleled a change at U of Toronto. York’s new department is the Graduate Program in Theatre and Performance Studies, while the U of T has the Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies. In both cases, in other words, they’re recognizing the importance, if not the centrality of performance rather than just the book. That’s exciting and relatively new.
When I mentioned AtG’s Figaro, inevitably Linda Hutcheon came up. Caryl said “Linda’s ahead of us all”, because of course Linda had looked strangely at me when I’d raised the question of fidelity in a paper I did a good decade ago.
She was right of course. I see now how irrelevant the book can be. While we’re at it, why not get mad at Shakespeare for not being faithful to the Flaminio Scala scenario from which he took the story for Romeo and Juliet. Of course nobody cares about what Shakespeare altered (confusing him with the originator of the stories he sets in his plays), just as nobody gets too steamed at Wagner for altering the myths he references, all the while telling his own stories. Why then should it matter whether the originals from Mozart & Da Ponte get changed or not, in the version seen and heard on Toronto stages in 2013?
Nor do I care whether the menu at La Palette is the same as what they had when they were in Kensington. When my friend renews his wedding vows on his silver anniversary, I don’t care whether the vows are the same ones as what he said 25 years before, so long as they’re meaningful to the happy couple.
That being said, it’s also worth noting, that Figaro’s Wedding is a fun night at the theatre, a feel-good night out. It’s no coincidence that so many couples seemed to be beaming, in a touch-feely mood. The energy resembles a date-movie, without the popcorn.
And so, as summer gradually discombobulates us, sending us out to pools or patios, I will also blog less in the coming weeks.
But I’ll be back eventually.