Thursday, September 25, 2008

'Which Witch' bitching, part one

I really hardly know where to start.

First off, as an obsessive diehard fan, I do think this production is worth seeing. Partly because the chance to see WW produced is (sadly) so rare. But partly also because this is a collection of fantastic, wonderful, beautiful, gripping music, and hearing/seeing it performed by actors/singers with genuine talent and skill is a wonderful experience. So. If you like the play, I would recommend that you see this production. But maybe you should sit with your eyes closed. ;-)

OK, first things first.

The translation is … good enough. Mostly. Supposedly it’s by some guy I never heard of called Ola E Bø, but basically it’s an obvious reworking of Håvard Rem’s Norwegian lyrics from Satans kvinnfolk. Some additional text by Axel Hellstenius. This part I think sucks on principle because one of the facets of WW that I find so impressive is that they sing everything. There are like two spoken lines in the entire two hours, twenty minutes. Even if it’s just a two-word line, they sing it. In this production, though, there’s quite a lot of talking. So … less opera, more musical. IMO, personally, that’s a bad thing.

The cast. Those worth mentioning by name:
Maria Vittoria: Heidi Gjermundsen Broch
Bishop Daniel: Paul Ottar Haga (<3!)
Anna Regina: Gjertrud Jynge
Cardinal Gonzaga: Sigve Bøe
Gertrude: Ingrid Jørgensen Dragland
Anton Fugger: Niklas Gundersen

Plus various Roman nobles/German townspeople/etc.

Gjermundsen Broch is very good. She acts well, she has a beautiful voice, she looks the part. Jynge is … a wonderful singer, fantastic voice. She also looks the part … except for her hair and costume. >:-) She acts it completely horrendously wrong, but for that, I blame the director, Hilde Andersen. Haga … is fantastic, acting- and singing-wise, but – and I really don’t want to be saying this – I think he is really wrong for this part. Graham Bickley did it SO much better. Because what Daniel is, essentially, is a weak man. His inner core is weak, he has no steel in him. He lets himself be ruled over and controlled. He tries to rebel against this, but he doesn’t have what it takes to break free, and he fails. In the end I would say that he actually takes the easy way out. May not look like it, but still. I do think so. What he does seems brave, but it would have demanded more of him to live with himself. Anyway. Daniel is a weakling. But Haga in this role is a strong man who acts weak … if that makes sense. I didn’t buy it.

From the cast list above you may have noticed a conspicuous absence. There’s no Giulia. :-( She’s been written out of the play completely. Wrong decision IMO. (Quel surprise. >:-) She brings so much to the play – human warmth, comic relief, a voice of reason, a beacon of sympathy and light in the utter darkness that comes to surround Maria. The scene where the two meet again in Heidelberg is just heartbreaking.

My beloved friend! How wonderful!
We heard such dreadful stories. I couldn’t stay in Rome.
If only you knew the things that have happened here …

With the right actress, Giulia is a wonderful part, deeply rewarding for both the singer and the audience. But alas, she’s gone. As a result, the Gertrude character is rather different. Only in part the helpless, aging wise woman; also a clever cynic highly alert to danger and quick to attempt evasion. This interpretation weakened the character, IMO. It made her too twisted. And I deeply resent the implication (which does sometimes crop up in productions of WW) of any sort of genuine witchcraft attached to any character. I did see it in this production, and I heartily object to it. Society’s condemnation of these women is cruel to the extent that it is unfounded – if they truly have these arcane powers, condemnation can be justified. And the moral heart of this story is that Maria Vittoria dies a perfect innocent … while the true evildoer remains a respected leader of her community.

The plot has been slightly reworked – first and foremost, it has been shortened. From two hours twenty to … less than two. They must have cut half an hour. Bad choice. ;-) It makes the story very rushed, to the point where logic starts to fail. Events seem to happen way too quickly, especially at the end. It goes without saying that a number of songs have been cut. Both Overtures. :-o And, let me think … The Wedding Contract, The Herb Deal, The Spire, Bad Omens, all of the St John’s Eve scene except Spectral Evidence, several songs from the Sabbath, Cardinal Gonzaga, The End, Almighty God, Reunion and Hallelujah. (They’ve cut The End!! Sob!!) A number of other songs have been conflated to form more compact scenes … nuances being lost along the way. More on that later.

A couple of songs have been added. These are pretty good, but didn’t have the biggest impact on me. Not after just hearing them once. But I thought they were a pretty good fit. And they were performed beautifully. :-)

OK, I think this is long enough now. This is all very general. Don’t worry, though, I have a long list of more specific grievances to address … >:-)


Gunnar said...

OK, so they cut "The End", but let's face it: who other than Benedicte could ever hit that high note? :-)

Still, the song is one of the most beautiful of them all and I choke up everytime I hear it...

operafantomet said...

I'm actually shocked Håvard Rem wasn't credited on the lyric side!!

True, he's not involved in this production, and it's only 50% his work in this revised nynorsk edition.

Still... The fundament of the lyric is his. The times I had problems with the orchestra overpowering the singers, I still knew (more or less) what they were singing, because I had the Rem lyrics playing in my head. It was Rem who first translated WW into Norwegian, and it has been the basis for all other later productions. It sucks that he's not credited for it.

I don't think "The End" was cut so much for the singing problems as for the actual content of the song. I read in several interviews that they had great difficulties with the "victim role" of Maria Vittoria in the London production, and wanted to get rid of everything that made her weak. I think, with the middle part with the coloratura cut, Heidi G. B. would have little problems pulling the song off. It could have been transposed down as well.

I really missed "The End" as well. I have BIIIIG issues with Maria voluntarily killing two people to get out of prison, instead of finding peace with God, with Daniel and with the unavoidable fate awaiting her. It's totally out of character for me, and it definitely gives the people of Heidelberg a good reason to hate her. I agree about your "...dies a perfect innocent" comment. It's what makes the character so tragic and impressive - she's done nothing wrong, other than loving the wrong man and trusting the wrong people. In this new version she's actually a killer.

THAT is why I miss "The End".

I also agree about the cuts. I don't mind cuts per se, but I think they cut the very wrong things.... If I were to skip stuff, I would get rid of the whole "Ducking" scene and the jailor stuff (things that were largely added "in the last minute" in London). This would give time to focus more on the actual storyline. I was (again) shocked to find they had not cut "Little Witch". It's rather pointless! I would much rather have seen the "sacral" moments of the arrival of Cardinal Gonzaga, or hear/see "Reunion". But that's what you get with no violins and cellos in the orchestra....

Leisha Camden said...

Gunnar: I'm not sure it matters about the high note. They could have adapted the song to fit HGB's voice. I agree that the song is incredibly beautiful - a big part of why I was so sorry they'd cut it ;-) - but it's also such a heartfelt expression of Maria's feelings. And she is the heart of the story. What she's been feeling and believing throughout her imprisonment is that it will all work out, because as soon as Daniel recovers and finds out what they've done to her, he will take care of it, he will defend her and rescue her and have the charges dismissed and just save her from everything that's wicked and bad. She never questions that. And then at the trial she gets the shock of her life - he does know everything, and he doesn't defend her ... he stands with her accusers and he won't save her. She's a young girl in love, and her beloved betrays her in the most dreadful way - this is pretty much the worst that could happen. And all her shock and hurt and fear just come pouring out in that song. I really, really, really missed it. :-(

operafantomet said...

Short message: saw the Maria Vittoria alternate today. She was lovely! Strong belter, but yet a classically trained soprano. Added more drama and feelings to the role, in my opinion.

Looked up her name: Lena Kristin Ellingsen