Nothing recently that I can think of shows more spectacularly the incredible shift away from pictorially realistic stage productions than these giant constructions for the Bregenz festival on Lake Constance in Austria.
Bregenz presents opera on a stage secured just off shore. From everything I have heard, the generally calm surface of the lake provides a terrific sounding board for voices, making for very good acoustics. Bregenz used to put its operas on in relatively conventional productions on a flat stage. However the new aesthetic that calls for a very different way of telling the story has led to a radically new approach to scenography at the Festival. The picture above is from a production of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) which tells the historical story of the assassination of Swedish King Gustav III while he was attending a masquerade ball at Stockholm's opera house.
This giant sculpture is part of the set for Giordano's Andrea Chenier, set in the French Revolution. The central character is André Chenier a French lyric poet and, later, political satirist who was guillotined just three days before the end of the Reign of Terror as an enemy of the Revolution. The highly Romantic plot features a young noblewoman in love with the poet, who assumes the identity of one of the condemned who has young children, so that she can take her place and die with Chenier. It's not one of the great intellectual evenings in the opera house, but it has some very fine music and a spectacular role for an Italian dramatic tenor in full cry.
The figure in the photo above is clearly meant to be Jean-Paul Marat (death portrait below), a radical revolutionary who supported many of the more violent excesses of the Revolution and who was killed in his bath by Charlotte Corday about whom Chenier wrote an admiring poem. In addition to Giordano's opera, there is Peter Weiss' play titled The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, as performed by the inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade, (1963) also known as Marat/Sade, Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, Georg Buchner's play Danton's Death and Gottfried von Einem's opera made from it, and Pietro Mascagni's Il Piccolo Marat -- among others -- that mine the French Revolution which is in itself an extremely operatic subject.
The event covered in this article occurred two years ago but was recently pointed out by one of the bloggers I read regularly. I think that things are totally out of control in certain parts of the country if this level of ignorance, willful or otherwise, exists:
Bill Nye, the harmless children's edu-tainer known as "The Science Guy," managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.
As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own.
But don't tell that to the good people of Waco, who were "visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence," according to the Waco Tribune.
Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.
But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: "God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars."
The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.
At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled "We believe in God!" and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they'd always suspected.
This story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune, but the newspaper has mysteriously pulled its story from the online version, presumably to avoid further embarrassment.