Thursday, 30 September 2004

The Trojans (Les Troyens) and wildlife?

Last weekI went to see the English National Opera company's production of Berlioz's The Trojans. It was a rare performance of the complete work, and by now I am sure you are wondering 'What on earth has a five and a half hour opera, got to do with conservation?' Read on, and you may find out.

The opera was performed impeccably -- the orchestra was superb, and there was magnificent singing. The hours slipped by. But what a production. A 'modern' reinterpretation. The characters were all in some sort of contemporary, or late 20th century, dress, which all looked a bit daft when they were singing about clashing armour, running around in the Royal Hunt with spears, the bloody ghost of Hector looming, and various naiads etc flitting around. And there was a hell of a lot of meaningless running about. Berlioz was a man who not only understood orchestration better than almost anyone before or since, he was also someone obsessed with theatricality. Consequently, although his operas are often accused of being rather static, there is absolutely no doubt he knew what he was doing. The oratorio-like narratives, combined with magnificent choruses, are interspersed with dramatic movement -- marches, and dance scenes -- giving a great sense of drama. Some of his 'stage' works are so static as to be often described as unperformable on stage. So when somone has the cast rushing around all the time, it rather destroys his original dramatic intent. Similarly, while some operas and plays tell timeless stories in a way that can transcend the period they were written in and for, The Trojans is a story so clearly rooted in history, that to have a bunch of modern day Greeks trudging round with boxes of household gods, and nuclear warheads is all a bit over the top, if not daft. The Trojans was designed by Berlioz to be an operatic spectacle, lavish costumes and all -- not trainers and shell-suits.

And this is the problem that seems to beset so much of humanknind. They cannot leave well alone. Wildlife is wonderful, but all too often we see it over-interpreted. Humans stamping their influence on a nature reserve -- 'improving' habitats. Deliberately removing certain species because they are 'exotic' and deliberately introducing others because they are 'native'. Of course there is often justification. Just as there is in opera. There would be little justification for going back to gaslight, and there is no reason to completely fossilise a production, but just as the performance of the music is usually to a certain extent sacrosanct, so should the composers intentions for the whole experience be treated with respect. And this concept should be applied to wildlife. Leave it as untouched as possible, and let the viewer make their own assessments. Interpretation is only a fashion, only ephemeral and temporal -- and generally speaking best left out of wildlife. Nature is best when totally untrammelled and untouched by humans -- if you want to see something artificial and man made -- then there is no substitute for opera -- which is probably why I enjoy it, it's such a contrast.

No comments:

Post a Comment