May 19, 2013

Top 10 Incredibly Relevant Shockingly Tasteless Updated Operas

You find the darndest things on Twitter. Compared to Facebook, the ratio of interesting links to adorable comical kitties is higher...  MUCH MUCH higher...

Naturally, I follow a lot of opera singers, opera conductors, opera companies... *ahem* I think you get the idea. (In my defense, I also follow a lot of ESPN personalities and political commentators. Oh, and "Invisible Barack Obama" and "Elizabeth Windsor", whose website is gin o'

But one of my opera tweeters recently came through with a headline that really caught my eye: "Düsseldorf scraps Nazi-themed Tannhäuser". Clicking on this link led to a brief report by arts blogger Norman Lebrecht on a story that has since sent the opera world into a tizzy.. The Nazi-themed Tannhäuser was staged by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and was given precisely one performance, a performance received with (one presumes) such universal and wide-spread aghastness (could be a word) and appalled-ness (okay, not really a word) that the abashed (standard word there) management cried out ACH!!! in one lusty, gutteral roar of panic and pulled the plug. Henceforth, all remaining performances will be in concert style only.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why some jackwagon of a stage director thought this concept would ever fly. I mean, this could give so-called Euro-trash opera a bad name! (Oops... too late...)  But it got me a-thinking. (That's a similar process to "thinking", actually.) "Suppose", I a-thought, "suppose I wanted to update a standard opera to something edgy and relevant and ripped from the headlines and... and... like that? What concepts might I dream up? And, once having thought of them, would they constitute fodder for a lame blog post?"

Well that latter question sort of answers itself, does it not? And so I give you:

The Top 10 Incredibly Relevant Shockingly Tasteless Updated Operas
Drone aircraft: shoot them camels!
10. The Taliban-themed "Barber of Seville" (Dr. Bartolo is a tribal chieftan, Rosina is a young Afghani girl who just wants to go to school and get an education.)

9. Prokofiev's "Jihad and Peace" (Big, big epic. Stage crowded with drones and camels.)

8. The Domestic-terrorism-themed "Porgy and Bess" (Fireworks at the church picnic on Kittiwah Island go horribly wrong)

Guillotine: gypsies beware! Run! Run!
7. The Genocide-themed "Il Trovatore" (After beheading Azucena, Count di Luna sort of loses it and slaughters the rest of the gypsies, which, while tragic and shocking, at least makes them stop banging those damned anvils.)

6. The Gun Control-themed "Eugene Onegin" (Before Onegin has a chance to shoot Lensky, government agents descend on the duel and confiscate the pistols on the grounds that both characters failed their backgound checks. Lensky passionately defends his Second Amendment rights until one of the agents says "We live in Russia, you moron.")

5. The Immigration-themed "Norma" (Pollione and his army never make it to Gaul, due to a big ol' fence at the border. They return to Rome and Norma goes on to a 47-year career as Head Priestess out there in the forest.)

4. The LGBT-themed "La bohème" (Turns out there's only one bed in that garret. Marcello and Rodolfo are married, Colline trades in his ratty old coat for a slinky evening gown and Schaunard fits right in because he's a musician, right? Oh, and Musetta seduces Mimi. Okay, that about covers it!)

3. The Bird Flu-themed "Secret Garden" (Here's the beauty part: you don't have to change anything! Just that everyone says "Bird flu" instead of "cholera". They do have birds in India, right? Big country like that - they've gotta have birds all over the place. Bang.)

2. The Neo-Nazi-themed "Carmen" (Don Jose is a skinhead, Carmen's last name is Abramowicz.)

1. The Mental Health Awareness-themed "Merry Widow" (Hanna Glawari, despondant following the death of her husband Bob (could be his name, you don't know...), spends her fortune on red wine and Netflix movies, staring blankly at the flickering TV screen as endless romantic comedies play in a loop before her listless, unseeing eyes. The title will have to be tweaked, of course. "The Morose Widow" seems like a winner.)

NOTE: all these cutting-edge productions will be performed in....  <sigh>  ...concert version.


  1. A Taliban-themed Barbiere has been done somewhere I believe... Or at least suggested. Or perhaps it was the Nozze? :-)

    1. Naama - your comment reminds me of the answer Ann Landers gave when asked why she would publish and respond to letters describing problems so outlandish and unlikely that they were obviously submitted as a prank. She said that, in her experience, it isn't possible to make up a problem that hasn't actually happened to someone at some time.

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  3. I believe a couple of years ago there was a Turandot set in a Chinese restaurant... It sounded like it was just awful to behold.

  4. Madama Butterfly is one of the operas I have never seen modernized (though honestly I'm just scared to google it) because the plot and the music both tie it securely to its time and place. But if one wasn't at all concerned with the composer's message, or with good taste, think of all the things you could do! The obvious one is move it just 40 years into the future and make the bomb a major character. Either it happens while Pinkerton is away, and Acts 2 and 3 take place in a nuclear wasteland, or it hits the roof of Butterfly's house just as Pinkerton is walking back up the hill to get his son. Another possibility is to stage the opera in present time, with Butterfly in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit and everyone else with spiky anime hair.