Re-imagining the most popular works and placing them in a new setting has produced some creative revivals of opera classics in recent years.
There are certain operas that lend themselves particularly well to this type of practice because their themes are so universal. Romeo et Juliet (star-crossed love), Rigoletto (revenge), and Don Giovanni (unrepentant lust), just to name a few.
But how far can we go with this?
It’s one thing to create a modern set and contemporary costumes—Rigoletto in Las Vegas or Don Giovanni in a film noir set. This adds flavor, and makes the pieces and their themes feel more relatable.
However, is it also acceptable to alter to the plot and the musical arrangement? Should the story, the score, and the essential emotions of the original artists be significantly altered? If so, then what do we call this edited work… is it a “version” of the original, or a whole new work of art?
Case in point, in 2017 the Florence (Italy) opera house produced a new “version” of Carmen, where the title character does not die, but rather murders her abuser. The new feminist movement in the wake of #MeToo replaces Old World female subjugation.
“As far as we know, it is the first time that the ending to Carmen has been changed,” the opera house’s Paolo Klun told The Telegraph.
“We think it’s important that the theatre should not be a conservative place of musical culture, it should not be a museum. It’s a place where debate can be initiated. Carmen was written 150 years ago in a very different cultural context. Times change.”
Times change, indeed. And in any case, it’s not uncommon for certain operas to have several different “versions” that have been created over the years to accommodate a given companies resources, time constraints, venue limitations, and other variables. But that’s not exactly the same thing as overhauling the entire storyline, including changes to the score…
Leo Muscato, the opera’s director, said he was initially resistant to the idea of changing the ending. “The death of Carmen is the engine that drives the opera, why reverse the situation?”
“Then I understood that what Chiarot (superintendent, Opera di Firenze) was calling for was reasonable. The theme of death in the opera has a strong masculine element – the woman must sacrifice herself in order to save her freedom. It is a point of view that today makes no sense.”
Well, OK, but if that’s the case, perhaps we should review—and change—our entire body of historical works of literature, music, painting, sculpture, theater, etc. Perhaps our modern-day environmentalists would prefer that Captain Ahab merely photograph, instead of hunt, Moby Dick. (Not as compelling, is it?) Maybe even Florence’s own statue of David by Michelangelo should be covered up in the name of modesty. Where would we draw the line?
This is an interesting debate, and it’s not going away any time soon. There is a lot of pressure to be politically correct, even in the arts where there should be more freedom from this type of influence. But alas, here we are, one of the most beloved pieces in opera history fundamentally altered to conform to modern sensibilities. So now what? Perhaps Cio-Cio San will be the next beneficiary of this new trend; maybe she’ll even turn her sword on Pinkerton in an upcoming production of Madama Butterfly—many in the audience would love to see that, no doubt!
What are your thoughts on the debate? Please leave your comments below.
Here’s the original article in The Telegraph: