Weekend viewing: Marie Antoinette

[Disclaimer for most of my movie watching; I usually watch movies long after they have been released so don’t expect any comments on the current box-office hits. My movie watching is dictated by nothing but a random whim and most often – coincidence. Since I get easily bored with movies I cannot go to the cinema because most of such escapades would end up with me leaving the building or dozing off – I watch movies at home however very rarely from DVDs – as that would require extra effort of going to the DVD rental place and knowing what one wants].

Marie Antoinette – dir. Sofia Coppola 2006

There was a time when I didn’t really like historical movies or novels very much. But a couple years ago, with one visit to Germany it all changed. I became utterly fascinated with the history of Prussia, and especially its Princesses. Sophie Charlotte won my heart from the first look at her portrait in Schloss Charlottenburg and then – with my mind never letting me go past any subject I become interested in just like that – I just had to know everrrytingg I could about these times and these people (most of this research demanded from me to refresh my acquaintance with the Teutonic language, which since then also became a hobby of mine). And because once you start on any bit of European history, you must continue with all the nooks and corners it will take you, I have suddenly found myself an avid reader of all things historical. And from a complete historical ignoramus, a person who’s still confused about history but willing to learn more. Therefore, I don’t avoid historical movies, and when I stumbled upon Marie Antoinette directed by Sophie Coppola I gladly began watching.

On the whole, this movie seemed to me a little bit bland – its characters not really engaging – I see it as a series of images composed to accompany the Wikipedia article on Marie Antoinette for even such a person like me with quite basic knowledge will not find anything interesting historically in this movie. I also did not get emotionally involved in the predicament of the French royalty before the French Revolution – there wasn’t even much of redeeming quality of this movie for the silly, infantile and over-spending image of MA that has been handed down the centuries. The movie does, however, address the infamous phrase ‘Let them eat cake’ – suggesting that MA never said that:

There were things that I liked about the movie, or at leas things that intrigued me. The first such thing was the famous converse scene:

In one of the shots blue converse shoes are visible in the background:

converse

And this is something I really enjoy in arts: a little lack of consistency, something odd thrown in just to shake the viewer out of the stupor of watching the moving image. It is also good when the thing is not just a random item, but somehow deepens or broadens the understanding of the situation of characters on screen. Here I guess we are supposed to gather that MA is a young teenager akin to contemporary ones, or perhaps – since the converse shoes seem to have been cast away in favour of more princess-style shoes we see before – that MA had to give up her childhood/young teenage side in favour of pursuing the Versaille’s ways.

Another thing that intrigued me in this movie was the choice of music. One would expect classical music to form the soundtrack of a historical movie – but here (with some notable exceptions like Vivaldi Concerto Alla rustica) the picture is accompanied by the music by 80s bands such as Siouxie and the Banshees, Joy Division or The Cure. And this pleases me on the one hand – it is, after all, music that I listened to in my teenage years (music I was obsessed with in my teenage years) so it was a nice surprise to listen it to it again. But the context is so curious – nothing about the social context of the post-punk, goth music seems to fit the historical context of the movie about pre-revolutionary France. If not a commentary on social context – then perhaps it is highlighting the emotional landscape of the protagonist – that of decadence, fin-de-siècle sentiments (though I know the use of this term is a-historical) – in other words, life is meaningless, all there is is mindless spending, gambling and partying.

Weekend viewing: Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro, 2012 Aix-en-Provence

There’s no question about which is my most favourite opera of all times. It is Le Nozze di Figaro. And with this post I’d like to start a series where I will be presenting different takes / productions of my favourite operas (other favourites to come soon).

The production I want to start with is a fairly recent one – from last years Aix-en-Provence festival with the following cast:

Il Conte di Almaviva – Paulo Szot
La Contessa di Almaviva – Malin Byström
Susanna – Patricia Petibon
Figaro – Kyle Ketelsen
Cherubino – Kate Lindsey
Marcellina – Anna Maria Panzarella
Bartolo – Mario Luperi
Basilio – John Graham-Hall
Don Curzio – Emanuele Giannino
Barbarina – Mari Eriksmoen
Antonio – René Schirrer

Singers:

Apart from Petibon and Byström, none of the above signers were known to me before I watched this production. And I must say that none of them inspired me musically altogether. But that would be something fairly normal with me being quite spoiled by the singers I like. The worst is that some of them were really terrible actors – with the most lukewarm Contessa I have ever seen in terms of acting.When she was trying to express some emotions it was so artificial that it made me cringe. The best of the lot was probably Paulo Szot, who kept reminding me of someone visually, but to this moment I have no idea who. I liked his acting and singing wasn’t bad too – but on the other hand nothing I would remember. Altogether in terms of singing it was a forgettable experience, even with such a star as Petibon. She did a much better job in Salzburg’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte, to which I will come back, I hope, soon.

Production:

As I have some professional background in theatre I am always interested in the productions of operas, sometimes more so than in the singing. A disclaimer upfront: I am a great fan of modern, very modern productions, sometimes referred to by the opera community (particularly American, shall I say) as Eurotrash (can’t remember if they actually capitalize it, but probably not). This production in therms of concept I would not call particulary revolutionary. Yes, it does remove the historical context of the opera and brings it forward into a contemporary world – a cross between a wedding dress shop and modern day apartment but there is not much concept to it. The set has a feeling of a cardboard box, which – whether intentional or not (I’d go for not) – added a sort of make-shift air to the production. The mostly dull colors also didn’t help much in making the set something memorable.

The idea of placing the action in a shop with wedding dresses is not really new – it had appeared in one of my favourite productions of LNDF – with Christine Schäfer as Cherubino (here an excerpt).

There is a moment with potentially interesting use of dog – but being a dog owner I am always in double minds over whether this is such a good idea. Plus, when the dog is on stage I cannot concentrate much on what is going on – I always observe the dog for signs of stress and anxiety. This one was a beautiful Weimaraner (appropriate of course for the context of the Count coming back from a hunting expedition) and seemed well trained although it was so obvious he did not have a slightest idea what was going on and what was really expected of him.

What I really appreciated was the end of the production, when the Countess is supposed to forgive the Count – and here she of course sings all the appropriate notes and words but her body language and movement on stage at the end say something to the very contrary.