Monday, June 04, 2007

Now for something completely different...

Pierre Boulez and Patrice Chéreau are together again, after 28 years, and seemingly very successful. In the Guardian, Tim Ashley reviews their production of Janáček's Z Mrtvého Domu (From the House of the Dead), giving it five stars. Of the staging he says,

Chéreau transposes the opera to a 20th-century gulag that is also a vision of hell. The vast concrete funnel of Richard Peduzzi's set resembles the pit of Dante's Inferno, where we first encounter the convicts circling and shuffling like the damned. Only gradually do the cast - faultless down to the last extra - reveal the existential integrity of each man, and by the end we are completely immersed in their lives, their dreams and their overwhelming despair.

That sounds pretty much like the Patrice Chéreau we all know and "love." In this case, though, a Siberian forced-labor camp is "pretty much" a Siberian forced-labor camp, whether the czar's governor runs it or a Stalinist NKVD officer does; which is to say, the experience is pretty bad either way. In this sense, I could argue that Chéreau's staging works pretty well, from the sound of things, regardless of artistic viewpoint. The fact that this is an obscure opera doesn't hurt. Of the conducting, Ashley says,

With the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in the pit, Boulez unleashes rending dissonances that fill the air with pain and compassion. Harrowing, unforgettable and one of the great Janacek interpretations of our time.

To be fair, Boulez' style is such that, if you don't like him, you're arguing over interpretation and style, not technical proficiency. Not know this opera or having seen the show, I can say - with most degrees of certainty - that it sounds exactly as written in the score. If this is a piece that requires a lot of insight and assumption, then you might not like the consequences. If not, and I confess to knowing little about Janáček*, then this will be a roaring success. Boulez can do "modern" composers like no one's business. His Bartók piano concerti are my standards, as much for his contribution as for the pianists'.

In any event, as Boulez has vowed to retire from the live theater, this marks the end of one of the most successful collaborations - in strictly artistic terms and on its own terms - of the age. The Centennial Ring, love it or hate it, is pretty much the modern standard for Ring cycles post-Wieland. It aroused emotions, both ways, and I don't think Herr Dorst's even managed to do that. Chéreau and Boulez complimented each other. It's hard to believe that Boulez is 82, and the (in)famous Ring was staged first thirty-one years ago, but there it is.

Perhaps this will be released on CD/DVD, this being the Janáček, that is.

*I really should post, one day, about how it is possible to comment on art without having experienced it firsthand. It sounds simple enough, but it's a common attack on "critics." (Yes, I get the title, but only in irony-quotes).