It was just a matter of time, really.
Yesterday Opera Chic wondered, "What Would Frengo Do?". And in today's Corriere della Sera (today it's online for subscribers only, in 24 hours it will be available from their archives) in another big interview -- a whole page -- Franco Zeffirelli praises Lorin Maazel's full-on attack against "trashy", "provocative" opera directors and the Salzburg Festival.
Zeffirelli calls Maazel's rant "a manifesto" and slams "laughable operas in Salzburg", "the handful of bums who run Europe's opera houses", savaging productions "that are ridiculous but don't even make you laugh", saying that "it's gettingworse and worse".
Zeffirelli's sh^tlist is long: and it even includes Opera Chic's beloved Graham Vick, one of Zeffirelli's favorite targets (the old Tuscan maestro doesn't seem to have taken lightly the fact that Arena di Verona a few years ago asked Vick to update Traviata instead of going with Zeffirelli's own decades-old staging).
Anyway here's the list of Zeffirelli's opera enemies as per today's interview:
"Guth and his junkie Don Giovanni"
Vick's Traviata: "Violetta as Princess Di... what would Verdi say?"
Martin Kusej's Don Giovanni and Willy Decker's Traviata, both in Salzburg: "what a joke"
Stephen Barlow's Tosca: "laugahble... obscene"
"Wilson's Aida fiasco"
"Carsen's ghoulish Tannhauser"
"Henning Brockhaus's Macbeth, Eurotrash"
Now, we like Frengo because he is a man of great culture, a maestro who still works hard and his love for the opera is real and his commitment to what he perceives to be the composer's and libretto writer's intent is sincere, and his Bohème still awes us and yes, he does get Tosca and yes, he did work with everybody in an era of truly legendary singers and conductors. He's right that some "iconoclastic" directors don't really have much sense of drama, they're not really people of the theater to begin with, and really want to simply épater by rewriting stuff written by giants like Da Ponte and Piave and even Herr Wagner, and that's just not right. He's correct that some new directors are indeed charlatans. They key word here, though, is "some".
His mistake -- nevermind that his ferocity toward strikes the people guilty of updating the operas Zeffirelli sees as being "his", and hence leading many of Zeffirelli's stagings into retirement, so yes, some of his rage is indeed personal, and this is a factor, it's like a big name writer seeing many of his novels go out of print forever, this is the sad nature of the theater business though, he should know this -- his mistake is that he refuses to accept the fact that opera is for the living, not for the dead, and that some of his "enemies" are indeed men of the theater who understand drama and work hard -- as hard as Zeffirelli -- at trying to do a good job.
People like Vick, Carsen, McVicar, many others -- you can like their work or not, you can have problems with some of their choices, but they are simply not charlatans, and they're not in bad faith -- they correctly refuse to do the same old thing, over and over, and sometimes updating an opera by setting it in a different era actually illuminates it; sometimes it cheapens it. No one hits the nail on the head 100% of the time, nobody, not even Zeffirelli's idol, Luchino Visconti, giant that he was. But this is an entirely different topic.
To slam everyone who ever strayed away from Franco's own way of doing things -- as if Callas were still here to get mad about it: she's not, her records and videos are, thankfully, but she's not here anymore -- means that we should essentially retire the business of staging operas, keeping Zeffirelli's and Visconti's and a few others work in a big refrigerated hangar, use them all the time and then take them back to the icebox until next time. It's simply not possible, maestro. It's boring. OC is as appalled as Zeffirelli's at some of the more egregious excesses -- indeed fisting and mutilation probably don't belong to the Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Zeffirelli didn't mention Bieito in the interview probably because his blood pressure would jump up too much and his doctors have forbidden him to) and we could do happily without people goint to the toilet on Don Giovanni's stage -- but even people like Bieito (just check out his Rake's Progress) have something good and interesting and, hey, illuminating to bring to this most volatile of arts.
Maazel and Zeffirelli are smart enough to understand the difference between an incompetent charlatan (there are many out there, even working in big venues, yes, it's true) and the many directors who are trying to do good work in a different manner.
Just the other night, Opera Chic felt like basking in the glory of Pavarotti's and Battle's singing -- she watched their Elisir DVD. As wondrous as the singing is, the visuals are just static, and dusty, and lame. Singers nailed to the floor look like singing mannequins, and a cartoonish 1950s idea of old Italy is simply useless as old cardboard -- and it's quite devoid of dramatic truth.
Re: period instruments, Dinu Lipatti once wrote that
Therefore the wish to restore to music its earlier framework means the same as wanting to dress an adult in adolescent attire. This act might have some charm if one proposes a historical reconstruction, otherwise it is of no interest to those other than lovers of dead leaves and old drivel.
Dead leaves and old drivel sometimes appear in a director's work as well.
Our main man Graham Vick once said that, to him, Eurotrash is Zeffirelli.
As much as we feel for Franco and happy as we often are to speak up and defend Maazel, if their battle ends up defending stuff like that Elisir, sometimes we feel like we know what Graham's talking about.