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Monday, August 25, 2008

Ermione at the Rossini Opera Festival

What a thrill!

At first, the look of this year’s production of Ermione at the Rossini Opera Festival reminded me of a couture fashion show – distressed white set, stark black, red or white costumes, in the form of uniforms with boots and evening gowns. Not, however, the usual fascist reworking, but abstracted and symbolic. As I thought about it, it came to me that this story is a tiny sliver of Greek myth, which, if not completely unknown in our time, is just about.* In a way, an attempt to show the story as history would be unnecessarily confusing. It reminded me of looking at history paintings: sure we can identify that there are people with well-known names in life-like settings, but we have no context, and we can attach no meaning. In fact, the natural language of our time is comic-book-style abstraction. We can make sense of black, red and white used to indicate good versus evil, rage versus control, confusion versus order, and most importantly in this case, manipulators versus manipulated.

This opera was not performed for 150 years because it was considered too dark! Maybe so, until now, but darkness is the natural tenor of our times. Ermione, especially treated in this way, is contextualized perfectly within the world of Sin City, 300 and Batman, not to mention real-life terrorism, torture and ethnic cleansing.

Then, there was the music and the singing. As with Il Turco in Italia that I saw at last year’s Rossini Opera Festival, the music was delicious: spellbinding for hours. I think my favourite moment was the end of the first act with everyone on stage, screaming their power and rage and disappointment and fear, beautifully, at full volume. I felt my hair blowing back with the sheer power of it, like in the old Maxell ad.

To be complete I have to say that the performances were awesome, and the audience went wild several times. For me it was especially exciting as I have come to know one of the performers a little, and to see his everyday gestures forming part of his characterization was a kind of like having an extra-sensory experience.

At the end, I am left asking why these operas are so obscure, so far from the standard repertoire? Step aside La Boh̩me; step aside Madama Butterfly; you old-fashioned weaklings. Ermione Рtime for you to step up to the plate! You can bring the 21st century crowd to the opera!

*Funnily enough, this sliver of the story is linked to that of Idomeneo which I saw performed by the Opera Atelier earlier this year. Each features a Greek returning with a slave from the Trojan war, plus Idomeneo has Elettra (Electra) while Ermione (Hermione) involves her brother, Oreste (Orestes). Love those Greek myths. I like to say that I would rather be offended than bored, and this material never fails to qualify.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Africa at the Olympics

By chance, this past year I have read two books about Africa: The Translator by Daoud Hari (Sudan) and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Belgian Congo/Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo). The word searing seems invented to refer to the experience of reading about the colonial history of Africa. It made it so heart-breaking and strange to see the parade of athletes at the Olympics. To compare the EXPENSE of the opening ceremony against the rhetoric of helping the needy. Why do we even bother to say to we care about helping?

However, I do think that "Liberalism is the racism of the West." (Who said that?) I do not see the solution as being "pour money into the African nations and they will become like us and be saved." That type of policy has led to a corruption which has done more harm than good. Nor does the desired solution seem to be "democracy". There is clearly little will to choose rep by pop.

I also think that our current historical period is not "post-colonial" exactly, but the end of the bell curve of "colonialism". We have yet to see a "post-colonial" world where First World governments and/or interests are not manipulating ex-colonies. The current borders in many parts of the world are unnatural, leaving ethnic groups miserably cut in half, or miserably joined. We Westerners think: why can't they just share a government and get on with life? We do. (Semi-successfully.) They don't want to, but like I said, 'Liberalism is the racism of the West'. Our way is best, therefore they must have it too.

Even China only feels uncomfortable to us because we think they should do it our way. The whole point of the Olympics being awarded to China was to invite/induce/pressure China to do it our way. Actually Chinese policy does not accord well with Olympic policy, (although no more does Olympic policy accord with Olympic ideals).

The marigold asks nervously:
Isn't it all just enough to have made you cry at the parade?