Auros (auros) wrote,

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Queen of Spades and Heart of the Beholder

I went to see Queen of Spades this past Sunday. It's a deeply psychological story -- its tragedy stems from the protagonists' inability to bridge the divide between what is and what they wish to be. Like Eugene Onegin, it's rather harsh on the notion of idealized romantic love -- I've heard before that Tchaikovsky didn't think much of his romantic fantasia, The Nutcracker, but boy, I'd never caught on to just how cynical he was until seeing his operas.

The music was very good, and the performances from the singers were fantastic, but the design of the production was a very mixed bag. It was supposed to be updated to around the time of composition (late 19th century) rather than late 18th century as Tchaikovsky set it. But even for that, there were some jarring anachronisms. Lisa looked like she was wearing a pink business suit -- she looked like she belonged in Legally Blonde or something.

Some of the interpretational choices seemed to be intentionally trying to provoke the audience. They ended the "play-within-a-play" sequence -- which was done, quite brilliantly, as a puppet play instead of a ballet -- by making the Faithful Shepherdess turn out to be not so faithful after all, thus completely missing the point of the script as written. The important thing is Gherman and Lisa's reactions, and how the story magnifies the distortion in how they misunderstand each other, and in how he perceives the Countess, with her secret of success at gambling. Changing what's there to react to messes that up. Also a suicide that's supposed to involve Lisa flinging herself off an embankment into the river was replaced with having her pull a plastic bag over her head, which just looked DUMB.

On the other hand, the Countess' death was very well played. And the dream sequence, in which her ghost visits Gherman, was fantastic -- they set it up so it seems like you're looking at Gherman's bed from the top down. All the interior scenes had a confined, Escheresque feel to them, but the bedroom was a real triumph. They even used some trick -- magnets or a monofilament lanyard, I guess -- so that when he dropped a letter off the edge of the bed, it "fell" to the "floor" (which was actually the rear wall). And the portrayal of the Countess ghost as a slightly stylized (almost Día de los Muertos style) skeleton, emerging from beneath the sheets to embrace Gherman, actually managed to be creepy, rather than corny. All in all, an interesting performance, but I would've liked a little more respect for "traditional" theatrical style.

As an aside -- OK, Queen of Spades obviously involves gambling, and Così fan Tutte involves a bet between the young men and their older mentor about whether their lovers will be faithful. But what the hell does The Pearl Fishers have to do with "the gamble of love", the theme they've been using to promote the summer series? Sure, there's a risky love affair involved, but if you think that's a reasonable stretch, you could just as well call it "the high-speed car chase of love", or "the bungie-jump of love". :-P

On Monday night Xta and I watched Heart of the Beholder, which I recently mentioned. It's pretty darn good. The acting is first rate, and the production values are pretty high for an indie film. It feels a little didactic at times, but it never pretended not to have an agenda, and all things considered they did a good job letting the story speak for itself -- they managed to live by the maxim of "Show, don't tell!"

Mostly unrelated to the subject matter of this post: Here's what happens when religious folks get their way on reproductive technology.

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