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If it’s directed by Christopher Alden, run.

I made the mistake tonight of going to the opera. A friend is in the chorus and sometimes sends out notice of a fantastic deal – $25 orchestra seats on a slow night. So I changed my home class time, cut my poor students off at 7, rushed out into the night to grab a cab and dash to the Four Seasons Centre, to see Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” which I’d read, distractedly, was not a great production but had wonderful music.

Well. The music – sublime. The singers – wondrous, though it was an odd night to begin with – a different conductor just for tonight, and the famed Michael Schade, they announced as the curtain rose, was “indisposed” and would be replaced with a member of the chorus. People are generous at these times, hoping for the best, though most of them had paid a great deal more than $25 for their seats.

Jesus God. Hideous. A grotesque production. Everyone in ancient Rome was a lesbian – women groping each other, fondling, kissing, one of them a jogger in big glasses, a tunic and Adidas. The emperor wanders about in purple satin pyjamas, clutching a long bedspread over his shoulders, as his lesbian friends sulk drooping against the wall. The Roman centurion, on the other hand, is in full Roman gear, only his helmet bounces like plastic and there’s an unbelievable bit of business about a cramp in his leg. The set is a solid sheet of fake concrete perfect for the graffiti that gets painted on it in Latin, and there’s a K-Mart chandelier and a brass – yes – garbage pail. The chorus comes on dressed like Italian bag ladies, with masks. Yes. Bag ladies with masks.

And heartbreakingly, through all this absurd, mind-boggling grotesquerie, the music shone, glowed in all its beauty, the singers sang Mozart’s enchantment, the voices clear and pure and gorgeous. Their artistry attempted to vanquish the work of this foul director. To no avail.

I couldn’t bear it, even though I spent much of the act with my eyes closed, listening but not watching, and decided to leave at intermission, only to run into a Cabbagetown friend who was also leaving and offered me a ride home. So we vented; she felt just the same. When I got home, I wrote a letter to the COC.

Dear COC:

As I left the building tonight at the intermission of Mozart’s beautiful opera, I remarked to my friend that the last opera I saw at the COC, I had also hated. When I got home, I did some research to discover – that the same benighted man directed both! From now on, when I see the name Christopher Alden, I will know that a production that massacres any beauty, any delicacy, even the slightest common sense, will follow, and I will run screaming in the opposite direction. I walked out of Fledermaus last fall, and I left at intermission tonight, though the music and singers were so heavenly that it hurt to do so. But the concept – lesbian Rome, the great leader in pyjamas and a bedspread, the chorus a kind of Italian supermarket mime group – grotesque, stupid, insulting – the kind of direction that draws attention to itself and has nothing to do with art.
The fact that you employed this man once, for the monumental travesty that was Fledermaus, can be forgiven; I understand that you are trying to interest new audiences and try new things. But the fact that you employed him twice – shame on you. Shame shame shame on you. 
Yours,
Beth Kaplan

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6 Responses to “If it’s directed by Christopher Alden, run.”

  1. Mr. Alden would have been contracted for Tito long before last year’s Fledermaus got on stage, so it’s not as if they had a choice in having him for this show. But it does sound like they owe you $25 for wasting your time.

  2. Juliet says:

    But didn't the audience react? At the Paris or Milan opera, they would stand up to boo and hiss the players off the stage.

  3. beth says:

    Chris, of course you're right. It's extraordinary that this guy goes right on working, presumably hacking to death opera after opera around the world.

    And Juliet, a lot of people were leaving at the intermission, and there were titters at some of the more absurd directorial conceits. I wasn't there at the end, perhaps the audience did protest. But remember also that this is Canada; this is a Canadian audience. We are a polite people, always willing to give the benefit of the doubt. The Toronto Star's critic Richard Ouzonian gave the ghastly and pretentious Fledermaus a rave review, calling it "rich, racy, randy and irreverent," a must see. I nearly croaked to read it.

    So – sometimes we just don't get that it's bad. And sometimes, we'd rather not know and keep things nice.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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