(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, January 11th, 2004.)
The aesthetic restoration continues to revitalize the world of art, and the latest genre to feel its rejuvenating force is opera--a form which stands in dire need of such a rebirth.
Peruse, if you will, the following article about a new production of Carmen that is currently being staged in Seattle:
As the article states,
it's practically radical that James Robinson's staging of the perennial favorite for Seattle Opera favors the original 19th-century setting and a more nuanced Carmen.
"Practically" radical? Today, in opera, creating a production that is in tune with the composer's own vision and world-view is not only the most radical approach that one can take, but it is indeed the only genuinely radical interpretation left. As the article correctly indicates, nothing is more conventional and cliched than self-consciously modern, "updated," and "politicized" productions, which have become the universal norm.
The director of this production makes a crucial point when he asserts that
"You can try to shock an audience on its terms, whatever that is. But I think that sort of falls flat. Or, you can try to seduce an audience into a very different world and show them how shocking this might have been."
How interesting and fitting that this "traditional" (and therefore genuinely maverick) production includes something which has also become extremely unfashionable in the world of opera--a lead who is "fuller figured."
"She always amazes me at how incredibly comfortable and beautiful and sexy she is to an audience," Robinson observes about his Carmen, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. Undoubtedly, he finds her "amazing" because "comfortable and beautiful and sexy" full-figured women in our culture are almost as rare as are faithful productions of opera.
In another article about the production, this one from the Seattle Times, the writer makes the parallel between the timelessness of this staging and timelessness of the mezzo's appearance even more explicit:
She's a big, tall, voluptuous woman who probably is closer to the 19th-century ideal of beauty than are the size-2 actresses and celebrities who define our contemporary society's aesthetic.
We see here not only the congruence of the aesthetic restoration in feminine beauty with the aesthetic restoration in another art form, but also how those forces merge in the creation of an artwork that genuinely has the power to move an audience, to challenge their beliefs and stir their passions.
As opposed to modernist productions which do nothing but gratify the ego of their directors, and are little more than political morality plays in which artistry has been sacrificed to partisanship, faithful operatic productions can recover the obscured genius of the original creation, and reveal its true meaning. They enable us to assess our own world from an entirely different vantage point, and ponder whether we have lost something essential, something dangerous, something "larger than life"--as Blythe describes Carmen--in our modern world, and to consider what we might do to recover it.
"I become a better human being when this Bizet speaks to me." (Nietzsche)