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October 25, 2008

Resetting a classic

boheme-mainart2.jpgI just finished banging out an overnight review of a local production of "La Boheme" -- regional opera is alive and well, thank you very much, and Fresno Grand Opera after 10 years is putting out some good stuff -- and while the singing and staging were first-rate, I'm not sure if the directorial concept worked. (And when I say overnight review, I really do mean overnight -- I posted at 1:18 am to my blog, just one more example of how the 24-hour-news-cycle is further blurring the lines between work and leisure, um, sleep time.) Instead of setting the opera in 1830s Paris, as is traditionally called for, the director opted to push things forward a hundred years to a time of "Hollywood glamour."

Such tinkering with the setting of a well-known work is common, of course. We've all seen Shakespeare staged in a Wild West saloon, say, or read about a Verdi opera translated to a post-apocalyptic future. My all-time favorite pitch for resetting a show comes in the Alan Mencken sci-fi musical "Weird Romance" when one of the characters -- an actress -- explains her next project:

A contemporary version of "Our Town," set on Jupiter's third moon. I play Emily, but instead of coming back from the dead I've been assimilated by an alien mass-mind, and I have to decide whether to take one last look at everyone I ever loved ... or eat them.

The Fresno "La Boheme" doesn't come close to taking such liberties, of course. The 1930s glamour angle is mostly covered through the costumes. I liked the razzle-dazzle -- Musetta, looking like a ramped up Jean Harlow, strutted around in a shimmering white floor-length gown and impossibly long white feather boa -- but didn't feel the concept meant much more in the long run than a chance to show off some great clothes.

All this got me to thinking: What makes a successful resetting of a classic play or opera? Is it really possible to use the exact same libretto or script but completely change the era? What is it, critically speaking, that makes some such reimaginings work and others fall flat? Do any examples stand out in your mind?

I'm wondering if any critics out there have thoughts they can share.


October 25, 2008 2:13 AM | | Comments (0)

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