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Subject: how far can Wilson go?
From: Leslie Barcza <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Leslie Barcza <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 16 Mar 1998 11:35:30 -0500
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David Geary <[log in to unmask]> raises an interesting stylistic
question that I think bears further study:
        Or does anyone really think that Lohengrin, Madama Butterfly,
        Four Saints in Three Acts and 1000 Airplanes on the Roof can,
        or should, all be staged exactly the same way?
Robert T Jones <[log in to unmask]> was quick to point out:
        Robert Wilson had nothing to do with 1000 Airplanes. That
        piece was designed and lit by Jerome Sirlin and directed by
        Philip Glass himself.

I wonder if David really meant the phrase so literally, given that
the 1000 airplanes piece has not won over any of my good friends who
swear by Mr Glass.  I think the reference was to an entire school,
rather than to Mr Wilson specifically.  Answering the question "how
far can Mr Wilson go", ie, to what works, if any, is his style suited
might serve as an appropriate response to the controversy concerning
the Met Lohengrin.  First off, however, it seems fair to say that Mr
Wilson gets lumped in with a lot of other artists by association;
whether this is just is another matter.... I will also be guilty in
this post, I think, of the same generalization that David made.

Where the drama is more spiritual or otherworldly, minimalism either
seems to be an appropriate style, or at least one we are more prepared
to tolerate ; but what is the high-water mark one can imagine
for Wilson's style?  And is Lohengrin to be understood as another
ritual drama like Parsifal, OR (my view) a romantic opera that was
written to contain action and incident?  I can't blame Wilson for
trying, although I also wonder if the Met is really the right venue,
given the size of the house, the expense for this sort of
undertaking, and the likelihood of a sympathetic hearing from the
audience.  I find myself resisting the idea of a Wilsonian Butterfly
because, notwithstanding the exotic subject and score, it is a
realistic opera, with elaborate and explicit stage directions.  Can
you picture Wilson doing Traviata? Maybe, if he works with a
choreographer. And I think I can picture his style working best in a
small theatre, where it wouldn't matter so much if the voices weren't
super, and where he would be more likely to obtain the kind of co-
operation required to achieve the best results.  Can he be reconciled
to comedy, eg Barber or Rosenkavalier? or anything that moves really
fast, such as Otello?  and in the extreme case, can you picture
Wilson doing Same time Next Year? or Ideal Husband? [consider these
rhetorical questions that might contextualize Wilson] Yet I suspect a
fast moving opera might be more exciting when coupled with a light
show and static stage pictures than Lohengrin.

As for David's suggestion that the images all look the same, compare
Wilson's vision to the experience one has in a gallery, encountering
a body of work by the same artist.  Given Wilson's visual-focus this
is not something he would even perceive as an insult, so much as a
testament to his vision.  A group of Picasso's or Matisse's (from the
same period) tend to look alike as well; and in the more abstract
periods, trees, dogs, buildings, men, women, become similar once
sufficiently stylized.  Some people go looking for that sameness,
even when it's Wilson, and in the opera house, not a gallery.

    leslie barcza in toronto    [log in to unmask]

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