Your RDA of Irony

How I Became an Artistic Genius

Although no one knew it at the time, Gaetano Donizetti suffered from manic-depression. (Doctors had no trouble diagnosing his syphilis.) The 19th century composer would be manic to know that his works are still popular; however, he might be depressed to know how they are being performed.

The Metropolitan Opera is staging “The Daughter of the Regiment” in an unique production. The comic opera usually is given a vague setting; it takes place in Bologna and you can only guess that it is the 19th century by the chorus’ uniforms (Epaulets were in!). But the Metropolitan’s production has changed the setting to that epoch of belly-laughing hilarity: World War I. Perhaps the opera should also be renamed “Orphan of the Regiment”, since quite a few French regiments simply ceased to exist after a day of trench warfare hijinks.

If the Met really wanted to update “The Daughter of the Regiment”, set it in World War II. There the “Regiment” could collaborate with a production of “Siegfried” to exterminate a production of “La Juive.” (The characters of “La Juive” do get killed; that 15th century setting could be easily updated.)

Some directors apparently have a compulsion to innovate. Their “interpretations” may be irrelevant, absurd or even destructive to the story, but the audience is supposed to appreciate the director’s fresh, bold vision. I remember a modern dress production of “Richard II.” In this setting, however, contentious nobles could not challenge each other by flinging a gauntlet. No, they were hitting each other with briefcases. I also endured a production of “Tannhauser” where the medieval troubador had become a modern televangelist; for once in my life, I felt sorry for Richard Wagner.

I am surprised that no artistic genius has relocated “The Mikado” to post-war Hiroshima. The Lord High Executioner could be back from a long weekend at Nanking (where the punishment fit the crime of being a breathing Chinese). And “the three little maids from school” could be one woman with three heads; radiation can be innovative, too.

Oh, and I envision “Gypsy” set in an 18th century French convent at the time of the Revolution. Mama Rose is the Mother Superior, and the only way the nuns can be saved from the guillotine is if Louise takes off her habit….

(I can’t tell if I am in my manic or depressive phase.)

  1. Hal Gordon says:

    Eugene —

    You wouldn’t have to stage “Gypsy” in a convent at the time of the Revolution. You could simply give “Dialogues of the Carmelites” the plot twist you suggest.


  2. With the dialogues by Stephen Sondheim.

    “Everything’s coming up rosaries!”

  3. Richard Greb says:

    Chicago’s Lyric Opera did do an updated Mikado a couple of decades ago. The overture played as luggage moved along a conveyor for flight to Japan, the wandering minstrel rode a motorcycle and played an electric guitar, and there were bug zappers flashing in the trees in the garden as they braided the raven hair.

  4. Peggles says:

    These “innovative” directors need multiple slaps upside the head! I understand the timelessness of great art, but I am mundanely traditional. When I see Julius Caesar, I want to see togas, dammit!

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