Sunday, January 28, 2007

McClatchy responds to Smith

It was some small surprise to me when I checked the comments section of my blog, and I saw a response from J.D. McClatchy, the author of the adaptation of Die Zauberflöte that was used in the Taymor Met production. Since it was a comment here, I don't think that there is a great problem reprinting his response here:

I want to assure Mr. Smith that my adaptation of the "Flute" is not so free as he fears. Of course, this opera has been shortened and rearranged for two hundred years now, and I suspect that "the first opera I owned," by his account, may well have been the Beecham recording, which eliminated the dialogue completely. Anyone who actually saw the Met's production or watched the telecast will easily recognize the few liberties I've taken--mostly in the dialogue, in an effort to clarify the plot. And I tred for a more natural phrasing, not the usual opera-ese. We hated leaving things out--"Bei Mannern," Pamina's suicide scene, etc.--but mostly we trimmed rather than excised. In fact, the point was to give an audience the illusion that nothing was missing--and that's precisely what much of the reaction has been. Sharp-eyed observers like Mr. Smith are rightly more wary. (I wince at the word "butchering." Is that fair?) I assure him I'm as much a snob as he, but I don't think Mozart or Schikenader were . . . and wouldn't have objected to my faithful if abbreviated version. Like them, too, I'm delighted that the sold-out houses roared with approval.

As I said in the comment box, my primary issue wasn't the cuts (or even the content of the translation/adaptation). Rather, I would prefer that there was no translation at all. Professor McClatchy is a poet of considerable renown, and I understand better what he was trying to do. In that case, I'll sort of retract my earlier criticism of his work. Had it not been Die Zauberflöte, I probably would not have had the same views, but so it goes.

In the final calculus, it comes down to simply this: I just plain don't like the idea of putting new words to Mozart.


At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

In the final calculus, it comes down to simply this: I just plain don't like the idea of putting new words to Mozart.

So you would object in principle to any opera sung in translation?

One of Joseph Horowitz's more reasonable misgivings, was how a movement to bring foreign-originated opera to US audiences in English, did not survive a troubled infancy.

Anyway, in my case, this is a fence I find myself on either side of.


At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

Oh! And do I take it that you object a priori the Bergman film, too? :-)


At 12:25 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

More or less. There are so many options to get the text, in translation, to the audience without messing with it that it doesn't seem necessary.

I think that there are plenty of other options and some room for creativity. The opera houses just have to make up their minds to be clever about it all.

As to Bergman: eh. It's a film adaptation, so - in a fit of stunning hypocrisy - I exempt it.

At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

It's a film adaptation

Well, but for the most part, a film of a staged production at Drottningholm :-)

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