Monday, October 23, 2017

Hercules in the Opera

While at first I thought that Arizona Opera's production of Hercules vs Vampires would be one of the shows that I would skip, I decided that perhaps I should see it for the possibility of seeing something new, different, and innovative. Well, it was different.

They even called us (the audience) "the brave" for being the ones to go see it: none of us knew what to expect. We knew that we would be watching the 1961 film Hercules in the Haunted World with a new score by Patrick Morganelli and that the singers would be singing (adapted) lines to go with the film/score--but how would it all unfold, really? (This film/opera combo composition was first performed in LA in 2015, by the way.)

The basics are just as you would imagine. They had a big screen set up on the front of the stage and a row of chairs in front of the screen where the singers sat (and stood while they were singing). It was definitely a different experience to come in to Symphony Hall knowing that we were all getting ready to watch a movie. Here is where I'm going to once again praise sitting in the balcony: you get a great view of the orchestra, which was particularly important for this production.

The thing is, the night mainly felt like watching a film with the score performed live (like places sometimes do for films like The Lord of the Rings). That part was quite a pleasure; Phoenix Symphony always does a wonderful job, and in this case they seemed to be using some instruments they don't usually use for the operas and ballets that I'm used to seeing them perform. This was, for me, one of the best aspects of the production.

Shouldn't it, though, have been the singing? (Or maybe not necessarily?) I just came from seeing six of these nine singers at the Aria Jukebox event, where I was completely enthralled by their artistry. But I felt like they got a little lost in this production. I've noticed before (I don't remember whether or not I've mentioned it) that the singing can seem a little quiet at Symphony Hall (but I don't know how this compares to most venues as I've ever been to one other opera venue, Santa Fe Opera). That was the case this time, except possibly that it was even quieter. And the encouraged the audience in the beginning to be vocal (to laugh at the funny parts and boo the bad guys, that sort of thing)--which the audience was. That was fun, to be part of a collective group watching and reacting to this campy film. But sometimes the loud audience moments overlapped with a line of vocals and we would completely miss out on hearing that line. And in general, as well, you found that it was better to (mainly) watch the film than the singers--so I started to feel like I wasn't giving them enough attention. In addition, because these are lines in a film, they're short. Usually when you watch an opera (or at what I've been coming to find), the performers build up moments; here, though, they only had short snippets of sung dialogue with which to try and make something. It felt (to me with my non-musical ear) like there wasn't enough content for their talents.

Not to say that they did perform well. I don't mean to imply that. It was still obvious that they're talented people. Katrina Galka, in particular, really brought extra glitter and liveliness to her performance (or should I say performances since, like most of them, she sang multiple roles).

It was fun to watch this production. The audience's involvement and willingness to react was great (it kind of brought me on an extension from The Three Musketeers on Thursday night: that was also a pretty reactive audience). But was Hercules vs Vampires a cool, new, innovative piece? For me, not really. Sure, I did see a few more people in the audience who looked like they don't usually attend opera; of course it's great to bring in new audiences. But this piece didn't move me or excite me or linger with me in the way that others have. Granted, it was shorter than usual (not even two hours long) and the ticket prices were much lower than usual (except, of course, for the cheap seats, which were the same), so it's reasonable for it to not deliver the same type of experience.

It's just that I still remember Riders of the Purple Sage this past spring; that was innovative and new and throughly enrapturing (and can they please sell me the soundtrack?). It is because I sometimes come on here and write a post about how much I loved a production that I also need to come in for this one and say that I didn't love it. Like I said, it was fun and I had a good time--but that was all and it would have been nice to get more. In order to show that I'm being honest when I say that I loved something, I also need to be honest and say when I didn't.

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