David and Leonore Dvorkin
May 27, 2004
On Sunday, May 2, we had the misfortune of attending what you had the gall to advertise as a performance of The Barber of Seville. In order to subject ourselves to a graceless and witless display, we paid $47 each for our tickets and $8 for parking, for a total of $102. We demand that you refund us that money and that you apologize to us in writing for misleading us and taking our money for what was advertised as a professional performance of a beloved opera.
Not until we arrived did we have any idea that this production was to be an "updating".
Now, first of all, it was scarcely an updating. Having Figaro carry a guitar and be pursued by swooning groupies for a few seconds obviously struck some buffoon as a breathlessly funny reference to 1960s pop culture, but anyone with more intelligence than the buffoon in question can see that the Figaro character and a 1960s rock star have nothing in common on any level. Similarly, the costumes had no relevance to the 1960s (a decade we both remember fondly) – or, for that matter, to any other decade. They were simply odd and foolish, like the rest of the performance.
Secondly, the concept of updating an opera is a silly one in itself. Its current popularity in the opera world doesn’t change that. Updating introduces jarring anachronisms that interfere with, or even destroy, the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. In the case of Barber, the social situation and social ranks on which the plot rests are completely at odds with a modern setting. In the case of your updating of La Boheme, the anachronisms weren’t so severe because you didn’t move the action ahead very far. Even so, at the beginning of the opera there’s the business with Rodolfo and Mimi and the candle, and the Bohemians trying to find ways to keep the fire burning in the stove they use to heat the place, while later in the opera the apartment building has been equipped with electric wiring and electric lights. Since your production was supposed to be set during World War One, why weren’t the young Bohemians patriotically joining the French army? When Mimi is dying at the end, why doesn’t someone rush out to find the nearest telephone and call the doctor, rather than wander the streets looking for a doctor? Updating introduces such absurdities and such questions. All bad enough with Boheme, but far worse with Barber. Updating adds nothing to an opera production, but it detracts mightily from it.
I’m told that those who stage operas grow bored with the same old sets and settings and long for novelty, for something to keep up their own interest, and that this explains the updating fad. Those people should remember that operas are not staged and performed for their amusement but for ours, for the amusement and entertainment of the paying audience. Imagine a soprano who becomes bored with singing Caro Nome in every performance of Rigoletto and insists on substituting He’s So Fine for it. How would Opera Colorado’s management – and audiences – react to that?
Your staging of Barber was childish, silly, distracting, and annoying. The dancers and the foolish stage business constantly grated on us. The music was wonderful and the singing quite good, but one had to hold one’s hand in front of one’s face to shut out the absurdities on the stage. And then what’s the point of paying for and attending a live performance? The absurdities on the stage ruined the evening for us.
Perhaps you’ll respond that many in the audience were laughing and seemed to be enjoying the mess you had made of the opera. Yes, and huge numbers of people adore the poorly written novels of John Grisham and Dan Brown. Huge numbers love rap and country and western so-called music, too. Very few of them would ever attend an opera except at gunpoint. If popularity is the determinant of worth, then why doesn't Opera Colorado change its name, stop presenting operas, and start putting on rock or pop or hip-hop or rap or C&W concerts instead?
Moreover, you shouldn’t assume that most of the audience loved the performance and that we’re part of a tiny minority. You only heard the reaction of those who liked the travesty on the stage. The following Sunday, while we were waiting in the lobby before La Traviata began, we talked to a group of a half-dozen women who had hated your version of Barber as much as we had. One said that her husband had hated it so much that he refused to attend La Traviata even though they already had tickets. He didn’t want to take the chance that you had ruined Traviata in the same way. We are sure that there are far more people who agree with us than you realize.
You have lost two season ticket holders. We were planning to buy season tickets to Opera Colorado’s next season, but now we won’t risk buying tickets to another such terrible mess. We’ll ask first if an opera is being "updated" by Opera Colorado, and if the answer is yes, we won’t buy tickets to it. If the people at the box office don’t know the answer to that question, then we’ll play it safe by not buying tickets at all. We may well decide to follow that route in any case – never to attend another Opera Colorado performance unless there’s a public announcement that there will be no more "updating" and unless you respond to this letter with an apology and a refund.
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