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intellect Journals | Theatre & Performance
Studies in Musical Theatre
Volume 2 Number 1 2008
Studies in Musical Theatre is a fully refereed journal, the first academic periodical in this area. We would like to invite contributions that explore any aspect of the musical stage. For example: • Opera, Music Theatre or Musical Theatre? • Archival and production research • Narratives of the musical stage • Historiographical perspectives • Musicological and dramaturgical approaches • Performance and performance practice • Approaches to training and the industry • The fusion of words and music • The use of music and song within ‘straight’ theatre • Paralinguistics and rhetorical expression • Negotiating the art/entertainment divide • The academic study of musical theatre The journal also welcomes contributions from recognised practitioners in the field, who may include writers, directors, MDs, performers, coaches, etc. The journal’s ‘Re:Act’ section embraces issues relating to practice and seeks to participate in the development of creative practice in the profession.
Dominic Symonds George Burrows
School of Creative Arts, Film & Media, University of Portsmouth, Wiltshire Building, Hampshire Terrace, Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom, PO1 2EG Tel: +44 (0)2392 845126 (DS) Tel: +44 (0)2392 845132 (GB) Fax: +44 (0)2392 845152 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Act Editor
School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
Tel: 0113 343 8725
Michael Eigtved – University of Copenhagen, Denmark Heath Lees – University of Auckland, New Zealand Jim Lovensheimer – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA Kate Napier – Guildford School of Acting, UK Catherine Parsonage – Leeds College of Music, UK Barbara Poston-Anderson – University of Technology, Sydney, Australia James Randall – University of Montana Clemens Risi – Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany David Roesner – University of Exeter, UK Jane Schopf – Rose Bruford College, UK Steve Swayne – Dartmouth College, USA Millie Taylor – University of Winchester, UK Nicholas Till – University of Sussex, UK Stacy Wolf – University of Texas at Austin Graham Wood – Coker College, South Carolina, USA
School of Creative Arts, Film & Media, University of Portsmouth, Wiltshire Building, Hampshire Terrace, Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom, PO1 2EG E-mail: HEATLEW@aol.com
Stephen Banfield – University of Bristol, UK Geoffrey Block – University of Puget Sound, USA Tim Carter – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA Jon Alan Conrad – University of Delaware, USA Robert Gordon – Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK John Graziano – City University of New York, USA Trevor Herbert – Open University, UK Kim Kowalke – University of Rochester, USA
Studies in Musical Theatre is published three times per year by Intellect, The Mill, Parnall Road, Bristol, BS16 3JG, UK. The current subscription rates are £33 (personal) and £210 (institutional). Postage within the UK is free whereas it is £9 within the EU and £12 elsewhere. Advertising enquiries should be addressed to: email@example.com © 2008 Intellect Ltd. Authorisation to photocopy items for internal or personal use or the internal or personal use of specific clients is granted by Intellect Ltd for libraries and other users registered with the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) in the UK or the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) Transactional Reporting Service in the USA provided that the base fee is paid directly to the relevant organisation.
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Notes for Contributors
Articles submitted to Studies in Musical Theatre should be original and not under consideration by any other publication. Contributions should be submitted electronically as an email attachment in Microsoft Word format. In extreme circumstances we will accept hard copies of articles, which should be sent in the format detailed below to the Editorial Office. Books for review should be sent to the Reviews Editor, c/o the Editorial Office. • • • • • The text, including the notes, should be in Times New Roman 12 point. The text, including the endnotes, must be double-spaced. The text should have at least 2.5 cm margins for annotation by the editorial team. You may send the text justified or unjustified. You may, if you wish, break up your text with sub-titles, which should be set in ordinary text and bold, not ‘all caps’. Quotations must be within single inverted commas. Material quoted within cited text should be in double inverted commas. Quotations must be within the body of the text unless they exceed approximately four lines of your text. In this case, they should be separated from the body of the text and indented. Omitted material should be signalled thus: [...]. Note that there are no spaces between the suspension points. text. Unlike paper references, however, web pages can change, so we need a date of access as well as the full web reference. In the list of references at the end of your article, the item should read something like this: Allmusic.com (2006), (online) http://www.allmusic.com Accessed 12 October 2006. Anon. ‘As One Individual? The Collaboration of Gilbert or Sullivan’ (Text of a paper presented at the Buxton International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival on August 12th 2000) http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/ ~ajcrowth/buxton2000.htm Accessed 06 September 2001.
Studies in Musical Theatre is a refereed journal. Strict anonymity is accorded to both authors and referees.
The views expressed in Studies in Musical Theatre are those of the authors, and do not necessarily coincide with those of the Editors or the Editorial or Advisory Boards.
Notes appear at the side of appropriate pages, but the numerical sequence runs throughout the article. Notes should be kept to a minimum. In general, if something is worth saying, it is worth saying in the text itself. A note will divert the reader’s attention away from your argument. If you think a note is necessary, make it as brief and to the point as possible. Use Word’s note-making facility, and ensure that your notes are endnotes, not footnotes. Place note calls outside the punctuation, so AFTER the comma or the full stop. The note call must be in superscripted Arabic (1, 2, 3).
Articles should be full text, written in a clear and concise style using standard British English. Articles will normally be approximately 5000–6000 words in length. Contributors must check that each of the following have been supplied correctly: • Article Title. • Author Name. • Author addresses – the submitted material should include details of the full postal and email addresses of the contributor for correspondence purposes. • Author Biography – authors should include a short biography of around 50 words, specifying the institution with which they are affiliated. The name, address, biography and author affiliation should appear only on a cover sheet, page one of the document. • Copyright Consent Form giving us your permission to publish your article should it be accepted by our peer review panel. An electronic template is available from the journal office address above. • Abstract of 100–150 words; this will go onto the Intellect website. • Keywords – six words, or two-word phrases, that are core to what is being discussed. • Numbered notes - These should be kept to a minimum and must be submitted correctly at the time of the initial submission. • References – Intellect requires the use of Harvard references embedded in the main text in the following format (Harper 1999: 27). • Bibliography - titled ‘Works cited’ to enable it to include videos, films, CDs and the like without ambiguity. Any list of relevant work in addition to the works cited directly should be titled ‘Further works’.
Borroff, E. (1984), ‘Origin of Species: Conflicting Views of American Musical Theater History’, American Music 2:4, pp.101–112. Gänzl, K. (1986a), The British Musical Theatre: Volume 1: 1865–1914, London: Macmillan Press, Ltd. ––– (1986b), The British Musical Theatre: Volume 1: 1915–1984, London: Macmillan Press, Ltd. Hirsch, F. (2005), Harold Prince and the American Musical Theatre, New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. Gottfried, M. (1999), ‘Sleeve notes to “Gypsy”’ [Original Broadway Cast Album] [CD], Columbia Broadway Masterworks, SMK 60848. Johnson, C. (1998), ‘The Secret Diary of Catherine Johnson’, program notes to Mamma Mia! [Original West End Production], dir. Phyllida Lloyd. Montague Lavy, M. (2001), ‘Emotion and the Experience of Listening to Music: A Framework for Empirical Research’, PhD Dissertation, Jesus College: Cambridge University. Picard, A. ‘Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!’ The Independent 19 August 2001. Rodgers, R. and O. Hammerstein II (n.d), Carousel: A Musical Play, (Vocal Score ed. Dr. Albert Sirmay), Williamson Music • ‘Anon.’ for items for which you do not have an author (because all items must be referenced with an author within the text) • year date of publication in brackets • commas, not full stops, between parts of item • absence of ‘in’ after the title of a chapter within a monograph, but please use ‘in’ after chapters in edited volumes • name of translator of a book within brackets after title and preceded by ‘trans.’, not ‘transl.’ or ‘translated by’ • absence of ‘no.’ for the journal number • colon between journal volume and number • ‘p.’ or ‘pp.’ before page extents
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Tables should be supplied either within the Word document of the main text or as separate Word documents.
Musical notation, scores or diagrams are best constructed in an object-oriented computer program rather than a text-oriented one (eg., Sibelius). These should be supplied to us in their original software form aswell as either a JPEG, TIFF or Acrobat PDF document.
Copyright clearance should be indicated by the contributor and is always the responsibility of the contributor. Unless a specific agreement has been made, accepted articles become the copyright of the journal. The copyright clearance form should be completed and sent to the Editors to accompany every submission.
• The title of your article should be in bold at the beginning of the file, without inverted commas.
These are no different from other references; they must have an author, and that author must be referenced Harvard-style within the
Any matters concerning the format and presentation of articles not covered by the above notes should be addressed to the Editor. The guidance on this page is by no means comprehensive: it must be read in conjunction with Intellect Notes for Contributors. These notes can be referred to by contributors to any of Intellect’s journals, and so are, in turn, not sufficient; contributors will also need to refer to the guidance such as this given for each specific journal. Intellect Notes for Contributors is obtainable from www.intellectbooks.com/journals, or on request from the Editor of this journal.
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Editorial. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.3/2
George Burrows and Dominic Symonds
Issue 2.1 of Studies in Musical Theatre represents another feast of writing on various very different aspects of musical theatre. Once again the articles demonstrate just what an interdisciplinary, vibrant and varied scholarly community the journal represents. In our first article, Elizabeth Wollman offers a fascinating analysis of adult musicals in the 1970s, considering the discourses of gender and sexuality within which they are situated. As well as high profile and oftendiscussed shows such as Hair, she deals with several more obscure and perhaps forgotten shows, and her article benefits from the input of several performers and creators of the original Broadway, off-Broadway and offoff-Broadway productions. In Marc Napolitano’s article, he discusses two recent interpretations of Jane Eyre as musical and opera, considering their narrative techniques in relation to the novel. The explicit narration of the Bronte text is seen as offering a double voice that in some ways is substituted on the musical stage by the dual voices of character and orchestra. Charles Eliot Mehler offers a reconsideration of Fiddler on the Roof, interrogating the relationship this show has with the Jewish community. His article looks at various productions since the 1960s, alongside changing depictions of and attitudes towards Yiddishkeit. In Anastasia Belina’s article, she provides us with a comparison of Taneyev’s opera Orestia with the Aeschylus on which it is based. Her piece considers in detail the treatment by Taneyev of its two central female characters, Clytemnestra and Cassandra. Finally, the potential of music theatre as post-dramatic theatre is considered by Demetris Zavros. Informed by practice as research and a production of his own piece Clastoclysm, Zavros’s study engages with the relationship between mythic structures and music, seen through the theories of Levi-Strauss. As promised, we bring you the relaunch of our Re:Act section, which for Volume 2 we have invited guest editor George Rodosthenous to oversee. This section is intended as a forum for practice-based issues, and in this issue Kara McKechnie considers the practice of Catalan director Calixto Bieito in his recent interpretation of The Flying Dutchman in Frankfurt. The issue concludes with a selection of book reviews which we hope you will find useful. Those with an eye for detail will quickly spot that at the heart of this issue are a number of articles from scholars at the University of Leeds. This bias reflects the fact that the ‘Song, Stage and Screen’ conference that is associated with this journal was hosted by the University of Leeds in 2007,
SMT 2 (1) pp. 3– 4 © Intellect Ltd 2008
and we are delighted to bring you some of the material that was aired at that marvellous event, reflecting the generosity of our hosts whose interest in and support of the field of the journal have been unprecedented and unwavering. While last year’s Leeds conference had a particular character that is captured in the range of articles herein, this year’s conference took place at the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York, where an equally varied array of papers were displayed, appropriately enough focusing on Music in Gotham – the Broadway musical. We hope to bring you some of the papers delivered at this conference in future issues of the journal, alongside other papers from the many and varied conferences that have represented the area of study in recent months and in forthcoming events. In the meantime, we do hope you enjoy reading the papers in this issue, and look forward to your continued contributions and support.
George Burrows and Dominic Symonds
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.5/1
Emancipation or exploitation? Gender liberation and adult musicals in 1970s New York1
Elizabeth L. Wollman Baruch College Abstract
Because the 1960s sexual revolution preceding the gay and women’s liberation movements was largely defined by straight men, the increased sexual freedom that came with liberation often translated, especially for women, into the substitution of one kind of exploitation for another. The ‘adult’ musicals (musicals featuring nudity and simulated sex) that were faddish off-Broadway in the 1970s grappled with the country’s changing sexual mores, and many reflected contemporary struggles for gender equality. Yet because of the strong sexual content of adult musicals, messages of liberation were often lost on audiences who were simply interested in vicariously experiencing reverberations of the sexual revolution. This article examines the ways adult musicals translated messages championed by the women’s and gay liberation movements, as well as the ways that actors in musicals like Let My People Come and Oh! Calcutta!, as well as their audiences, negotiated interconnected messages of sexual freedom and exploitation.
off-Broadway women’s liberation gay liberation Oh! Calcutta! Let My People Come Mod Donna The Faggot
The sexual revolution was built on equal measures of hypocrisy and honesty, equality and exploitation. Indeed, the individual strands contain mixed motivations and ideological charges. Even the most heartfelt or best intentions did not always work out for the good when put into practice by mere humans with physical and psychological frailties.
(Bailey 1994: 257–58)
A curious legacy of the 1960s sexual revolution was the ‘adult’ musical, a number of which cropped up in New York City, occasionally on and especially off- and off-off-Broadway, through the 1970s. Adult musicals generally distinguished themselves from other types of musical in their reliance on strong sexual content in the form of any or all of the following: fullfrontal nudity; simulated sexual activity; and frequent sexually suggestive or explicit dialogue, musical numbers or dance numbers. With few exceptions, representatives of the subgenre were reviled by theatre critics, who alternately attacked them either for going too far in the direction of hardcore pornography, or, conversely, of being so preachy about contemporary sexuality that they were not erotic enough. Some theatre producers worried that at their most explicit, adult musicals were not terribly distinct from the live sex shows and pornographic films that had begun to proliferate
1. I am grateful to Stephen Amico, Susan Tenneriello and two anonymous peer reviewers for their comments on previous drafts of this article. I am also grateful to the many people who agreed to be interviewed; special thanks go to Mod Donna composer Susan Hulsman Bingham for her music, memories and insight.
SMT 2 (1) pp. 5–32 © Intellect Ltd 2008
2. See for example Reif (1983), Rich (1989), Atkinson (1990), Bordman (2001) and Ward (2005). 3. Coined around 1960 in the Village Voice, the term ‘off-offBroadway’ initially denoted plays or workshops staged in small spaces anywhere in Manhattan, for which actors received little or no pay. The term, however, quickly took on more ideological associations, especially since many off-off-Broadway practitioners had no desire to cross into more commercial realms. For further discussion of the term and its ideological associations see Bottoms (2006) and Crespy (2003).
in Times Square by the late 1960s. Nevertheless, adult musicals appealed to other producers – especially young, up-and-coming ones – because they were surprisingly easy to cast with young, eager unknowns, were usually cheap to stage, and, of course, were not difficult to costume. And even the ones that earned the nastiest reviews usually made money. Clearly, spectators were more interested in the nudity and simulated sex that these musicals promised than they were in what critics thought about their orchestrations, scenic design or dramatic flow. Few adult musicals were published or recorded before they closed. The subgenre as a whole dwindled significantly by the early 1980s as the social and political climate grew more conservative, and seems to have gone entirely out of fashion by mid-decade, when fears surrounding the AIDS epidemic subdued free sexual expression. Virtually no scholarly work exists on adult musicals; historians and journalists who mention them at all tend to emphasize their dated music and subject matter, amateur production values, or the seemingly mercenary desires of producers to capitalize on the American public’s fascination with sex at a time when sexual mores were shifting dramatically across the country.2 Yet while they have been dismissed as trifles that collectively amounted to the musical-theatre equivalent of streaking – a forgettable fad befitting a silly decade – adult musicals represent aspects of 1970s American culture at their messiest and most confused, and thus perhaps at their most honest. These musicals reflect the country’s rapidly changing, often contradictory, attitudes about gender and sexuality at a time when the sexual revolution had given way to the gay and women’s liberation movements.
Aesthetically speaking, the adult musical owes much to burlesque for its bawdy subject matter and its structure. While a few adult musicals – for example the 1970 off-Broadway production Stag Movie – featured fulllength plots, most were written in revue form, in which songs, skits and dances were loosely thematically interconnected. Yet the adult musical is most closely connected with the overarching aesthetics and idealism of the off-off-Broadway experimental theatre of the 1960s. At a physical and philosophical distance from the Great White Way, off-off-Broadway inhabited roughly the same geographical area as its immediate predecessor, the off-Broadway realm, but was freer in terms of its organization and objectives.3 The movement began in the late 1950s in reaction to off-Broadway’s increasing commercialism, and thus stretched even further than off-Broadway had in terms of scope and experimentation (Kauffmann 1979: 37). In its heyday in the 1960s, offoff-Broadway was populated by individuals and collectives devoted to developing artistically challenging work in alternative, non-commercial spaces. Practitioners pondered potential roles for the theatre in a tumultuous nation; many off-off-Broadway companies devoted themselves to using theatre as a tool for socio-political change by blending political and aesthetic radicalism, pushing the boundaries of what was deemed theatrically appropriate, and encouraging audiences to engage directly with – and thereby become part of – performances (Banham 1995: 647). While Broadway entered something of a creative standstill in the 1960s,
Elizabeth L. Wollman
off-off-Broadway was invigorated by the anti-war movement and the counterculture, and exerted unprecedented stylistic influence on the theatrical mainstream well into the 1970s. When it opened at the Biltmore Theater on 29 April 1968, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical broke ground as the first critically and commercially successful rock musical to land on Broadway. This musical served as a linchpin that linked the commercial potential of the theatrical mainstream with the experimentalism of off-off-Broadway; in this respect, its influence cannot be overemphasized. Featuring a book and lyrics by Open Theatre members Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and an innovative score by jazz and R&B musician Galt MacDermott, Hair was originally produced off-Broadway in 1967 as the inaugural production of Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre. Recast by La MaMa director Tom O’Horgan for its move uptown to Broadway, Hair retained plenty of its rough-edged off-off-Broadway sensibility, including its disjunct structure, disregard of the traditional fourth wall, hodgepodge of left-leaning social and political messages, emphasis on communal experience both in rehearsal and performance, and use, in the first act finale, of male and female full-frontal nudity.4 Stage nudity remained relatively taboo both in the experimental and commercial realms through the early 1960s. This would begin to change when the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Peter Weiss’ The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (commonly known as Marat/Sade) opened to enthusiastic reviews at Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre on 27 December 1965. The production, directed by Peter Brook, created a mild sensation not only because it featured ‘a realistic tableau of guillotined heads, buckets of […] blood being poured down drains, [and] an actress using her long hair as a whip’, but also because it allowed audiences a glimpse of the naked backside of Ian Richardson as Marat, as he emerged from a bathtub beneath the stage (Drutman 1966: 1). Stage nudity became increasingly fashionable, especially off- and offoff-Broadway, among playwrights and directors interested in honest depictions of the human condition. Playwright Robert Patrick, an active member of the 1960s Caffe Cino scene, remembers, ‘when we first started putting nudity into plays, it was in situations where people would be nude in real life. So when people were making love in my plays, I had them nude! Who makes love in armour?’ (Patrick 2005) As off-off-Broadway continued to exert stylistic influence on the mainstream, nudity became a familiar, if still controversial, feature on both fringe and commercial stages by the turn of the decade, and arguably helped draw audiences to such plays as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Broadway, 1968), Scuba Duba (off-Broadway, 1967) and Tom Paine (off-off-Broadway, 1968). The nude scene in Hair, then, was representative of the fringe’s attempts to close the gap between audience and performers, and to use theatre as a tool with which to explore socially relevant subject matter, including that which – like sexuality – was traditionally considered taboo. What helped set this particular nude scene apart from many of its experimental predecessors was its joyful quality. Writing in 1969, New York
Emancipation or exploitation? Gender liberation and adult …
4. For details on the development and impact of Hair, see Horn (1991) and Wollman (2006).
Times critic Walter Kerr lamented that ‘in virtually all of our uninhibited plays, sex and nudity are associated with dirt, disease, bloodshed and death’, and that ‘the last thing any of these plays is is playful’ (Kerr 1969: 26 B). On the contrary, the nudity in Hair, which occurred at the Act 1 finale during the re-enactment of a human be-in, was intended merely as ‘a beautiful comment about the young generation’ (Ward 2002). The dimly-lit scene, which featured male and female cast members undulating happily beneath a sheer, flower-printed sheet, was an attempt at theatrical realism: hippies espoused the body beautiful, so why shouldn’t actors playing hippies do the same? It also happened to be entirely celebratory, which likely added to its appeal. Hair’s extraordinary commercial success resulted in countless imitations, and thus more theatrical nudity, not only in straight plays but now, also, in musicals. By the end of the 1968–69 season, nudity had attained such faddishness, especially off-and off-off-Broadway, that critic Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., was prompted to gripe,
This was a season [ … ] of experimentation with nakedness onstage, not so much on Broadway as in the smaller playhouses. Males and females in various combinations peeled, groped and pressed against one another. Very little came of it except publicity, and not much of that. There was hardly even a sense of shock. Theatrically speaking, the nudity and mimed fornication accomplished so little, at the cost of so much effort, that perhaps we have got that notion out of the way at last, once and for all.
(Guernsey 1969: 3)
Of course, Guernsey was wrong. When it came to adult musicals, 1969 was just the beginning.
The first adult musical, Oh! Calcutta!, opened off-Broadway on 17 June 1969. An ‘erotic revue’ devised for ‘thinking voyeurs’ (Tallmer 1969: n.p.), Oh! Calcutta! was the brainchild of esteemed theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, who solicited a number of writers he admired to ‘dramatize their own sexual fantasies or observations on sexuality’ (Tynan 1969: 1). The result was a collection of sketches contributed anonymously by writers and playwrights including Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, Leonard Melfi, Sherman Yellin, John Lennon and Tynan himself. Oh! Calcutta! reflected off-off-Broadway’s influence not only in showcasing playwrights like Shepard, Melfi and Beckett, but also in Tynan’s interest in ‘taboo’ subject matter, and his choice of director. Former Open Theatre associate Jacques Levy was enlisted to shape the songs and skits into an evening’s entertainment. During the rehearsal period, Levy led the cast through a series of experimental exercises, including a number of encounter sessions designed to ‘enable each actor to accept the fact of his own body and to work comfortably with his fellow actors – without clothes’ (Dunbar 1969: 40). Musically speaking, Oh! Calcutta! took a nod from Hair’s contemporary sound: the score was composed and, with a few full-cast song-and-dance numbers as exceptions, performed by a rock trio called The Open Window, featuring Peter Schickele, pre-P.D.Q. Bach fame.
Elizabeth L. Wollman
Despite these off-off-Broadway moorings, Tynan made clear his desire to attract a highbrow audience for Oh! Calcutta! ‘It seemed to me a pity that eroticism in the theatre should be confined to burlesque houses and the sleazier sort of night club’, he wrote (Tynan 1969: 1). ‘Some time ago it occurred to me that there was no place for a civilized man to take a civilized woman to spend an evening of civilized erotic stimulation. We’re trying to fill that gap with this show’ (Karpel 1969: 40). The result, Tynan hoped, would be ‘a few cuts above burlesque in intelligence and sophistication’ (Tynan 1969: 1). Tynan’s attempt to promote the show as ‘an entertainment in the erotic area in the best possible taste’ (Tynan 1969: 1) is evidenced in his choice of title, borrowed from a painting of the backside of a female nude by the artist Clovis Trouille named Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta! The title is a pun on the French ‘Oh, quel cul t’as,’ or roughly, ‘What a nice ass you have!’ (Rich 1989: C13). To quash rumours that cast members would actually have sex onstage, thereby relegating Oh! Calcutta! to little more than a Times Square peepshow, producer Hilliard Elkins opened rehearsals to New York City officials and made himself available to hear their concerns. The creative team publicly emphasized the high calibre of the contributing writers, the professionalism of the actors, and the many accomplishments of Tynan himself. The producers spared no expense on Oh! Calcutta!, which was clearly a commercial venture from inception. An old burlesque house, the Phoenix Theatre on Twelfth Street and Second Avenue, was refurbished and renamed the Eden for the production, which boasted state-of-the art lighting and scenic design. All jokes about saving money on the costume budget notwithstanding, Oh! Calcutta! exceeded $100,000 in production costs, making it the most expensive show in off-Broadway history when it opened (Bunce 1969: 10). While it is unclear whether all the attempts to position Oh! Calcutta! as highbrow entertainment helped sell more tickets than did the simple promise of nudity, it does seem to have aided the audition process. Original cast member Boni Enten remembers insisting on auditioning for the show, despite the concerns of her agent:
I had read about Oh! Calcutta! and I knew who Kenneth Tynan was. I called my agent and said, ‘I want to audition.’ He said, ‘Are you, crazy?’ And I said, ‘No, I want to audition.’ So he got me the audition. Jacques Levy, the director, had done experimental theatre in New York. And the list of people involved as writers? I knew those people! I just had a feeling that this was going to be something.
Tynan’s interest in ‘elevating’ his show above the then-low status of burlesque is clear in the finished product, which featured only a single sketch – ‘Was It Good for You Too?’ credited to humorist Dan Greenburg – that was clearly rooted in the burlesque tradition (Barrett 1973: 35). This Masters and Johnson send-up featured a Marx brothers-inspired medical team documenting the mating habits of male and female volunteers as madness erupts in the laboratory. A vast majority of the sketches, however, attempted more deeply-layered musings about sexuality. Topics included
Emancipation or exploitation? Gender liberation and adult …
swinging, fetishism, sexual tensions between spouses, the emotional and physical brutalities of the singles’ scene and the generation gap. For its risqué subject matter and the amount of controversy it generated in the press during rehearsal and preview periods, Oh! Calcutta! struck most critics as more quaint than progressive when it opened. Few critics registered any moral outrage in reviewing the show, although James Davis of the Daily News attacked it as ‘hard core pornography’ that was at once ‘dull’ and ‘disgustingly clinical’ (Davis 1969: 74), and Emily Genauer for the Post called it ‘a bitter, mocking, outrageous […] sick but powerful social statement offering […] every obscene word and gesture imaginable, an endless catalogue of impersonal sexual transactions and bottomless contempt for the human psyche, for sensibility, for sex and for life itself ’ (Genauer 1969: 14). Yet most of the critics agreed that the show was too self-congratulatory and schoolboyishly silly to be truly erotic, or even consistently entertaining. ‘Oh! Calcutta! is likely to disappoint different people in different ways, but disappointment is the order of the right [sic]’, Clive Barnes wrote for The New York Times. ‘I think I can recommend the show with any vigor only to people who are extraordinarily underprivileged, either socially, sexually, or emotionally. Now is your time to stand up and be counted’ (Barnes 1969: 33). As it turned out, an awful lot of people were so underprivileged. Despite the reviews, the show ran to full houses at the Eden until February 1971, when it moved uptown to Broadway’s Belasco Theatre for another year and a half. An even more successful revival opened at the Edison Theatre on 47th Street a mere four years later. Playing to houses so packed with tourists that programmes were eventually offered in nine different languages, this production ran for thirteen years before closing in August 1989 (Reif 1983: 20). Oh! Calcutta! does seem enormously conservative, especially in retrospect. The sketches, all of which were written by white men and performed by an all-white cast, depict nothing but white, heterosexual, middle-class concerns. Race and class issues did not seem to have crossed Tynan’s mind in creating the show, and he explicitly forbade any gay subject matter with the blunt explanation that ‘there’s been enough of that around’ (Ward 2002). His homophobia extended to the casting process: according to original cast member Raina Barrett, men who were openly gay or too effeminate for Tynan’s taste were automatically refused roles (Barrett 1973: 13). The sole mention of homosexuality in Oh! Calcutta! is in passing: a single derogatory aside of ‘weirdo’ (Rich 1989: C14). Quite a few sketches reflected Tynan’s own sexual preoccupations, however. These included Victorian attire, sadomasochism and the debasement of women by whipping, gagging and imprisoning in hanging baskets or nets. Despite their different authors, most of the sketches are built on traditional gender stereotypes. In one sketch – ‘Will Answer All Sincere Replies’ by screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton – a young couple nervously prepares for a visit by a slightly older couple of experienced swingers. The young wife makes it abundantly clear that she is unhappy with the arrangement, which was her husband’s idea. Midway through the sketch, the young man prematurely ejaculates while dancing with the older woman and, mortified, slinks off to change. He returns to find that
Elizabeth L. Wollman
his wife has enthusiastically joined the swingers’ lovemaking; as the sketch ends, he stands by limply (literally and figuratively), newly filled with self-doubt. The punchline of this sketch relies on the element of surprise that occurs when traditional stereotypes – men as socially active and sexually predatory; women as emotionally and sexually passive – are subverted. The assumptions made here are typical of just about every sketch in Oh! Calcutta! In scene after scene, female characters are rendered as erotic appendages to the men, unless a punchline relies on undermining conventional perceptions.
Salvation, Stag Movie, and the rise of gender activism
Despite its lacklustre reviews, Oh! Calcutta was a hit at the box office and thus paved the way for more adult musicals, which began to crop up offand off-off-Broadway by the turn of the decade. One of the first, Salvation, appeared briefly at the Village Gate in concert form in spring 1969 before reopening in September for an open-ended commercial run at the Jan Hus Theatre. This revue had music by Peter Link and a book and lyrics by C. C. Courtney, who would pursue separate careers in the theatre and music industries once their second effort, the rock musical Earl of Ruston (1971), closed on Broadway after a mere five performances. Salvation was performed by a cast of eight accompanied by a seven-piece rock band called Nobody Else, and featured nineteen songs, all of which purported to critique organized religion and celebrate the various social and political messages embraced by the counterculture. The revue ran for 239 performances and spawned a top-40 hit, ‘(If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?’ recorded by Hair alumnus Ronnie Dyson (Whitburn 2000: 205). Due in part to its sparse set and loose staging (The Jan Hus was in the cavernous basement of an Upper East Side church), Salvation was judged almost entirely on the merits of its score and talent, both of which struck critics as uniformly impressive. Despite the fact that its budget was smaller than those of both Oh! Calcutta! and Hair, comparisons to both shows were inevitable, since the revue touched on similar themes and espoused similar messages. Like its predecessors, however, Salvation’s countercultural posturing and left-leaning politics concealed morals that were ultimately rather conservative: at the end, the cast concludes that in ‘the quest for inner peace, perhaps religion’ – or at the very least, spiritual reflection – ‘still has more to offer than the various drugs and assorted kicks so prominent in the contemporary scene’ (O’Connor 1969: 18). Or, as an anonymous review in Time put it, ‘Salvation [ … ] trades on the residual puritanism behind its ostensibly anti-puritan outlook. A people at ease with sexuality, and casually and thoroughly iconoclastic, would not pay good money to see an inept affirmation of a puerile paganism’ (Anon. 1969: 78). These sentiments apply to most post-Oh! Calcutta adult musicals, often despite their creators’ best intentions. Because these shows were often developed and produced by young adults – many of whom were involved in the off-off-Broadway scene – most were at once less opulent and selfconsciously highbrow, and at least somewhat more political, than Oh!
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Calcutta! Many adult musicals, inspired directly or indirectly by gay liberation, attempted to include aspects of gay life; several also attempted to address women’s issues in ways that Oh! Calcutta! did not. Yet despite attempts to move beyond Oh! Calcutta!’s conservatism, most adult musicals ultimately reflected the most stubbornly traditional of gender roles – and stereotypes – both on stage and behind the scenes. A case in point is Stag Movie (1971), which opened at the Gate Theatre on Tenth Street and Second Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Eden, where Oh! Calcutta! was playing to packed houses. Written by David Newburge, a playwright and lyricist who later turned to writing erotica, Stag Movie was a spoof meant to capitalize on current theatre trends. Producer Richard R. Lingeman acknowledged that Stag Movie would feature ‘nudity, simulated sex acts […] four-letter words and all the rest. Which means, ideally, we’ll have it both ways’ (Lingeman 1971: 14). The plot of Stag Movie focuses on a group of out-of-work actors who decide to pool their resources and make a musical porn film based on the stag reel known as ‘The Grocery Boy’. Shooting, which takes place in a seedy motel near Kennedy Airport, is repeatedly interrupted by aeroplane noise, the mafia, the police and an elderly maid who wants a part in the film. Musical numbers, which were never recorded, were composed by Jacques Urbont; they included ‘Get Your Rocks off Rock’, ‘Try a Trio’, the romantic duet ‘We Came Together’, and a wistful ballad titled ‘I Want More Out of Life Than This’, sung by the lead female character, played by a then-unknown Adrienne Barbeau:
As I do the dishes I dream of a rapist Who’d force me to do his desire. He’d grip me, he’d strip me, he might even whip me, He’d set my whole body on fire. But my handsome husband has sexual equipment That hasn’t been used since his bris! I want more out of life than this!
Unlike Oh! Calcutta!, Stag Movie featured gay and lesbian characters and, as the lyrics above imply, ponder the possibility of female sexual desire, if not in the most progressive of ways. Nevertheless, in part because of its reliance on gender stereotypes – especially that of the mincing, effeminate gay man – Stag Movie became the target of the Gay Liberation Front, an activist group of gay men and lesbians that formed shortly after the 1969 Stonewall riots. In a move that seems laughably naive in retrospect, the producers of Stag Movie had invited the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) to a critics’ preview on 2 January 1971, in hopes that the musical would catch on with a gay audience. Ensconced in the balcony, approximately 30 GLF members began heckling almost as soon as Stag Movie began; the group grew increasingly agitated by the reliance on gay stereotypes and objected to the fact that the lead female character was completely naked for most of the show, while the male characters appeared naked more infrequently (Anon. 1971).
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Heavy use of the word ‘faggot’ throughout the show didn’t help matters much (Newburge 2006a). The hissing, booing and catcalls – including chants like ‘Sexist pigs!’ ‘Dirty old men!’ and ‘Raise your level of consciousness!’ – built to such a degree that the actors eventually stopped trying to recite their lines. Some cast members attempted to maintain order, while others joined the melee and began shouting at the protesters from the stage until the police arrived to remove the protestors and allow to the musical to continue (Anon. a. 1971). In his review, Barnes admitted that while such disruptions are generally disrespectful, this one was ‘a welcome diversion from the seemingly endless tedium’ of Stag Movie, which he called ‘dispiriting’, ‘dismal’ and ‘as erotic as cold mulligatawny soup laced with frozen porridge’ (Barnes 1971: 39). Despite a near-universal critical drubbing, Stag Movie ran for several months due to a break on the theatre rental arranged by the producer, and word-of-mouth about the protests (Anon. b. 1971). Of course, the nude Adrienne Barbeau – whose ample ‘mammary equipment’ caused many a critic to interrupt his review mid-scathe in order to blather blushingly and with something approaching genuine awe – probably also helped keep Stag Movie running longer than it might have otherwise (Lewis 1971: n.p.).
5. For far more extensive information on twentieth-century gay activism than this article allows, see Marcus (1992), Duberman (1993), Kaiser (1997) and Loughery (1998).
Gay liberation and The Faggot
Bad musicals often incite vitriol in the press, and in this respect Stag Movie is not atypical. Yet the fact that Oh! Calcutta! – with all its advance publicity and ultimately traditional take on sexuality – escaped much in the way of social criticism while a mere two years later a low-budget spoof stocked with tired stereotypes would be the target not only of contempt in the press but of virulent protest as well, speaks in part to the increase in gender activism that occurred in New York City and across the country between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. After all, Oh! Calcutta! opened a mere two weeks before the Stonewall riots erupted in Greenwich Village, and only nine months after the women’s liberation movement unofficially launched during an organized protest at the 1968 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. While gay activism existed long before the Stonewall riots erupted on 28 June 1969, the 1970s movement benefited greatly from the ideologies and practices of the New Left on which it was based, and also on its trajectory (Valocchi 2001: 451). Whereas pre-Stonewall activism was relatively covert, the riots sparked ‘an entirely new kind of gay organization advocating radical social change’ (Heidenry 1997: 102-3).5 For example, the Gay Liberation Front – which, for all the ideological problems that would cause its demise in 1972, would survive long enough to disrupt the preview of Stag Movie in 1971 – was formed within weeks of the riots by seasoned members of the New Left (Valocchi 2001: 455–6). Post-Stonewall gay activism quickly found a place in New York’s theatre fringe, in part because there had already been a burgeoning gay theatre established there, most notably at the Caffe Cino. Largely credited as the cradle of modern gay theatre, the Cino opened in late 1958 and by
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the mid-60s had become an influential off-off-Broadway scene. Stephen Bottoms writes,
The Cino initially developed as a venue in which young writers, directors, and actors [ …] could exercise their skills. Many of these artists fully intended to seek careers in the mainstream [ …] but in the meantime they discovered that the Cino was …so free of commercial concerns that they could try out anything, even if this meant casually breaking rules of form and content that were sacrosanct in the professional theater. Moreover, the fact that the Cino’s regular staff and customers were largely (though certainly not exclusively) gay, made them outsiders of another sort in relation to mainstream culture: though sexuality was by no means a defining theme in the Cino’s hugely diverse range of work, there was an underlying awareness of difference [ … ] that facilitated the celebratory abandon with which Cino writers embraced the bizarre, the ridiculous, and the taboo.
(Bottoms 2004: 39)
The free-spirited atmosphere allowed for the cultivation of an impressive number of gay playwrights including Doric Wilson, Robert Patrick, H. M. Koutoukas and Lanford Wilson. By the time the Cino closed in 1968, various like-minded off-offBroadway troupes had formed. Many of these companies – for example the Judson Poets’ Theatre and the Playhouse of the Ridiculous – were devoted to the exploration of contemporary sexuality in general, and queer sensibilities in particular. While the gay theatre that developed in the 1960s and gained momentum through the 1970s was not, for the most part, ‘militantly or aggressively political’, the increased focus on various aspects of gay culture worked both to subvert traditional stereotypes and to expand them ‘to revel in self-parody, a gesture of defiance’ which was in itself seen as a political act (Bigsby 1985: 416–7). It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that with the exception of Stag Movie, most post-Oh! Calcutta! adult musicals approached gay male characters with increased maturity and sensitivity. This is especially the case since many adult musicals were off-off-Broadway productions in the first place, with creative teams often comprising gay men who were at least tangentially connected to the gay liberation movement. In 1973, for example, The Faggot, which opened at the Judson Poets’ Theatre, was enough of a commercial and critical success to justify a move to the larger Truck and Warehouse Theatre for an extended run. Written, composed and directed by Al Carmines, The Faggot was praised in the mainstream press as a ‘tribute to personal sexual liberation’ that satirized ‘the pressures placed on individuals to deny their orientation’ in song and sketch (Bottoms 2004: 359). The revue purported to reflect the lives of various gays and lesbians – including prominent figures like Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas – from different time periods. Original cast member David Summers argued that The Faggot was groundbreaking simply because it recognized the fact that homosexuality existed: ‘Al Carmines runs the gamut from closet queens and hustlers to open love relationships. There are positive and negative statements, all made without tears’ (Gustavson 1973).
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While a curious few questioned why the number ‘Art Song’ – in which Catherine the Great sang in praise of bestiality – belonged in a revue about gay life, some of the depictions in The Faggot drew ire among gay activists.6 As Bottoms points out, Carmines’ attempts to ‘underline the wrongs of societal oppression by stressing the consequently seedy, secretive nature of some gay lives’ was easily misinterpreted, and The Faggot thus generated hot debate about the distinction between politics and art and the overall message of the revue (Bottoms 2004: 359–60). Infuriated by what he saw as the reinforcement of gay stereotypes, Martin Duberman wrote in The New York Times that The Faggot
pretends to [be] a kaleidoscopic view of gay life. It insists on treating issues with serious implications for millions of people – and does so in terms of tinkly tunes, perky choreography and cartoon realities. In the process, it trivializes everything it touches – gay love or loneliness, fearful secrecies and open struggles, privatism and politics, problems of age and youth, monogamy and promiscuity, jealousy and devotion […] Seeing it, you’d have no idea that gay life in 1973 is in any way different from what it had been in the ‘50s – except in the absence of all authentic emotion […] With friends like ‘The Faggot,’ the gay movement needs no enemies.
(Duberman 1973: 4)
6. One writer who did question the presence of Catherine the Great was Duberman (1973).
Carmines’ open response maintained that politics should not influence creative vision:
although I agree with Mr. Duberman’s political position regarding gay liberation, in the case of ‘The Faggot’ he is not dealing with a political position paper, but rather with a personal, idiosyncratic, quirky, highly subjective theater piece […] I do not believe politics is art and I believe a confusion of those two human activities is a dangerous and ultimately catastrophic misunderstanding […] as a political entity, I am committed to gay liberation […] As an artist, I am committed only to the absolute human truth as I see it. And that truth is far more complicated than any party line, however noble, could ever be.
(Carmines 1973: D12)
As the debate continued in the press and among activists, The Faggot ran at the Truck and Warehouse for 203 performances. Doric Wilson, the playwright and founder of the gay theatre company TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), acknowledges that, while not without its problems, The Faggot struck him as more liberating than the more overtly political gay theatre typical of the time. ‘The Faggot meandered here and there and was amateur and was meant to be’, he remembers. ‘But you came away […] feeling deeply moved. And very proud that you were gay. And a little taller’ (Bottoms 2004: 361).
Women’s liberation and Mod Donna
Like gay liberation, the second wave of feminism had roots in the sociopolitical movements of the 1960s. While many feminists broke away from the New Left due to its perceived institutional sexism, the women’s
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movement nevertheless embraced its emphasis on ‘personal experience over tradition and abstract knowledge’, especially since, many feminists argued, ‘theory and historiography had been based on norms and values shaped by oppressive ideologies’ that the movement had been formed to combat (Canning 1993: 530–1). Also like gay liberation, the women’s movement, which gained momentum through the 1970s, had a symbolic kick-off late in the 1960s, when the New York Radical Women held an anti-Miss America Pageant protest on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City on 7 September 1968 (Bailey 2004: 110–1). Yet although the off-offBroadway scene benefited from the hard work and dedication of many women, the second wave of feminism did not affect either the fringe or commercial theatre as quickly or to the same degree as did gay liberation. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, off-off-Broadway preceded both social movements, and developed at a time during which men – regardless of sexual orientation – were expected to be leaders, while women – also regardless of sexual orientation – were relegated to supporting roles. Thus, as the gay and women’s liberation movements began, the gender imbalance off-off-Broadway largely emulated that of the dominant culture. There were, of course, exceptions: Ellen Stewart’s leadership of La MaMa; the output of playwrights like Rochelle Owens, Maria Irene Fornes, Megan Terry and Adrianne Kennedy; the Judson Poets’ resolution to seek out and produce plays by women. Yet through the 1960s, most troupes focused on work written, directed and produced by men – which was not hard, since this constituted the vast majority of theatrical output at the time, anyway – and thus reflected the same patriarchal mindset inherent in the New Left and the counterculture (Bottoms 2004: 120). For all their moorings in the fringe, then, it is unsurprising that even counterculture-era musicals viewed as particularly groundbreaking would ultimately view sexuality in traditional ways. Gender stereotypes perpetuated in Oh! Calcutta!, for example, exist in Hair as well, despite that musical’s liberal bent and ‘revolutionary’ status. Bottoms describes one plotline:
Claude’s friend Berger […] resolves that, before going to war, Claude will get to […] sleep with Sheila, a member of the tribe who is in love with Berger. Sheila is thus placed under enormous pressure, as Berger tries to persuade her that it is her duty as a member of the free-love community, whether or not she is attracted to Claude […] Sheila finally submits to sex with Claude, and Claude – appetite sated – goes poignantly off to war. Hair thus staged a bizarre variant on the age-old patriarchal right of men to use and trade women as if they are property.
(Bottoms 2004: 212)
To date, astoundingly little in the way of oral or reception history about Hair makes any mention whatsoever of its sexism. Yet Hair neatly, if inadvertently, sums up problems inherent in the counterculture and the New Left, and by extension much of the 1960s off-off-Broadway scene. As the women’s movement gained momentum, many activists set about forming companies dedicated to making theatre by, about and for
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women. Martha Boesing, founder of the Minneapolis theatre At the Foot of the Mountain, remembers that she and other activists
walked in the Civil Rights and the peace movements, ‘turned on and dropped out,’ lived in communes, and created theater events that flew in the face of the linear, rational thought processes of our culture and led our audiences hollering and singing into the streets…Gradually we began to notice that we were still baking the bread, raising the children, and bringing coffee to the organizers of the institutions both inside and outside of the mainstream. So we rebelled.
(Boesing 1996: 1012)
One of the first feminist theatre groups, the short-lived New Feminist Theatre (NFT), was founded in New York by National Organization for Women (NOW) activists Anselma Dell’Olio, Jaqui Ceballos and Myrna Lamb. Lamb would become the group’s main playwright; their first performance, at a Redstockings benefit at Washington Square Church in March 1969, featured three of her plays: What Have You Done for Me Lately, In the Shadow of the Crematorium and Scyklon Z. The NFT organized a successful NOW benefit in May of the same year, and presented new works on Monday nights at the Village Gate until internal differences led to the group’s demise (Rea 1972: 80–81). The early 1970s saw the establishment, in New York and across the country, of other women’s theatre collectives including It’s All Right to Be Woman Theatre and the Westbeth Playwrights’ Feminist Collective. In 1972, a group of playwrights including Maria Irene Fornes, Megan Terry, Rochelle Owens and Adrianne Kennedy founded the Women’s Theatre Council, with the aim of encouraging the increased presence of women in all areas of the theatre (Bemis 1987: 2). These companies had varying agendas and philosophies, but most promoted social change not only with plays by and about women, but also through a collective or collaborative approach that encouraged communication, egalitarianism and shared experience. Unfortunately, what many women’s theatre companies also had in common was tremendous pressure – both interior and exterior – which led to difficulties in making an immediate impact on the theatre landscape at large. The painstakingly egalitarian, collaborative approach to theatre preferred by companies like It’s All Right to Be Woman Theatre proved maddeningly slow in practice, yet companies that relied on traditional hierarchies often faced criticism from within and without for not trying harder to counteract patriarchal models (Boesing 1996: 1021). Many women’s theatre groups collapsed by the 1980s for these and a host of other reasons, including inadequate funding, burnout and lack of professional experience (Bemis 1987: 3–4). If internal problems were not damaging enough to women’s theatre collectives and the individuals behind them, external pressures often took an additional toll. The off-off-Broadway movement was often lauded by critics for its freshness and creativity in lieu of healthy budgets and workable performance spaces. Yet when it came to women’s theatre, a perceived lack of professionalism was more often met with gruff impatience by the predominantly male critical corps, which was not necessarily supportive of the women’s movement, let alone women’s theatre. While much about off-off-Broadway
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7. Very few women had attained recognition for writing musicals in New York City by 1970, with the exception of Gretchen Ford and Nancy Cryer, whose first effort, Now Is the Time for All Good Men, ran off-Broadway at the Lortel Theatre in 1967. Mod Donna seems to be the first musical by women to tackle human sexuality as primary subject matter, at least in New York.
remained artistically influential and commercially viable in New York City through the 1970s, theatre with a strong feminist bent did not prove especially popular with critics or mainstream audiences. The conservative strictures and mainstream appeal of the musical theatre made it especially resistant to feminist influence. Thus it is notable that one of the first overtly feminist pieces to appear in a commercial house was the musical Mod Donna by NFT co-founder Myrna Lamb, with music by Susan Hulsman Bingham.7 Produced and directed by Joe Papp at the Public in 1970, the piece critiqued the ways that men and especially women are culturally conditioned to use sex as a weapon in their power struggles. Despite the strong sexual content of Mod Donna, Papp chose to buck the trend and keep his actors clothed. ‘I feel it would be wrong, here’, he stated, when asked why the musical contained no nudity. ‘There is the nakedness of the idea, instead, a stripping away of things that are usually left unsaid’ (Bender 1970: 79). Narrated by an all-female Greek chorus and accompanied by an allfemale instrumental ensemble, Donna focuses on four characters: Jeff, a wealthy company man; his bored, manipulative wife, Chris; his resentful but toady employee, Charlie; and Charlie’s sexually pliant wife, Donna. Early in Act 1, Jeff and Chris invite Donna to join their marital bed with the aim of improving their sex life; in return, Jeff will see to it that Charlie advances at the office. The set-up initially makes everyone happy, but then Chris and Jeff grow bored with their sexual plaything and decide to rekindle their marriage in Europe, alone. They attempt to pay Donna off and send her back to Charlie, but she has become pregnant and refuses to leave the wealthier couple’s opulent home. In the end, Jeff and Chris depart abruptly, and a jealous Charlie murders Donna. True to their traditional role, the Greek chorus informs the audience of Donna’s murder and offers the moral of the story: until class and gender inequalities are resolved, and people stop manipulating one another sexually, the Donnas of the world will continue to die violent, senseless deaths. The chorus then reprises ‘Liberation Song’, a tonally murky, rhythmically jagged number that appears in varied form several times throughout the show:
They tell us we are bound by grave and gravity Yet we must bear ourselves against the stone The tablets of a prophet of depravity The rock is fathergod oppressor grown Let them tell the fields to be fruitful for the nation Let us not be compliant earth to wilful seed Let us cast another god from our true vision Our true need.
(Lamb 1970: 40)
As Mod Donna ends, the chorus faces the audience with fists raised, shouting for liberation. Lamb remembers that Mod Donna resonated with audience members, if only because, as far as feminist theatre went, ‘it was the only game in town!’ (Lamb 2007). Indeed, at least one review describes ‘wild cheering’ during performances (Brukenfeld 1970: 53). And the show received some
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positive reviews in the press. Barnes argued that while artistically inconsistent, Donna was, politically speaking, ‘one of the most pertinent and stimulating offerings’ the Public Theatre had produced to date (Barnes 1970: 48). Although slightly more ambivalent, Dick Brukenfeld for the Village Voice noted his appreciation for the musical’s anger, courage and wit (Brukenfeld 1970: 53). Yet a majority of reviews for what the press corps quickly labelled ‘the women’s lib musical’ were resolutely negative, and critics frequently moved beyond the piece to mock feminism in general. Papp obviously anticipated controversy. In his programme notes, which read curiously like a circuitous apology, he explained that Donna was not about feminism:
Though Myrna Lamb [ …] is an activist in women’s liberation and an ardent feminist, her work is much too ambiguous, too sophisticated, too comedic to satisfy the clear-cut political sloganeering required by a mass movement. However, the play digs into the very core of the matter out of which has sprung the struggle for women’s liberation – frustration [ … ] the thwarting and distorting of natural aspirations. The heart of Mod Donna is the heart of the male-female relationship in our society: the use of sex as the ultimate weapon, the final solution in the bedroom [ …] Having more options, the man finds alternatives outside the boudoir, while the wife [ …] wields the knife of castration [ … ] Lamb has brewed a bitter, bitter medicine which we offer to you [ … ] on a sugar-coated spoon. We hope it will not be too hard to swallow.
Nevertheless, many critics found Mod Donna – not to mention the movement Papp insisted it had nothing to do with – most unpalatable indeed. In his review of Mod Donna for the Post, Jerry Tallmer lamented the fact that Lamb had not addressed ‘the woman question’ as effectively as Strindberg, Ibsen and Coward had, but noted that at least the lead female characters were attractive: ‘Sharon Laughlin as Chris has a beautifully modeled face and a Mona Lisa smile, which helps […] and April Shawhan as Donna is just a trifle flat as an actress though not indeed – well, Sisters, I’m not going to say it’ (Tallmer 1970: 23). Kerr for The New York Times begins his review by deriding feminism:
I am glad to learn from Joseph Papp’s program notes for ‘Mod Donna’ […] that the evening is not to be construed as a pro-feminist entertainment. I am glad because if it were a feminist entertainment, anything I might have to say against it would be taken as male-oriented, biased, vengeful, nearsighted, thick-headed and disloyal to that half of the population which has been making so much noise lately and to which I have hitherto been so intensely devoted. I’m off the hook, right?
(Kerr 1970: 1)
Like Tallmer, Kerr finds solace in the attractiveness of the female cast members: ‘Sharon Laughlin is cool enough to have been carved from cold cream, with faint wisps of hair brushing her ivory cheeks’; April Shawhan is ‘a lovely thing to look at in her pink silk and pink breasts’, even though
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‘she does an increasing amount of snarling’ as the play progresses (Kerr 1970: 1–3). Such comments are par for the course when it comes to the critical reception of Mod Donna. Taken as a whole, the clips about the musical make abundantly clear the fact that New York’s theatre critics were overwhelmingly male, and generally mocking of the women’s movement to boot. Just as telling, however, is the content of the few articles written by women about the musical. For instance, fashion writer Marylin Bender’s interview with Lamb, Bingham and Papp for The New York Times focuses less on Donna than on Lamb and Bingham’s personal lives, physical appearances and husbands’ backgrounds (Bender 1970: 79). The treatment of Donna in the press prompted several terse responses from activists, including writer Vivian Gornick – who, in the Village Voice, lamented the ‘patronizing and unilluminating criticism’ heaped on the musical (Gornick 1970: 47) – and NOW Vice President Lucy Komisar, whose letter to the Times lambasted Kerr’s review. ‘Lamb’s lyrics are vibrant and memorable – and to feminists, they are poetry that represents what we feel in our guts’, Komisar concluded. ‘[W]e are fiercely proud of her and of the contribution Mod Donna has made to the literature of our movement and to the cause of our liberation’ (Komisar 1970: 28). The negative reviews, combined with a budget crunch at the Public, led to a mere six-week run for Mod Donna, and a dearth of overtly feminist musicals off- or on Broadway for a good decade. Feminism would be reflected more regularly in the American theatre by the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it remained at an arm’s length from the theatrical mainstream through most of the 1970s, even as the women’s movement was at its peak.
The women’s movement and media representation
What confuses matters is that while feminist theatre failed to click with critics or mainstream audiences through much of the 1970s, the sexual revolution reverberated rather strongly during this time. Even further, since the women’s movement was influenced in part by the sexual revolution, the two tended to become conflated in the media and in the minds of many Americans. This is perhaps unsurprising: the second wave of feminism was an enormously influential, far-reaching, extraordinarily complicated movement that encompassed not only the personal and the political, but also the economic, legal, cultural, linguistic, sexual and social (Echols 1994: 158–59). Because the movement prompted so many questions for which there were so few quick answers, and accepted so many challenges for which there were so few easy solutions, it strongly influenced ‘the ways Americans understood gender in this period’, but at the same time caused an enormous amount of cultural anxiety, in part because ‘its positions were not coherent enough to offer a firm foundation to sympathizers and were various enough to provide a multiplicity of targets for opponents’ (Bailey 2004: 109). One result of the perceived vagueness of the women’s movement, then, was a tendency within mainstream culture to react with defensiveness, mockery or sensationalism (Carroll 1990: 113). Sexuality as related to the concept of liberation was particularly complicated. During the 1970s, women sought liberation from oppression by
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attempting to reject aspects of American culture that reduced women to their sexual merits and, at the same time, by embracing sex on their own terms. Meanwhile the media wasted no time in sexualizing the movement:
Sex sells […] and titillating images of bra-less women and sexual freedom made for livelier stories than statistics about women’s wages and the lack of affordable childcare. The mainstream media – and often for reasons no more Machiavellian than a desire to attract viewers or readers – often treated women’s liberation and sexual freedom interchangeably. But opponents of women’s liberation also purposely conflated women’s liberation with the sexual revolution to brand the women’s movement as radical, immoral, and antifamily. [The] conflation of the women’s movement with the sexual revolution […] reached beyond the ranks of avowed antifeminists. Many who were […] sympathetic to the claims of the women’s movement found the sexual revolution troubling, and the conflation of movements made it easier for them to draw a line between ‘reasonable’ demands for decent wages and (as they saw it) the sex-obliterating role reversals and illegitimate intrusions into the ‘private’ spheres of home, marriage, and the family demanded by ‘radical’ women’s libbers.
(Bailey 2004: 116–17)
The resultant slew of mixed messages about feminism and its relationship to sexuality fuelled the confusion that was – and continues to be – played out in the cultural landscape at large. Because adult musicals were strongly influenced by off-off-Broadway theatre, many creators attempted to infuse their works with appropriate social or political messages. Yet as noted above, when it came to gender issues, the fringe itself was not especially liberated by the time adult musicals appeared. As a result, messages about gay and especially female liberation tended to get lost amid the jiggle of naked bodies that was a selling point for adult musicals.
Let My People Come
A case in point is Let My People Come: A Sexual Musical, which enjoyed a successful run that began off-Broadway at the Village Gate in January 1973, and ended after an ill-advised move to Broadway’s Morosco Theatre in 1976. Written and composed by Earl Wilson, Jr., who developed the show with producer and director Phil Oesterman, Let My People Come was a response to Oh! Calcutta!, which both men saw as distressingly out of touch. ‘Oh! Calcutta! was a dirty show’, Wilson remembers. ‘It was old. It was my parents’ generation. It [made] you feel dirty when you [left] it’ (Wilson 2005). Wilson and Oesterman decided to try and represent contemporary sexuality more honestly, while being as ‘outrageous as the law will allow, and the cast will go along with’ (Wilson 2005). Once Wilson and Oesterman came up with the general idea for their revue, they held auditions in search of young, multiracial, non-union actors who, Wilson felt, would come across as more innocent than seasoned professionals. Of course, non-union actors would also likely be more willing to perform naked and simulate sex acts on stage in exchange for equity cards. Casting the show was thus quite easy.
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Let My People Come began its run at the Village Gate in January 1973. In a shrewd move, Oesterman refused to allow critics to see the show unless they paid for tickets themselves, and never announced an official opening. Word spread fast; enough critics griped in the press about the nudie show they’d been shut out of that Let My People Come soon became a hot ticket in New York and beyond: during its run, the musical spawned national and international tours, an original cast album, and spin-off productions in cities including Amsterdam, London, Paris and Toronto, where it ran for a decade (Gussow 1974: 52). In keeping with the off-off-Broadway ancestry of adult musicals, the songs and sketches from Let My People Come were written largely in response to conversations between the original cast and the creative team during intense encounter sessions. Wilson recalls,
We had the auditions and we said, ‘We don’t really have a show. We have a couple songs, we have an idea, and we’re going to write it around you guys. It’ll be based on what you think. I don’t want you to say anything you don’t believe, because that will come across. It has to be honest, or nobody’s gonna come to the show.’ We had five months of rehearsal, five nights a week. We had encounter sessions, where we would all talk. Then I would go home and write a song for somebody, because I knew what they sounded like.
As a result of this inclusive process – which stems from experimental theatre and has since been used to develop such ‘collective’ shows as the musical A Chorus Line (1975) – the songs and sketches in Let My People Come are more inclusive and reflective of a broader swatch of contemporary sexuality than most adult musicals staged in New York during the decade. Songs like ‘Take Me Home With You’, ‘I Believe My Body’, the spoof ‘The Cunnilingus Champion of Company C’, and the title song celebrated various aspects of the sexual revolution. The song ‘Dirty Words’, which consisted almost entirely of ‘taboo’ sexual terms and euphemisms, was a direct homage to Lenny Bruce and an inadvertent tribute to Hair and its own ‘taboo’ number, ‘Sodomy’. The revue poked fun at the mainstream popularity of pornographic films with the song ‘Linda, Georgina, Marilyn and Me’, in which a female singer eager to appear in adult films opined, ‘What have they got I haven’t got more of? What they can take two of, I can take four of ’ (Wilson 1974). Unlike Oh! Calcutta!, which Tynan demanded be heterosexual in content and appeal, Oesterman insisted that Let My People Come reflect both gay and straight perspectives. Wilson acknowledges that, as a straight man, he was daunted by the challenge of coming up with gay content. The cast and creative team, however, included several gay actors (albeit no lesbians), and a gay music director, all of whom contributed ideas (Wilson 2005). The song ‘I’m Gay’, for example, was inspired by conversations Wilson had with some of the gay cast members. Performed by two male actors who were fully clothed and seated, centre-stage, on stools facing the audience, ‘I’m Gay’ was written in the style of a ‘coming out’ letter to parents:
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Dear mom and pop, I’m really happy And not ashamed at all of what I am. Those who don’t know or think it’s funny Don’t pay much attention to them. [ …] I’m hoping that you’ll come to see This is how God meant me to be. This is my way, and I’m proud to come right out and say I’m gay.
As the two men repeated the line ‘I’m Gay’ at the end of the song, they were joined by the rest of the cast. The number, according to original cast member and assistant choreographer Tobie Columbus, was one of the strongest in the show, often bringing the house down and spectators to tears (Columbus 2006). To their credit, the all-male creative team of Let My People Come also devised several numbers purporting to represent women’s perspectives. Yet these numbers seem to lean more in favour of titillation than honest representation. Take, for example, ‘And She Loved Me’, a number depicting a lesbian love affair. Because there were no lesbians in the cast with whom to confer, Wilson turned to media representations of lesbians on which to base this song. ‘There was a scene in – was it Killing of Sister George? It was some movie of the time that had a lesbian scene in it’, he recalls. ‘I thought, “I’m going to use that as my example in my head.” So I didn’t talk to any lesbians or go through any of that’ (Wilson 2005). Yet, as Karen Hollinger points out, lesbian characters have traditionally been depicted through a heterosexual and highly critical lens as ‘sinister villains, victims of mental illness, cultural freaks, or pornographic sexual turn-ons for a male audience’ (Hollinger 1998: 10). The last applies to ‘And She Loved Me’, the lyrics and original staging of which reflect lesbians primarily as seen through the male gaze. The fact that the women begin and end their lovemaking by weeping in one another’s arms, for example, is likely indicative of Wilson’s reliance on mainstream depictions of lesbians for inspiration:
And she loved me, oh Took me in her arms I softly cried Then she held me, oh Ran her fingers through my hair ‘Til my tears had dried [ …] Then she woke me, oh, gently like a child And I softly sighed And I loved her, oh Took her in my arms And then we cried
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Columbus recalls that the song was sung by two fully-clothed women who flanked the stage, while two other women danced naked centre-stage under soft lighting to give the impression of lovemaking. In Columbus’ view, the number was not intended to be crude or titillating, but, instead, impressionistic and ‘quite beautiful’ (Columbus 2006). Nevertheless, it is telling that the sole lesbian number was performed in the nude and depicted women weeping after experiencing forbidden love, while ‘I’m Gay’ featured two fully-clothed men who, upon proclaiming their sexuality, were joined in cheery solidarity by the rest of the cast. In short, ‘And She Loved Me’ emphasized sex while ‘I’m Gay’ emphasized the struggle for acceptance and respect. The tendency to conflate feminism with the sexual revolution is demonstrated in the number ‘Give It to Me’, which Wilson wrote with a particular cast member in mind. Even in his recollections of this actress, Wilson associates the women’s movement with free sexuality. ‘We had a girl in the show who […] was very sexually liberated, sort of a women’s libber’, he remembers. ‘She had a certain look about her – dungaree jacket, open shirt, “I’ll take home anybody” kind of attitude. So I came up with “Give It To Me,” and she was terrific with it because she really believed it. She could pull it off ” (Wilson 2005). In ‘Give It To Me’, a woman voices her desire for a man who is terrific in and out of bed:
I want a man who loves to fuck and can keep it up for days Who’s clever and smart and can make me come in a thousand different ways I want a man who knows how to love and loves all that sex can be And when he’s driving me out of my mind I wanna know he’s fucking me Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, Give it to me hard and strong Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, Give it to me all night long There’s too many candy-assed lily-livered soft-bellied boys parading as men Find me a man who’s got some balls – I’ll be happier then.
In keeping with the theme of Let My People Come, this song purports to offer a woman’s perspective on desire, and can thus certainly be read as empowering. Nevertheless, as the only number directly reflective of second-wave feminism, ‘Give It to Me’ can also be read to imply that for all their complaining, what women really want is a good, old-fashioned roll in the hay. Perhaps the most problematic number, from a feminist perspective, is the first one that Wilson wrote for Let My People Come. Composed before casting began, ‘Come in My Mouth’ was originally performed by Tobie Columbus, who sat alone onstage in a red dress, crooning into a microphone while bathed in light from a single pin-spot. Whereas much of the content of Let My People Come was meant to be satirical – comparatively serious declarations of sexual freedom like ‘I’m Gay’ notwithstanding – ‘Come in My Mouth’ was intended to be overtly erotic (Columbus 2006).
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The song, and the way it was performed, thus borrows a great deal from the aural techniques common to the pornographic films that had become fashionable by the early 1970s. In ‘Come in My Mouth’, the singer describes in graphic detail the fellatio she professes to have been waiting all day to perform on her partner. Accompanied by a mechanical ostinato and the same ethereal, synthesized noodlings typical of just about every porn film soundtrack ever composed, the singer lavishly praises her man, all the while asserting his dominance over her:
Put your feet up on the sofa Stretch out baby, close your eyes Feel my fingers walking over the part of you I idolize […] All day long I’ve been planning on how I was going to love you tonight So I could show you how I absolutely adore you. So you know I am your woman […] Run your fingers through my hair as you force my mouth to open wide Don’t you just love it there as I drink you deep inside? I can feel all your strength. What would you like me to do? I’ll take you inch by inch – just let me worship you.
The song ends as the keyboard fades out and the singer erupts in orgasmic moans. The primal reaction of the female singer is typical of much hard-core porn. Whereas male arousal in pornography is visually obvious – and the ‘money shot’ thus fetishized as proof of satisfaction – the female orgasm is far more complicated to render visually. Thus, sound is often used to prove a woman’s sexual pleasure in the absence of visual representation (Corbett and Kapsalis 1996: 103). The orgasmic moans the singer elicits at the end of ‘Come in My Mouth’ can only imply a money shot, not only because the song was performed by a woman, but because the revue it appeared in relied on simulated and not actual sex. Both the pleasure the singer experiences and the climax she causes her man are transmitted to spectators via her cries. Columbus remains ambivalent about this number, which she never enjoyed performing:
the song was supposed to be every man’s fantasy. I mean, what’s a man’s fantasy, gay or straight? But, you know, I was brought up a nice Jewish girl, and this wasn’t something I did! This was dirty! Now, I couldn’t say that, because this was the swinging seventies and you were supposed to be enlightened. But that was a male fantasy, not a woman’s fantasy! Everything else I did in the show – including the nudity – was more comfortable for me.
Columbus’ ambivalence mirrors that of other women who have spoken to me about their experiences in Let My People Come, almost all of whom
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recall feeling pressure to be more sexually liberated than they were comfortable with. Actress Joanne Baron remembers,
I had a lot of psychological trouble with being naked [onstage]. I found it frightening, confusing – I remember having pressure to loosen up, to be open to other people sexually. Not in any kind of overly aggressive way, but the tone was, ‘hey, you have a great body, you’re real sexy, don’t be so scared of your sexuality’. But I felt like a good girl who had chanced upon this more free lifestyle. It wasn’t a perfect psychological fit.
Other women remember feeling pressured to appear naked onstage, whether or not they were entirely willing to do so, and sometimes despite ‘nudity-optional’ company policies. For example, an actress who appeared under the sole name Peachena refused to sign a contract to appear in Let My People Come unless it stipulated that she would not have to appear nude during the run. Even though such a contract was granted, she remains convinced that her abrupt dismissal from the show after her contract was up a year later was based solely on her refusal to disrobe, and has never been given any reason to believe otherwise (Peachena 2006). Columbus remembers that, like Peachena, ‘if I could have stood my ground and said, look, I don’t wanna be nude, I think I probably would have, but I could never voice that […] because doing that would have been unhip and I knew that I was there to be nude. And I think I would have lost my job’ (Columbus 2006). These experiences point to the fact that while many women during the 1970s were attempting to reject traditional sexual values in favour of more control over their own bodies, the sexual revolution’s emphasis on detached sexuality often resulted in widespread pressure for women to either conform to male standards or appear prudish and unliberated (Carroll 1990: 25). For all the messages of inclusion and the interest in depicting sexuality honestly and openly, distinctions between sexual freedom and exploitation were often lost – behind the scenes as well. While everyone interviewed for this project remembers that relationships within the companies were largely respectful, the turmoil of the times and the barrage of social messages that adult musicals were ostensibly promoting often proved confusing in other ways. For example, many of the performers interviewed recall ignoring the ‘no sex’ policies imposed on them by producers, some of whom broke them themselves. Original Oh! Calcutta! cast member Barrett writes that some fellow cast members violated the production’s ‘No Fuck Law’ – (christened ‘the NFL’ by the cast) – within hours of the first rehearsal (Barrett 1973: 17). Barrett also remembers that the sexual freedom her show celebrated did not extend to all parties: despite the company’s purported disgust at Tynan’s homophobia, one particularly private male actor was so regularly taunted, alienated and labelled a ‘fag’ by his fellow cast members that he left the production. Meanwhile, despite the homophobia that hung in the air backstage, some female cast members – Barrett included – were subject to exercises during which the male director had them touch and fondle one another and then talk with him about how they felt; these ‘lesbian
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rehearsals’ were apparently deemed necessary so that the cast members would appear at ease with one another onstage (Barrett 1973: 23–24, 84–85). Clearly, lesbian overtones were acceptable in Tynan’s review because they fuelled male fantasies in ways that gay men did not. The distinctions between liberation and exploitation seem to have been blurred not only by companies of adult musicals, but by audiences as well. Visitors to Let My People Come, for example, included, on the one hand, Betty Friedan – who told the press that the show was so affirmative about sex that she’d seen it twice and planned to bring her daughter (Anon. 1974) – and, on the other hand, Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner – both of whom devoted space to the show in their magazines and invited several female cast members to pose as centrefolds (Columbus 2006). One anecdote that points especially acutely to the blurring of women’s liberation and exploitation is told by actor Barry Pearl:
Every night, at the beginning of the show, the actors would walk out and schmooze with the audience before the show began. Clothed. Got into a relationship with the patrons, put them at ease, because at the end of the show, now we’re all naked, and we go down into the audience again in a receiving line, and as the audience leaves, we shake hands standing there, perfectly, totally naked. [But a while into the run] the women remained on the lip of the stage, with some male cast members just sitting there naked, protecting them, because they’d gotten groped too many times through the course of the run. So they decided to have the ladies stay on the stage. Only men basically were in that receiving line.
Despite the widespread ambivalence, everyone interviewed noted that, overall, they found their experiences in adult musicals liberating. ‘Once you take your clothes off in front of people you can certainly do just about anything. And in that way, it really served me as an actor’, Pearl argues (Pearl 2005). Boni Bryant, original cast member of Oh! Calcutta!, agrees: ‘For me, it was enlightening, liberating. I was 24, and I had not really been that open about sex, or a man’s body, or even my own body. So this was a real educational, growth experience. And it was really fun, and it was in a safe environment’ (Bryant 2005). Columbus remembers that her work in Let My People Come solidified her beliefs in ‘sexually being who you are, and not judging anybody else’s sexuality’, a message she remains proud to have been able to convey to audiences (Columbus 2006). And despite her concerns about appearing naked onstage, Baron argues that overall, Let My People Come was ‘a fantastic lot of fun, and a great creative experience, and I met wonderful people, so I can’t say I regret it’ (Baron 2005). This prevalence of doublespeak – in which many of the actors look back on their experiences in adult musicals as simultaneously exhilarating and confusing, embarrassing and liberating, freeing and exploitative – implies that not even the young performers advocating increased sexual freedom onstage nightly for eight shows a week were entirely comfortable with the changing times, or the social movements they were representing. The ambivalence expressed by the cast members serves as a reminder that just as culture at large can be confusing and contradictory, so are social
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movements, especially those that end up meaning so many different things to so many different people. Todd Gitlin points out that during the late 1960s, there were ‘many more weekend dope-smokers than hard-core “heads”; many more readers of the Oracle than writers for it; many more co-habiters than orgiasts; many more turners-on than droppers-out’ (Gitlin 1987: 214). The same may be said of the sexual revolution as interpreted by the enthusiastic, yet ambivalent companies of adult musicals. Ambivalence may be, in the end, the healthiest reaction to a production that paid cast members to cheerfully simulate a wide variety of sex acts – while singing! – before audiences comprised of as many Larry Flynts as Betty Friedans. The actors’ ambivalence easily extends to the audiences of adult musicals, and even to the question of why these shows existed at all at a time when there was so much other sexually-steeped entertainment available. Why adult musicals, when one could go to the local cinema for an 8pm showing of Deep Throat? Why bother with a musical mediation on sexuality when you could just as easily see a live sex show, with actual – not simulated – sex, on the next block? In his 1969 New York Times article about the trendiness of stage nudity, Kerr wondered, ‘Why are we, in our new [ … ] freedoms on the stage so dreadfully, laboriously humorless? Why are we so serious about sex and why do we dislike it so much?’ (Kerr 1969: 26B). Perhaps adult musicals helped ease the collective gloom that Kerr describes and, like Hair, permitted audiences to revel in the simple idea that naked bodies can be pleasant to look at and that sex can be fun. Just as adult musicals allowed actors to experience the sexual revolution and its offshoots in a relatively safe environment, they also allowed audience members to live vicariously without having to think too deeply. These shows, after all, espoused sex that was fun, light-hearted and consequence-free, but there was ultimately nothing transgressive about them. Pretty, innocent-looking young actors simulated sexual activity; the message of even the most risqué songs and sketches was that our bodies and urges are not such a big deal, after all; and the whole package was almost always offered in a comforting, age-old format: the musical revue. Adult musicals thus allowed performers and audience members alike to feel a little bit dirty, a little bit liberated, without having to brave the seediness of a peepshow on the one hand, or having to confront the more serious ramifications of the sexual revolution and its offshoot movements on the other. This may help explain why comparatively serious musicals with social and political messages – like Mod Donna and The Faggot – have largely faded from memory, while shows like Oh! Calcutta! – the most conservative of all – not only enjoyed such long runs, but eventually influenced such upbeat, conventional confections as The Full Monty and Naked Boys Singing. One of the most damning adjectives critics hurled at the many adult musicals they panned during the 1970s was ‘innocent’, but it is possible that, deep down, they were as relieved to apply that word as they were indignant. The sexual revolution, gay liberation and second-wave feminism were all enormously influential, complicated movements that meant different things to as many different people. During the 1970s, Americans began a
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mighty struggle over issues of sexuality and gender in ways they had not before, and it is no wonder that the result was often feelings of liberation on the one hand and confusion – even fear – on the other. In the end, adult musicals succeeded not so much in challenging notions about sexuality and gender as they did in offering cheerful, conventional messages to audiences who might have felt, more than anything else, comforted by the gesture. Works cited
Anon. (1969), ‘The Theater: New Musicals – A Guide to Modcom’, Time, 3 October. Anon. a (1971), ‘Homo Libs Razz off-B’way “Movie,” Get the Bounce’, Variety, 13 January. Anon. b (1971), ‘Off-B’way “Stag Movie” Keeps Going: Still a Public for Porno Legit?’, Variety, 3 March. Anon. (1974), ‘Show in “Village” Defended by Two: Mrs. Friedan and Toffler Back Sexual Musical’, The New York Times, 24 December. Atkinson, Brooks (1990), Broadway, [revised edition], New York: Limelight. Bailey, B. (1994), ‘Sexual Revolution(s)’, in Farber, D. (ed.), The Sixties: From Memory to History, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 235–61. —— (2004), ‘She “Can Bring Home the Bacon”: Negotiating Gender in Seventies America’, in Bailey, B. and Farber, D. (eds), America in the Seventies, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, pp. 107–28. Banham, M. (ed.), (1995), The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Barnes, C. (1969), ‘Theater: “Oh, Calcutta!” a Most Innocent Dirty Show’, The New York Times 18 June. —— (1970), ‘The Stage: “Mod Donna”’, The New York Times, 4 May. —— (1971), ‘Stage: 71 is off to a lamentable start’, The New York Times 4 January. Baron, J. (2005), personal communication, 14 September. Barrett, R. (1973), First Your Money, Then Your Clothes: My Life and Oh! Calcutta!’, New York: Signet. Bemis, S. M. (1987), ‘The Difficulties Facing Feminist Theater: The Survival of At the Foot of the Mountain’, North Dakota Journal of Speech and Theatre, 1:1, pp. 1–6. Bender, M. (1970), ‘Women’s Liberation Taking to the Stage’, The New York Times, 26 March. Bigsby, C. W. E. (1985), A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. III: Beyond Broadway, New York and London: Cambridge University Press. Boesing, M. (1996), ‘Rushing Headlong Into the Fire at the Foot of the Mountain’, Signs, 21:4, pp. 1011–23. Bordman, G. (2001), American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, [Third Edition], New York: Oxford University Press. Bottoms, S. J. (2004), Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s offoff-Broadway Movement, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Brukenfeld, D. (1970), ‘Off-Off-: Mod Donna’, Village Voice, 7 May. Bryant, B. (2005), personal communication, 3 July.
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Bunce, A. (1969), ‘Stage: Erotic and Otherwise’, Christian Science Monitor, 20 June. Canning, C. (1993), ‘Constructing Experience: Theorizing a Feminist Theatre History’, Theatre Journal, 45:4, December, pp. 529–540. Carmines, A. (1973), ‘Drama Mailbag: Politics Is Not Art’, The New York Times, 29 July. Carroll, P. (1990), It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: America in the 1970s, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. Columbus, T. (2006), personal communication, 14 September. Corbett, J. and Kapsalis, T. (1996), ‘Aural Sex: The Female Orgasm in Popular Sound’, The Drama Review, 40:3, pp. 102–11. Crespy, David A. (2003), Off-Off-Broadway Explosion: How Provocative Playwrights of the 1960s Ignited a New American Theater, New York: Back Stage Books. Davis, J. (1969), ‘Stag Show Opens to the General Public’, The Daily News, 18 June. Drutman, I. (1966), ‘ …Was Peter Brook Its Brain?’, The New York Times, 9 January. Duberman, M. (1973), ‘The Gay Life: Cartoon vs. Reality?’, The New York Times, 22 July. —— (1993), Stonewall, New York: Dutton. Dunbar, E. (1969), ‘Levy of “Oh! Calcutta!” A Dropout Makes It As a Sex Revolutionary’, Look, 26 August. Echols, A. (1994), ‘Nothing Distant About It: Women’s Liberation and Sixties Radicalism’, in Farber, D. (ed.), The Sixties: From Memory to History, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 149–74. Enten, B. (2005), personal communication, 3 July. Genauer, E. (1969), ‘Art and the Artist’, New York Post, 21 June. Gitlin, T. (1987), The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, Toronto and New York: Bantam Books. Gornick, V. (1970), ‘Who Is Fairest of Them All?’, Village Voice, 28 May. Guernsey, O. L., Jr. (ed.), (1969), The Best Plays of 1968–69, New York: Dodd, Mead, Inc. Gussow, M. (1974), ‘Stage: More Success Than Just Blurbs – Let My People Come, a Sexual Musical’, The New York Times, 7 May. Gustavson, T. (1973), ‘The Author Speaks’, clipping from unnamed publication [Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center]. Heidenry, J. (1997), What Wild Ecstasy: The Rise and Fall of the Sexual Revolution, New York: Simon and Schuster. Hollinger, K. (1998), ‘Theorizing Mainstream Female Spectatorship: The Case of the Popular Lesbian Film’, Cinema Journal, 37:2, pp. 3–17. Horn, B. L. (1991), The Age of Hair: Evolution and Impact of Broadway’s First Rock Musical, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. Kaiser, C. (1997), The Gay Metropolis, 1940–1996, Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Karpel, C. (1969), ‘Oh, Calcutta: No Penetration in Eden’, Village Voice, 15 May. Kauffmann, S. (1979), ‘New York: The City and the Theatre’, Theatre Quarterly, 8:32, pp. 34–40. Kerr, W. (1969), ‘What Can They Do for an Encore?’ The New York Times, 2 February. —— (1970), ‘Is It True – Women Hate Women?’, The New York Times, 10 May.
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Komisar, L. (1970), ‘Drama Mailbag: Women Are the Victims’, The New York Times, 31 May. Lamb, M. (1970), ‘Mod Donna’, The International Socialist Review, 31:5, pp. 18–40. —— (2007), personal communication, 24 January. Lewis, E. (1971), ‘“Stag Movie” Is Just an Ambling Vignette’, The Record, 4 January. Lingeman, R. R. (1971), ‘I Was an Angel for “Stag Movie”’, The New York Times, 14 February. Loughery, J. (1998), The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities – A Twentieth-Century History, New York: Henry Holt. Marcus, E. (1992), Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945–1990, New York: HarperCollins. Newburge, D. (2006a), personal communication, 13 June. —— (2006b), personal communication, 13 July. O’Connor, J. J. (1969), ‘Old Message Put to Music’, Wall Street Journal, 25 September. Papp, J. (1970), ‘An Audience Guide’, programme notes to Mod Donna [Original offBroadway production], dir. Joseph Papp. Patrick, R. (2005), personal communication, 8 February. Peachena (2006), personal communication, 21 February. Pearl, B. (2005), personal communication, 6 July. Rea, C. (1972), ‘Women’s Theater Groups’, The Drama Review, 16:2, pp. 79–89. Reif, R. (1983), ‘A 14th Birthday for Broadway’s Long-Running Nude Musical: Oh! Calcutta!’ Playbill, June, pp. 14–20. Rich, F. (1989), ‘The Asterisks of “Oh! Calcutta!”’, The New York Times, 8 August. Tallmer, J. (1969), ‘Tynan: A Show for the Thinking Voyeur’, The New York Post, 9 April. —— (1970), ‘And Now …Women’s Lib’, The New York Post, 4 May. Tynan, K. (1969), ‘Pornography? And Is That Bad?’, The New York Times, 15 June. Valocchi, S. (2001), ‘Individual Identities, Collective Identities, and Organizational Structure: The Relationship of the Political Left and Gay Liberation in the United States’, Sociological Perspectives, 44:4, pp. 445–67. Ward, J. (2002), ‘Let My People Come: The Story of the Adult Musicals of the 1970s’, http://www.furious.com/perfect/adultmusicals.html. Accessed 22 January 2008. Whitburn, J. (2000), The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits [Seventh edition], New York: Billboard Books. Wilson, E., Jr. (1974), Let My People Come: Original Cast Recording, [CD], Libra: LR 1069. —— (2005), personal communication, 22 June. Wollman, E. L. (2006), The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Wollman, E. L. (2008), ‘Emancipation or exploitation? Gender liberation and adult musicals in 1970s New York’, Studies in Musical Theatre 2: 1, pp. 5–32, doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.5/1
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Elizabeth L. Wollman is Assistant Professor of Music at Baruch College and author of the book The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, From Hair to Hedwig (University of Michigan, 2006). Her research interests include American popular music, the musical theatre, gender studies, and the cultural history of New York City.
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Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.33/1
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
Marc Napolitano University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Abstract
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre focuses heavily on the development of the protagonist’s voice, as the reader can trace the young Jane’s transition from a vulnerable gothic heroine to an authoritative autobiographical narrator. Film adaptations of the novel often fail to convey this transition due to the inability of the film-maker to successfully incorporate Jane’s narration into the piece. Two recent musical versions of Jane Eyre present interesting solutions to this problem; the ability to layer voices through song, along with the potential for musical commentary as opposed to voice-over, allows for innovative approaches to rectifying the problems regarding Jane’s narration in other media. However, although the stage musical version by John Caird and Paul Gordon and the chamber opera adaptation by Michael Berkeley and David Malouf both attempt to preserve Jane’s narrative authority, the writers are unable to fully capture the novelistic nuances of the heroine’s development from abused orphan to omniscient storyteller.
Jane Eyre Bronte musical opera adaptation narrative
The opening chapters of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre establish the contradictory tensions which seem to dominate the entire novel, for as Jane interacts with the Reed family there is a sense of both aversion and longing on the part of the heroine: she is repelled by her cousins’ behaviour, but she simultaneously desires their approval. The depiction of Jane’s contradictory feelings towards the Reeds seems the perfect way to begin a novel which presents the reader with so many incongruous themes and ideas: marriage versus independence; passion versus asceticism; religion versus idolatry. The very form of the novel is itself paradoxical, as the gothic romance is tempered by the realistic and autobiographical narrative voice of the heroine. This specific contradiction between romance and autobiography is perhaps the most enticing clash in the novel, though it is important to note that these two elements of the story are not set in complete opposition to one another. Rather, they are both essential components of Bronte’s text. In an article on doubling in Jane Eyre, Robyn Warhol asserts that ‘the two genres are not so much in competition as in continuous oscillation with each other, serving to double each other at crucial moments’ (Warhol 1996: 858). This doubling, particularly in its relationship to the depiction of the main character, seems inherently novelistic; a reader can perceive and appreciate the developmental relationship between Jane the character and Jane the narrator in a way that would not be possible in any other medium. Nevertheless, the contrasts between Jane Eyre: gothic heroine, and Jane Eyre: autobiographer, provide a particularly interesting lens
SMT 2 (1) pp. 33–50 © Intellect Ltd 2008
through which to examine the novel when one considers the popularity of this story in other media. Jane Eyre remains one of the most heavily adapted novels in literary history, and the number of film and stage versions of Jane’s story is staggering. Anyone seeking to adapt Jane Eyre for stage or screen faces significant difficulties, however. It seems almost impossible to capture the subtle nuances in the relationship between the gothic romance and the heroine’s autobiography through any medium besides the novel. For obvious reasons, the romance plot seems infinitely more suitable for visual adaptations, and indeed, though most film and stage versions of Jane Eyre try to integrate some of Jane’s narration through the use of voice-over, most of her autobiography is forfeited. The excision of Jane’s autobiographical reflections is understandable: visual media cannot convey the incremental development of Jane’s narrative authority in the same way that it is presented in the text. Nevertheless, this excision leaves the heroine incomplete. While the viewer can still appreciate Jane’s journey from abused orphan to happily married heiress, the true scope of her maturation is imperfect without the constant presence of her voice. Two recent stage adaptations of the novel have complicated the question of whether or not an adaptor can successfully incorporate both incarnations of Jane into his particular version of the text. In 2000, an operatic version of Jane Eyre written by Michael Berkeley was produced in the United Kingdom, with a libretto by David Malouf. That same year, a stage musical version of Bronte’s novel, with a book by John Caird and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, debuted on Broadway. Like all adaptations of Bronte’s novel, these two versions of the text must grapple with the duality of Jane’s story, but the fact that music is an integral element in both of these adaptations opens up new possibilities for resolving the tensions between romance and autobiographical narrative. Before proceeding with an analysis of these two musicals, it is useful to consider the centrality of the development of Jane’s narrative voice to Bronte’s novel, particularly in the context of Gerard Genette’s arguments on the relationship between the first-person narrator and the representation of his or her younger self. Typically in a bildungsroman narrated in the firstperson voice ‘we [ …] expect to see the narrative bring its hero to the point where the narrator awaits him, in order that these two hypostases might meet and finally merge’ (Genette 1980: 226). Genette asserts that there is usually some point in the text where the hero has, through experience and understanding, developed into a person capable of taking on the role of the storyteller: ‘The narrator’s last sentence is when – is that – the hero finally reaches his first’ (Genette 1980: 227). Genette adamantly insists that the two separate versions of the single fictional character do not work together to tell the story, as it is inconceivable for them to both reach the ‘end’ at the same time. The autobiographical nature of the novel means that the narrative is presented retrospectively; the narrator’s ‘narrative time’ can commence only after the hero’s ‘story time’ has concluded. Throughout Jane Eyre, the ability to tell one’s own story is consistently linked to empowerment, and Jane learns to appreciate this power early on in the text; Carla Kaplan cites Jane’s stinging rebuke of Mrs Reed following their meeting with Mr Brocklehurst as a resolution ‘to narrate her own story,
to explain and vindicate her life, to exercise her voice’ (Kaplan 1996: 5). Though the young Jane is extremely vulnerable, she is able to attain a taste of narrative power at a young age, which is something she carries with her all through the story and up to its conclusion. Throughout the novel, the reader can detect that the younger Jane is making a progression from protagonist to storyteller; the fact that she is constantly being asked to tell her life story is a significant detail in the text. As a character, Jane repeats her biography, or at least parts of it, for Mr Lloyd, Helen Burns, Miss Temple, Mr Rochester and the Rivers siblings. Consequently, Jane’s skills at recounting the story of her life have already been established before she finally adopts the formal position of autobiographical narrator. By the end of chapter 37, the reader realizes that Jane has completed her development from protagonist to narrator, for her trials have concluded and she has overcome her reservations about her relationship with Rochester. At the very end of this chapter, when Jane decides not to tell Rochester that she heard him calling her across the moors, the line between character and narrator has been blurred:
I listened to Mr Rochester’s narrative, but made no disclosure in return. The coincidence struck me as too awful and inexplicable to be communicated or discussed. If I told anything, my tale would be such as must necessarily make a profound impression on the mind of my hearer: and that mind, yet from its sufferings too prone to gloom, needed not the deeper shade of the supernatural. I kept these things then, and pondered them in my heart.
(Bronte 1996: 437)
Just as Jane the narrator decides to skip over her years at Lowood when recounting her life story to the reader, Jane the character decides to skip over this gothic experience when speaking with Rochester. Part of the narrator’s power is her ability to be selective in the telling of her story. It therefore seems fitting that Jane asserts such power shortly after she has attained the financial independence which has eluded her for the entire novel. Jane’s unexpected fiscal empowerment prepares her for the role of storyteller. The fact that narrative authority emerges from character authority in the final chapters of the novel makes it clear that, despite the obvious contrasts between the two main threads of Jane Eyre, both the gothic love story and the realistic autobiographical narrative are essential to the piece. The timelessness of Jane Eyre is at least partially attributable to the classic appeal of an underdog story, as Jane’s transformation from a vulnerable orphan into a happily married heiress is a celebration of the heroine’s strength and endurance. The true power of Jane’s story lies in the protagonist’s narrative voice, however. While it is fitting to celebrate the happy ending that Jane attains for herself in the novel’s final chapters, the most important element of Jane’s new found authority is that it reinforces the idea that she is ready to make the transition from heroine to storyteller: a heroine has little control over what happens to her over the course of the narrative, particularly in a gothic romance where she is constantly being acted upon by outside forces. Conversely, a narrator exercises supreme control over the narrative. While film and stage versions of Jane Eyre can
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
easily chronicle Jane’s transformation from orphan to heiress, highlighting the development of her narrative authority is more difficult. Though voiceover is a convenient tool for including parts of Jane’s narrative, to overuse this device would undoubtedly frustrate viewers as the non-synchronous voice would distract from the action taking place rather than supplementing it. As mentioned, the two recent musical adaptations of Bronte’s novel create new opportunities for the inclusion of Jane’s narrative voice. While the idea of Jane singing parts of her narration is enticing, even more enticing is the ability of a composer to layer different voices through music, as this technique presents a chance for the viewer to come to a true appreciation of the connections between Jane the heroine and Jane the narrator. Furthermore, the presence of the orchestra in both the musical and operatic versions of the novel allows for a more dynamic form of narrative commentary than the kind provided by voice-over. However, while both musical adaptations attempt to balance Jane’s gothic adventures with her interior development into the role of the narrator, both must sacrifice part of the heroine’s autonomy in the process. Neither the Caird musical nor the Berkeley opera grant Jane the full authority that Bronte bestows upon her in the book: Caird’s Jane is incapable of successfully articulating the feelings of the other characters to the audience, while Berkeley’s Jane can present only her memories as opposed to a concrete analysis of her life story. In the end, both of these musical adaptations reinforce the difficulties of trying to integrate successfully the subtle nuances of Bronte’s autobiographical narrative with the more overtly entertaining gothic romance. At the same time, the musical scores incorporated into both of these adaptations present interesting means by which to try and merge these sharp incongruities. Transforming novels into stage musicals is a notoriously difficult endeavour, and the inspiration for some of the greatest musicals of the twentieth century has not been novels, but rather plays: Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion served as the model for Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956), Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was the inspiration for Bernstein and Sondheim’s West Side Story (1957), and Wilder’s The Matchmaker preceded Herman’s Hello, Dolly! (1964). In their book on writing for musical theatre, Allen Cohen and Steven L. Rosenhaus point out that dramatic works, such as films or other plays, are usually better sources for musical adaptation than non-dramatic works like novels: ‘In literary fiction [ … ] much of what the main characters experience is internal – psychological and emotional – which makes it extremely difficult to translate into theatrical terms. Some internal monologues, of course, can be translated into solo songs, but to have more than a couple of them in a show would create monotony’ (Cohen and Rosenhaus 2006: 52). Cohen and Rosenhaus’s text underscores the difficulties in adapting a novel like Jane Eyre for the musical stage, as Jane Eyre is a highly internalized novel; the action is limited, and far more emphasis is placed on the thoughts and feelings of the characters than on their experiences. This limited scope makes it difficult to avoid the ‘monotony’ that Cohen warns of in his text; since Jane is the centre of the novel, most of the songs must revolve around her, and yet it is both impractical and impossible to have her sing the entire score.
Moreover, unlike many Victorian novels, the number of central characters in Jane Eyre is surprisingly small. Whereas the multi-plot novels of Thackeray and Eliot feature a wide variety of lead characters as well as a large supporting cast, Jane Eyre is built almost entirely around two individuals, which makes it difficult to produce a chorus. Once again, this creates musical problems: most musicals alternate between solos, duets and larger numbers involving some type of ensemble. Such variation is difficult to achieve when adapting a novel with such a limited number of characters. Despite the composer and librettist’s best efforts to overcome these difficulties, several critics could not overlook the fact that Bronte’s novel seemed fundamentally incompatible with the conventions of musical theatre. Charles Isherwood of Variety contrasted Caird and Gordon’s musical with several successful musical adaptations of nineteenth-century novels, including Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables (1980) and Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (1960):
While the appeal of the Dickens and Hugo books resides in their larger-than-life characters and relentless plotting, the allure of Bronte’s novel is a more delicate thing; it’s a matter of sensibility. Jane Eyre draws the reader directly into the bruised heart of its embattled heroine – psychological immediacy, not narrative potency, is the key to its appeal, and that’s not easily translated into dramatic terms.
(Isherwood 2000: 34)
For Isherwood, the autobiographical narrative supersedes the gothic romance in terms of overall importance, but the autobiography is far more difficult to adapt for the stage; thus, Caird and Gordon seemed doomed to fail before they even started work on this project. Clifford Ridley of The Philadelphia Inquirer also found the subject matter to be limiting in terms of its musical adaptability:
It’s hard to find the tonal variety required for good music theater in Bronte’s gothic romance about an orphaned young woman who becomes tutor to the ward of the reclusive Edward Rochester [...] Focused firmly on the principals, the narrative contains little action, provides little excuse for a chorus, and leaves little room for humor.
(Ridley 2000: E03)
Ridley’s comments on a lack of ‘tonal variety’ reinforce the limitations of the source material in terms of its overall musicality. Jane Eyre is an especially solemn novel: it is difficult to imagine the characters singing anything except slow and sober ballads. Since the potential for musical variation in an adaptation of Jane Eyre is almost nonexistent, Caird’s protagonist, despite her dynamic roles as both heroine and narrator, is surprisingly flat from a musical standpoint. Almost all of her songs are written in 4/4 time and set to the tempo of a ballad. The result of there being so little variation between the songs is that none of the musical numbers is particularly memorable. By confining Jane to only one style of music, Gordon reduces her overall vitality and, simultaneously, weakens the show’s score. Though the musical received praise for its cast and its
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
staging, few critics felt that it would last on Broadway, and the show closed after only 209 performances. Despite the failure of the musical to attain popular success, Caird and Gordon deserve a great deal of praise for their attempts to preserve the novel’s integrity while adapting it for the stage. In the preface to the musical’s libretto, Caird stresses that the creative team worked tirelessly to try and incorporate both the gothic romance and the autobiography into the musical: ‘while we accord the relationship between Jane and Rochester the central place in our adaptation, we begin where Charlotte begins with Jane’s early childhood’ (Caird and Gordon 2000: i). The play’s opening scenes stress Jane’s role as narrator, as the older Jane appears onstage and watches her younger self interact with the Reeds and, later, the residents of Lowood School. Through song, ‘Jane herself narrates the drama while the story concerns her life as a little girl’ (Caird and Gordon 2000: iv). Though the Lowood section of the novel is significantly condensed in Caird’s adaptation, the creative team imaginatively emphasizes the links between the young heroine Jane and the older, more mature narrator, and, in one of the musical’s most striking moments, the two incarnations of Jane actually sing together at the grave of Helen Burns:
Let the world forsake me Let them do their worst, I will Withstand it all They will not break me There is another world that watches us I’m not afraid The angels know when we have sinned Or we have been betrayed
(Caird and Gordon 2000: 20)
This short but moving song presents a musical variation on Genette’s theories regarding the gradual merging between the heroine and the narrator: Caird and Gordon use the duet to stress the fact that certain lessons Jane learned as a child have been preserved into her adulthood. Furthermore, this is the first time that young Jane sings in the entire play, and it is fitting that her first song is a duet with her older self. The audience is made aware of the fact that the young heroine’s journey from abused orphan to independent woman will be complemented by her developmental journey into the role of the narrator. Unfortunately, Jane’s role as the narrator is quickly reduced. As soon as the young Jane grows up, older Jane steps into the role of heroine, and the idea of two incarnations of Jane singing together is abruptly discarded. Furthermore, from this point on in the musical, the narrator’s commentary is sung by various servants at Thornfield and other members of the ensemble; this technique has the supplemental benefit of granting the chorus a larger role in the adaptation, as the number of choral songs is very small. The primary rationale behind this decision, however, relates to the portrayal of the title character. It would be monotonous and perhaps impossible for the actress cast as the older Jane to continue playing the parts of both narrator and heroine, as the roles are too demanding.
Furthermore, the form of a musical is traditionally not conducive to the constant presence of a confident and reflective narrator. In The Musical as Drama (2006), Scott McMillin argues that all narrators in musicals must inevitably be presented as limited and fallible. In Fiddler on the Roof (1964) and Man of La Mancha (1965) the lead characters of Tevye and Cervantes provide narrative commentary throughout the show, but they remain unaware of what is going to happen to themselves or to any of the other characters, which stands in sharp contrast to Bronte’s Jane, who can tell her story confidently, retrospectively and with closure. Several musicals by Stephen Sondheim also feature narrators, but, humorously, these characters are done away with by the other characters who view their presence as meddlesome: ‘the narrator is a deeply unwanted person in his omniscient complacency’ (McMillin 2006: 152). The idea of the narrator as an intrusive entity reveals further difficulties of trying to balance Jane’s roles as heroine and narrator in a musical adaptation. If the composer and lyricist had placed too much emphasis on Jane the narrator, they would have run the risk of presenting the character as a tiresome ‘Ms Know-it-all’ whose songs simply reinforce her own omniscience. The complications presented in trying to incorporate the voice of a first-person narrator into a musical adaptation of a novel are underscored when one contrasts Caird’s Jane Eyre with various adaptations of novels narrated in the third-person voice. Some of the more successful musicals based on nineteenth-century novels, including those listed in the Isherwood review, are noteworthy for the use of an omniscient thirdperson narrator in the source material; the narrators of Les Misérables and Oliver Twist both contribute heavily to the texts by providing an almost constant stream of narrative commentary whilst telling the story. Nevertheless, since these narrators are not limited to a single perspective and can thus represent the inner lives of all the characters, their voices are far broader and more encompassing than Jane’s. The third-person omniscient voices that narrate Oliver Twist and Les Misérables allow for greater freedom in the musical adaptation process, as the composers, lyricists and librettists can focus on the musicality of all the characters, rather than preoccupying themselves with the preservation of a single character’s narrative voice. This contrast between the two different styles of narration becomes even more enticing when one considers McMillin’s theory for why musicals are so resistant to the presence of first-person narrators: the orchestra itself serves as an omniscient narrator. Because a musical alternates between singing and speaking, and no single character sings all of the songs, the one constant presence is the orchestra itself, which plays the music for each song, no matter which character is singing, and simultaneously underscores each scene. The orchestra is certainly all-knowing; furthermore, practically every musical begins with an overture: this is the orchestra’s ‘announcement of its authority’ (McMillin 2006: 128). The orchestra can also help advance the plot. Sometimes there is action but no dialogue onstage and the orchestra’s music helps to convey a feeling of what is transpiring. This is the musical’s equivalent of narrative commentary. Since the orchestra seems so powerful a storytelling force, the necessity of
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
Jane’s narrative commentary is reduced, and Jane’s power as the narrator of her own life story is diminished. Through the technique of underscoring, the orchestra can provide an almost constant ‘voice’ capable of highlighting various emotions, reinforcing certain themes and, perhaps most importantly, effectively representing other characters. A key example of the multifaceted power of the orchestra can be found in the opening to the second act when Richard Mason slips away to see his mad sister, Bertha. The orchestra clearly heightens the intensity of the scene through its ominous music, but this is just one component of its narrative capability. As Mason approaches Bertha, the orchestra underscores his movements with the melody to Rochester’s song, ‘Sirens’, and Mason himself eventually sings a reprise of this number. The orchestra’s music thus creates a clear thematic link between Rochester and Mason, as they are both responsible for the mistreatment of Bertha; simultaneously, the orchestra’s voice conveys a sense of sympathy for the two men as the melody to the song, coupled with the lyrics that they sing, reveals the mental and emotional pain they have endured subsequent to Bertha’s confinement. This sympathy reinforces the limitations of Jane’s role as narrator in the musical. In the novel, Jane must confine her impressions of Mason to her analyses of his behaviour during their few short meetings; in the musical, Jane must do likewise, but the audience is allowed to come away with a greater sympathy for the character thanks to the ‘commentary’ of the orchestra. Consequently, Caird faced the unenviable task of trying to preserve Jane’s role as narrator, despite the fact that the viewer does not really need her to comment on any of the action in the story: the music created by the orchestra is perfectly capable of conveying Jane’s (and the various other characters’) sentiments to the audience. Furthermore, although using the chorus as a sporadic narrative voice provides a sensible solution to some of the problems inherent in incorporating Jane’s narration into the play, the autobiographical thread is severely weakened as a result. Jane’s narrative lacks any real sense of dramatic significance when it is presented by an unnamed member of the chorus. Disappointingly, the musical never again reaches the same level of poignancy displayed in the aforementioned graveyard scene; once young Jane grows up, there is no chance of the two versions of the protagonist (heroine Jane and narrator Jane) singing together. Had Caird and Gordon been willing to take greater musical risks, they might have been able to come up with some truly innovative ways of layering the two incarnations of Jane’s character musically. Instead they chose a simple, practical, but ultimately unsatisfactory, solution to the problem, and Jane’s power as storyteller is thus weakened significantly. Jane’s authority as narrator is also undermined by the fact that Caird and Gordon allow several other characters to sing solo. When a character sings in a musical it is usually because he or she is overwhelmed with sentiment. Emotional catharsis is a key element of the musical form, for, as Scott Miller writes: ‘the extreme, unapologetic emotionalism of musical theatre offers audiences a much needed release. Only in musical theatre can those big emotions be adequately expressed’ (Miller 2007: 1). Thus, a solo number is an important, affecting moment between a character and the audience; we are made privy to the innermost feelings of the character, and, in some
way, we are transformed by listening to them sing about their emotions. Solos also serve to reinforce the omniscience of the orchestra, in that the orchestra can represent each and every character in the musical by providing them all with a fitting solo melody to which they can sing their song. In Caird and Gordon’s Jane Eyre, Jane sings at least eight solo numbers along with several reprises. Some of these songs reflect her role as narrator, particularly early on in the show when she sings retrospectively about her younger self. She sings other numbers in her capacity as heroine, as she conveys to the audience her feelings about Rochester. No matter what the context, all of Jane’s solos help to create an emotional connection between heroine and audience. However, Caird’s decision to have Rochester, Blanche Ingram, and several other characters sing solo numbers as well further weakens Jane’s power as narrator. When these characters sing their solo numbers, Jane is not onstage. Her absence is analogous to the fact that in the novel, Jane can never know exactly what characters like Blanche Ingram or Mrs Reed are thinking and feeling. This fact does not seem to matter in the novel; the reader accepts her assessments of these other characters based on her authority as narrator. However, in the musical the audience directly learns of Rochester’s depression, Blanche’s doubts and Mason’s guilt through their songs. We experience the inner lives of characters besides Jane, and we can make our own assessment about them without her having to serve as a go-between; as McMillin suggests in his text, the only narrative voice necessary is the ‘voice’ of the orchestra, which impartially provides each character with the music necessary for his or her solo. Essentially, whenever these characters are allowed to sing solo, they temporarily usurp the narrative from Jane; the musical becomes their story for those few minutes, even though the story itself is not advanced by their reflections. Caird’s decision may weaken the autobiographical element of Jane’s story, but it is understandable that he would allow these characters the chance to sing for themselves. In the case of Rochester it is absolutely essential that he be allowed to sing alone to the audience at several points in the show:
for its part the audience is not looking at Rochester through Jane’s eyes, it is looking at the man himself without the aid of a partial interpreter. We decided therefore that we had to reveal Rochester’s deep feelings for Jane, at least before the intermission falls, or he would risk losing so much sympathy with the audience that they would never forgive Jane for falling in love with him.
(Caird and Gordon 2000: ii)
Here it is important to return to the idea of the musical form. According to Cohen and Rosenhaus’s text, it is folly to try and adapt a mystery story into a musical because characters in mysteries are rarely what they seem to be; conversely, when a character sings in a musical, he or she is fully exposing his or her innermost feelings to the audience (Cohen and Rosenhaus 2006). It must be assumed that a character is telling the truth when he or she bursts into song. Rochester is a mysterious and potentially dangerous character in Bronte’s novel, but Caird’s decision to allow Rochester to sing solo ensures that the audience will be able to
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
sympathize with him despite his numerous character flaws. Bronte relies on Jane as narrator to make Rochester sympathetic to the reader: ‘I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled’ (Bronte 1996: 152). Though Jane is cognizant of Rochester’s flaws, she consistently reminds the reader of his good points. Even so, it would be virtually impossible to achieve the same effect in a stage musical; Jane’s singing about Rochester cannot have an effect as powerful as Rochester singing for himself. Thus, when Rochester reveals the depths of his despair in his solo numbers, the audience is able to come away with a better understanding of who he truly is and why he deserves our sympathy. This is not to say that Caird tames Rochester; his songs are brooding ballads befitting Bronte’s Byronic hero:
Damn the passion, damn the skies Damn the light that’s in her eyes I know too well where it has led before She saves me but I can’t be saved Frees me but I’m still enslaved Now I battle what I most adore. Oh, let me sail away Get lost at sea Where I won’t hear her voice Where I am blind and free For as sirens call the sailors She calls me now.
(Caird and Gordon 2000: 74)
However, the key difference between Caird’s Rochester and Bronte’s Rochester is that the audience is never in doubt regarding Rochester’s inherent goodness and, moreover, his love for Jane. Though Rochester is given the benefit of the doubt in Bronte’s text, the reader must trust in Jane’s authority as narrator to exonerate Rochester. Caird allows us access to the interior world of the hero, and we come away with an understanding of him which could never be attained solely through Jane’s narration. Caird’s changes to Rochester’s character, or at least to the presentation of Rochester’s character, are necessary given the form of the musical: the audience must be allowed to experience Rochester’s emotions first-hand when he sings. Caird does not stop with Rochester, however; he grants several other characters the opportunity to express themselves through solo songs. The most notable example is Blanche Ingram. As with all the characters in Bronte’s novel, the reader experiences Blanche only through Jane’s narration. We share Jane’s dislike for her, and we know that she deserves our contempt given her mistreatment of Jane and Adele throughout the novel. Blanche’s defining characteristic is her shallowness, and almost everything associated with her in the novel emphasizes her surface
qualities. Tellingly, Jane is not particularly jealous of Blanche, for she recognizes her rival’s hollowness:
she was very showy, but she was not genuine: she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature: nothing bloomed spontaneously on that soil; no unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness. She was not good; she was not original: she used to repeat sounding phrases from books: she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own.
(Bronte 1996: 188)
In Caird’s musical, the composer initially presents a Blanche who is very similar to her counterpart in the novel. He astutely captures her showiness by having her sing her initial numbers in front of others; whereas most characters in musicals remain unaware that they have shifted from speaking to singing, Blanche seems perfectly aware of the transition, and she delights in affected vocalizing. Such showiness seems befitting of the shallow young woman from Bronte’s novel, but Caird departs from the source material when he allows Blanche to sing alone onstage. As mentioned, solo numbers expose the inner lives of characters to the audience; in the novel, Blanche’s inner life seems nonexistent. Her solo during ‘In the Light of the Virgin Morning’ initially reveals her shallow motives for marrying Rochester, as she delights in the various material pleasures of Thornfield. However, Caird also reveals a completely different side of Blanche to the audience, as she admits to her own fears and doubts regarding her relationship with Rochester:
As I stroll through the pinks and roses As I savour the columbine I am grateful for all he is And what will one day all be mine The perfect plan If only I could love the man But I’m not quite sure I can.
(Caird and Gordon 2000: 85)
In these few short lines, Blanche reveals new dimensions to her own personality, dimensions which remain inaccessible in the book. Jane can only tell us about her own impressions of Blanche, and while we can glean hints of Blanche’s inner life from her behaviour, her true emotions and thoughts remain inaccessible. Caird’s Blanche, though equally vapid and unlikable, becomes much more sympathetic simply because she is capable of revealing such thoughts and feelings to the audience. Even if we do not like her any better than her counterpart in the novel, we most certainly understand her better, and such understanding leads to sympathy. Furthermore, ‘In the Light of the Virgin Morning’ eventually evolves into a duet sung by both Jane and Blanche (though neither one is aware of the other’s presence). As Blanche reveals her fears about marrying Rochester, Jane reveals her own fears regarding her feelings for her master. She resolves
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
to leave Thornfield, and the two women conclude by singing to the same melody. Though Jane remains unaware of Blanche’s true feelings, the audience comes to realize that despite their being complete opposites in most respects, Jane and Blanche share a veiled connection regarding their fears and doubts about Rochester. The unfortunate side effect of Blanche’s song is that Jane’s role as narrator is weakened further; since the audience is able to make its own assessment of Blanche without relying on Jane, any narrative commentary on Jane’s part regarding Blanche’s behaviour proves superfluous. Furthermore, Blanche’s very act of singing solo disproves Jane’s assessment that Blanche is without substance. Through her solo she proves that she is capable of wrestling with difficult thoughts and feelings, and the contrast between this number and her earlier songs is profound. Blanche uses music to win the attention of others, but she can also use music in a more private and reflective way. Interestingly, this is the very same way that Jane uses music throughout the show; the majority of her musical numbers are solos in which she addresses the audience. The fact that Blanche is allowed to share a similar moment with the audience underscores the contrasts between storytelling in a novel and storytelling in a musical. In the novel, it is impossible for the reader to gain access to Blanche’s inner life because of the first-person narrator; the musical grants access when Blanche temporarily asserts herself as narrator during her solo number. Despite Caird and Gordon’s efforts to preserve both the romantic and autobiographical elements of the original novel, their version of the lead character lacks the narrative authority that Bronte grants her protagonist. The internal access we are given to characters like Rochester and Blanche is attained at the sacrifice of Jane’s control over the representation of these individuals, a key facet of her power as storyteller. Furthermore, the composers’ inability to sustain the musical layering of Jane’s character that they first present in the graveyard scene prevents the audience from coming away with a true appreciation of the development of Jane’s voice. As in so many adaptations of Jane Eyre, the central focus is ultimately placed on Jane’s journey from downtrodden orphan to heiress and wife, as opposed to the growth from heroine to narrator and the maturation within Jane which makes such a transition possible. While Caird and Gordon attempt to preserve the autobiography in their musical, Berkeley completely omits this element from his opera: Jane is not introduced as a narrator who has decided to share her life story with an audience. Instead, Berkeley’s version of the heroine exists in a vague stasis between character and narrator; since Berkeley omits the Marsh End segment of the novel from his opera, story time has effectively ceased with Jane’s departure from Thornfield. Simultaneously, narrative time has not yet begun as she is unable to give a coherent account of her biography. Jane will eventually become a narrator when she learns to document her thoughts and memories in a chronological narrative, but, for now, she is capable only of reflection. On the other hand, Berkeley manages to preserve a great deal of Jane’s authority over the story by indicating that the entire opera is taking place within the character’s head. The opera is formed from Jane’s recollections about her time at Thornfield, which adds
a complicated dimension to the representation of other characters. Whereas Caird makes it clear that the solo songs sung by various characters are based on their own feelings and thoughts as opposed to Jane’s impressions, Berkeley makes no such distinctions in his opera; the few moments when a character besides Jane sings solo are clearly indicative of Jane’s own perceptions of what that character was feeling at that particular moment. Jane remains the medium through which the audience experiences the story, though, unlike her counterpart in the novel, she makes no attempts to connect with the audience members as she is unaware of their presence. Nevertheless, the fact that the opera is so thoroughly embedded in Jane’s own subjectivity grants her an autonomy that Caird’s version of the heroine lacks. One of the most distinguishing features of Berkeley’s opera is its scale. While the very word ‘opera’ evokes images of epic sets and grandiose spectacle, Berkeley’s piece is small and restrained. There are only five characters in the entire work: Jane, Rochester, Mrs Fairfax, Adele, and Bertha (Mrs Rochester). Furthermore, Berkeley does not use a complete orchestra for the piece. Instead, he relies only on a chamber ensemble. The idea of transforming Jane Eyre into a chamber opera is intriguing given the fact that the novel itself, through its domestication of the gothic, presents the reader with a sense of something large-scale which has been contained. The range of the opera is far smaller than the span of the actual novel, and most critics immediately picked up on the limited scope of Berkeley’s opera in the context of Bronte’s work. Writing for The Observer, Fiona Maddocks sardonically commented that
to dare to compress an epic Victorian novel into a short, taut opera with only five characters requires a touch of madness. When the book in question is Jane Eyre, that might prove an asset. Mrs Rochester up in the attic may be the one who is certified insane, but Mr Rochester and Jane herself are not averse to morbid imaginings and distinctly odd behaviour.
(Maddocks 2000: 9)
In spite of her sarcastic assessment, Maddocks praised the opera for its innovative approach to the original text, and most reviews were equally positive; like Maddocks, many critics were impressed with how effectively Berkeley was able to consolidate the novel into a small-scale opera. Furthermore, most reviewers found the psychological elements of the opera enticing. Though much of the novel is lost in the adaptation process, the focus on Jane’s inner life allows the work to retain several of the more important elements of the heroine’s subjectivity. The creative team behind the opera deliberately decided to emphasize Jane’s psychology, most likely as a means of compensating for the absence of her narrative voice. In the preface to the opera’s book, Berkeley’s librettist David Malouf claims that
it is the voice of the narrator in Jane Eyre that holds the book together and holds us too; commands our attention and inward consent, engages our emotions, convinces us, however improbable the events and the turn of
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
events it is recounting, that the world of the novel is our own, as close to us as our own breath.
(Malouf and Berkeley 2000: viii)
The primary goal of all subsequent adaptations of the novel is to find an equivalent for that voice: something that will engage the audience with the same intimacy. Berkeley and Malouf substitute psychological reflection for narrative commentary, most likely in hopes of attaining a greater sense of immediacy:
the opera is unfolding in Jane’s memory of the events at Thornfield, but, as we see it, in real space and real time. Its movement is from Jane’s belief that the voice of Mr Rochester is a projection of her own painful yearning to the discovery that it is the voice of her lover’s present need for her.
(Malouf and Berkeley 2000: x)
The excision of most of the plot allows for the composer and librettist to focus completely on the interiority of the lead heroine. The composer’s emphasis on the heroine’s psychology is conveyed not only through the concise libretto, but, moreover, through Berkeley’s music. Jane’s singing, particularly during the opening movements, is marked by violent vocalizing and strange, abrupt shifts in the melody; as she describes a storm on the moors, the instrumental accompaniment provided by the orchestra seems to capture the violence of the tempest. The turbulent music used throughout the piece reinforces the idea that Jane is not telling a story so much as reliving it in her mind. The heroine tries to reassure herself that everything will be all right:
In the wind’s lee the nest Is safe on the bough. No print marks the snow, No terror affrights The still breast.
(Malouf and Berkeley 2000: 3)
Jane’s metaphorical reflections throughout her singing are reminiscent of the metaphorical language that Bronte herself uses to characterize the heroine’s struggle to strike a balance between cold asceticism and selfindulgent passion:
Till morning dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy. I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy – a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back.
(Bronte 1996: 156)
However, Berkeley does not rely solely on words to convey his heroine’s emotional fluctuations. Instead, he cleverly uses different types of music to characterize Jane’s moods at various moments.
The orchestra in Berkeley’s adaptation repeatedly jumps back and forth between diverse musical genres so as to convey the general tone of various scenes, and, simultaneously, the condition of Jane’s mind at any given time: a charming waltz is played during the tranquil scene in which Jane meets Adele, while violent Caribbean drumbeats play in the background after Jane learns of Bertha’s existence. The abrupt shifts between the different melodies are evocative of stream-of-consciousness narrative technique. As in the Caird adaptation, the orchestra adds a narrative voice to the piece, though its commentary is intimately connected back to the heroine, for the style and tone of the music produced by the orchestra is always dependent on Jane’s mental state. The heroine’s consciousness, as reflected by the orchestral music, shapes the way the audience perceives the story. From the joys of her romance with Rochester to the terrors of her discovery of Bertha, an appropriate musical accompaniment is always provided. Unsurprisingly, Berkeley’s version of Jane is a far more demanding part from a vocal perspective than Caird’s rendering of the heroine. Whereas Caird and Gordon confine their heroine to the ballad, Berkeley’s Jane sings many different melodies and exhibits a wider vocal range in order to match the fluctuating melodies of the orchestra. Consequently, Berkeley’s version of the heroine, while not an overt storyteller, is able to exert a significant amount of control over the narrative due to her dominance over the orchestra. Furthermore, while the orchestra is the only constant in the Caird musical, Berkeley’s Jane is a constant presence in his opera; she never leaves the stage and sings throughout the entire piece. Berkeley’s Jane comes closer to the omnipresence that Bronte’s narrator possesses, despite the fact that she is not telling a story. Here the orchestra is not a rival storyteller but rather a medium for Jane’s still undeveloped narrative voice, as the hectic melodies that it provides capture the chaotic state of the psyche of the heroine following her abrupt departure from Thornfield. Due to the fact that the opera revolves around Jane’s psyche, Berkeley must show restraint in his depiction of the other characters. It would be impossible to have Rochester sing solo to the audience, for the opera takes place entirely in Jane’s mind; Jane cannot enter into the minds of other characters, nor can she have flashbacks to events which she did not witness. Berkeley makes certain to keep Jane onstage when the other characters sing. Whereas Caird limits Jane’s role as narrator by having other characters reveal their hidden feelings to the audience, Berkeley preserves Jane’s authority over the supporting cast by keeping their inner lives inaccessible and characterizing these individuals solely according to Jane’s perceptions. Besides Jane, only one other character in Berkeley’s opera sings solo: Bertha. This creative decision is perhaps the most fascinating and confusing element of the operatic adaptation. In the novel, Bertha can express herself only through violent actions and malevolent laughter, but Berkeley presents the audience with a Bertha who is capable of using both song and dance to articulate her thoughts and feelings. As in Caird’s musical, the ability of the supporting character to connect directly with the audience through solo song increases the viewer’s sympathy for her. Nevertheless, it is important to reinforce that the action of the opera takes place entirely within Jane’s mind and memory. Bertha’s solo singing is an anomaly; all
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
of the other characters sing in front of Jane, but Bertha remains hidden from Jane for much of the opera. How then can the viewer make sense of Bertha’s singing solo in Jane’s memories of Thornfield, if Jane has never actually heard her sing? The only legitimate explanation is that Bertha’s solos are manifestations of Jane’s own empathy for her; in other words, Bertha’s solos are not her actual thoughts and feelings but rather Jane’s own thoughts and feelings about the woman projected out to the audience. Like Jane, Bertha is an almost constant presence in the opera; she can be seen in the background throughout all the Thornfield scenes, as if she is literally haunting the old house. However, the interior focus of the opera suggests that Bertha is haunting Jane’s thoughts as well; Jane was unaware of Bertha’s existence for much of her time at Thornfield, and Bertha’s constant presence onstage seems to suggest that all of Jane’s memories of the manor are tainted by her presence. This is not to say that Jane lacks sympathy for Bertha; as mentioned, Bertha’s solos can only be comprehended as expressions of Jane’s own sense of compassion for the madwoman:
She [ Jane] the bride of Thornfield? Mrs Rochester? Who am I Then? Who am I? A ghost In this house? Oh Edward, Edward – Why have you put me Away? Why have you sent me To a living grave? Condemned me To walk the corridors Of this house, a living Ghost?
(Malouf 2000: 20)
Jane clearly pities Bertha and feels as though her husband has mistreated her. Furthermore, Bertha’s solo highlights the similarities between her and Jane, as they are both referred to as ‘Mrs Rochester.’ It is reasonable to accept Bertha’s words throughout her solo as manifestations of what Jane believes her to be thinking and feeling, given the fact that Jane expresses an empathy with Bertha throughout the remainder of the opera. While many film adaptations of the novel subtly underscore the parallels between Jane and Bertha, Berkeley explicitly draws attention to the connection between the two characters. When Bertha finally emerges from her hidden room, she reveals herself by exiting a secret passageway located behind Jane’s mirror; when Jane peers into the looking glass and sees Bertha wearing her wedding veil, the idea of the doppelgänger is made explicit. Berkeley’s overt depiction of the similarities between Jane and Bertha reinforces the idea that Bertha’s singing is an expression of Jane’s own fears and apprehensions regarding Rochester. Thus, Bertha’s solo, unlike the various solos in the Caird and Gordon musical, actually reinforces the importance of Jane’s feelings and perceptions, and the frighteningly discordant music played by the orchestra when Bertha emerges from the attic underscores Jane’s trauma following the revelation of her lover’s wife. Despite the fact that Jane retains her power over the representation of other characters in the Berkeley opera, it is inappropriate to see her as
maintaining the same level of narrative authority that she exercises in the novel. Part of Jane’s authority stems from the fact that the reader, like Genette, can appreciate her transition from heroine to narrator. Even though the Caird musical reduces much of Jane’s authority as narrator, the very fact that the two incarnations of the character are featured is enough to allow for a similar appreciation. Since Jane never actually attempts to tell her story in the opera, there can be no comprehension of the heroine’s development into the narrator. Furthermore, the chaotic presentation of Jane’s memories is maintained throughout the opera, despite Jane’s insistence that she will not allow herself to be shaken by her setbacks. Because Jane makes no attempt to organize her thoughts, she seems incapable of attaining the empowering composure that her counterpart in the novel achieves in her role as narrator. Fairly early on in the novel, Helen Burns tells the young Jane that she should not infuse such passion and vehemence into her account of life at Gateshead. Jane’s first telling of her life story is to Helen and it is not altogether successful as Jane, the narrator, reflects that her ‘bitter and truculent’ (Bronte 1996: 68) narrative technique is ineffective. Throughout the novel, the reader can appreciate the fact that Jane has attained the confidence and calmness necessary to present her story in a controlled, coherent, yet still engaging manner. Berkeley’s opera presents a narrative which is reminiscent of the tumultuous passion that the young Jane injects into her story to Helen. There is no sense of order or development; there is only the chaotically alluring fervour of the heroine. Unfortunately, Berkeley’s Jane thus lacks narrative authority because she is unable to develop into the kind of storyteller capable of presenting her memories in a logical and insightful way. Though the opera can capture the heroine’s passion, it is unable to capture the novel’s astute portrayal of the development of Jane’s narrative voice and, subsequently, her narrative authority. Throughout the novel that bears her name, Jane Eyre conveys the importance of finding the ability to speak out. Her narration is the ultimate sign of her independence, as she is able to convey her life story with a sense of empowerment and authority. In both musicals and operas, singing solo implies power: a character who sings alone onstage is able to temporarily take complete control of the narrative and convey his or her feelings directly to the audience. Since it is impossible for one person to sing an entire musical score, no musical or opera could ever fully capture the essence of an autobiographical novel like Jane Eyre; the perpetual intimacy between reader and narrator is impossible to replicate. And yet, the very fact that Jane is allowed to sing out to a sympathetic audience in both adaptations reinforces the power of her voice; as in the original novel, she is a heroine who must be heard. Works cited
Bronte, C. (1996), Jane Eyre (ed. Beth Newman), Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. Caird, J. and Gordon, P. (2000), Jane Eyre: The Musical, New York: Music Theatre International. Cohen, A. and Rosenhaus, S. L. (2006), Writing Musical Theater, New York: Palgrave MacMillan. Genette, G. (1980), Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre
Isherwood, C. (2000), ‘Review of Jane Eyre, by John Caird and Paul Gordon’, Variety, 18 December, p. 34. Kaplan, C. (1996), ‘Girl Talk: Jane Eyre and the Romance of Women’s Narration’, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 30:1, pp. 5–31. Maddocks, F. (2000), ‘Eyre we go, Eyre we go: Genteel Cheltenham Sees Dark Passions Run Riot in Michael Berkeley’s Brooding New Opera’, Observer, 9 July, p. 9. Malouf, D. and Berkeley, M. (2000), Jane Eyre: A Libretto for an Opera by Michael Berkeley, London: Vintage. McMillin, S. (2006), The Musical as Drama, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Miller, S. (2007), Strike Up The Band: A New History of Musical Theatre, Portsmouth: Heinemann. Ridley, C. (2000), ‘Musical Version of Jane Eyre Finally Makes it to Broadway’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 December, p. E03. Warhol, R. R. (1996), ‘Double Gender, Double Genre in Jane Eyre and Villette’, SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500 –1900, 36:4, pp. 857–75.
Napolitano, M. (2008), ‘Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre’, Studies in Musical Theatre 2: 1, pp. 33–50, doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.33/1
Marc Napolitano is a Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is currently researching theatrical adaptations of Dickens’ novels. Napolitano attended Villanova University as an undergraduate and graduated summa cum laude in 2004. He remained at Villanova an additional two years to attain his Master’s degree before accepting enrolment in UNC’s Ph.D. programme.
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.51/1
Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age
Charles Eliot Mehler Louisiana State University Abstract
Is the universal acclaim given to Fiddler on the Roof well earned? Or has Fiddler lost its power over its forty years of existence, owing to a more cynical, less sympathetic culture? Might this be especially true with respect to what was once perceived as Jewish oppression, and might now be seen as Jewish nostalgia and arrogance? Such a lack of sympathy begs the further question: how legitimately Jewish an experience has Fiddler offered to audiences, whether during the 1960s when it premiered or in the new millennium? We thus explore Fiddler on the Roof as a cultural, literary and theatrical entity, especially in terms of the genuineness of the Yiddishkeit experience the play has offered and might still offer.
Fiddler Aleichem musical theatre Jewish Harnick Bock
I beg the reader’s indulgence as I present a short anecdote, the story of my Uncle Joe blowing up and leaving my nephew Andrew’s bar mitzvah. To make a very long story short, when names were announced for ceremonial birthday cake cutting, Uncle Joe’s name had been left off the list. A man of almost pure surface emotion, Uncle Joe (who passed on recently) blew up, took Aunt Myrna and their daughters, and stormed out of the bar mitzvah, creating a scene. Owing to any number of other family crises that were playing themselves out at this catered affair in addition to Joe’s tirade, my partner Scott, my aunt Evelyn, my Uncle Bernie and I decided we needed a short breather from the tumult. We started walking through the halls of the catering establishment hosting Andrew’s bar mitzvah, and came upon a room adjacent to our celebration. In this room, we found a Filipino wedding in full swing. But for the ethnicity of the participants and the absence of a chupah (traditional Jewish wedding canopy), one might have mistaken this for a Jewish wedding. To add to this sense of cross-cultural Yiddishkeit, we watched as members of this Filipino wedding party broke into song:
Is this the little boy I carried? Is this the little girl at play? I don’t remember growing older. When did they?
Having just survived Uncle Joe’s eruption among other family crises, the four of us found this episode funny in near-Biblical proportion.
SMT 2 (1) pp. 51–60 © Intellect Ltd 2008
1. For a more complete discussion of lessthan-enthusiastic reactions to the original production of Fiddler on the Roof, see Suskin 1990, pages 207–209.
Such is often the reaction to Fiddler on the Roof among Jews, especially more secularized Jews, especially in recent years. That which was once a source of ethnic pride has become a source of kitsch humour. The sight of otherwise innocent Filipinos singing Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s immortal ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ is the fodder for politically incorrect snickering. However, in thinking about this bar mitzvah incident more recently, and especially in a scholarly sense, it occurs to me that the work of Messrs Harnick and Bock struck so universal a chord among people the world over that a little humour at their expense is to be expected. This begs the question, is the universal acclaim given to Fiddler on the Roof well earned? Or has Fiddler lost its power over its forty years of existence, owing to a more cynical, less sympathetic culture? Might this be especially true with respect to what was once perceived as Jewish oppression, and might now be seen as Jewish nostalgia and arrogance? Such a lack of sympathy begs the further question: how legitimately Jewish an experience has Fiddler offered to audiences, whether during the 1960s when it premiered or in the new millennium? We thus explore Fiddler on the Roof as a cultural, literary and theatrical entity, especially in terms of the genuineness of the Yiddishkeit experience the play has offered and might still offer. We begin with journalistic reaction to the original production that sets the tone for the possibility of Fiddler being problematic. In contrast, reaction among musical theatre scholars to Fiddler, which is generally positive if not glowing, is then considered. It then becomes necessary to make reference to theoretical constructs questioning the legitimacy of Fiddler as a cultural icon among American Jews, especially Jews of the generations that followed the original production. This begs comparison and contrast of the Tevye stories of Yiddish literary giant Sholem Aleichem, upon which Fiddler is based, with the text of the play. In the end, the question of Fiddler’s legitimacy as an icon in the annals of musical theatre is vetted.
Reaction on the part of the New York theatre critics to the original 1964 production of Fiddler, while generally positive, was less than universally enthusiastic. Typical of the nay-sayers was critic Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune, who wrote:
[Zero Mostel] is less Mother Courage than Father Complaint [ …] I think it might have been an altogether charming musical if only the people of Anatevka did not pause every now and then to give their regards to Broadway, with remembrances to Herald Square. [The result] is a very-near-miss, and I very much miss what it might have been.1
(Suskin 1990: 207)
Steven Suskin provides his own commentary, arguing that the material, particularly the score, of Fiddler is weak in comparison to the direction/choreography and the stellar performance of Zero Mostel. In reviewing the 2004 Alfred Molina revival of Fiddler on the Roof, New York Times critic Ben Brantley used the epithet ‘McShtetl’ to describe what he saw as a cold, calculating, ‘antiseptic’ attempt on the part of director David
Charles Eliot Mehler
Leveaux to invoke an unearned sense of Yiddishkeit (Brantley 2004: E1, E3). Yet even with Brantley railing to the contrary, reviews of Broadway revivals of Fiddler between 1964 and 2004, at least as far as theatre critics at The New York Times were concerned, would garner a more positive attitude toward the war-horse than those of the original. Upon the return of Zero Mostel as Tevye in a 1976 revival, Clive Barnes wrote, ‘Everyone has a favorite musical. Mine, apart from [Verdi’s] Aida, is Fiddler on the Roof’ (Barnes 1976: 12). In 1981, Richard Shepard wrote, ‘If you were a rich man, you couldn’t buy a better show than the joyous re-creation of Fiddler on the Roof ’ that featured Tevye #2 in the original 1964 run, Herschel Bernardi, and the original Golde (Tevye’s wife), Tony-winner Maria Karnilova (Shepard 1981: III, 3). In 1990, upon viewing the performance of Chayim Topol, Tevye from the 1971 Norman Jewison film and the original London cast, the Times’ Mel Gussow gushed,
The score liltingly evokes folk and liturgical strains while never losing sight of the show’s obligations as a work of popular theater. Both the lyrics and book convey Sholom Aleichem’s homespun philosophies. The musical has a seamless fluidity, songs flowing into story into dance. Even the settings seem to dance as Tevye’s cottage swirls in time to the music and as, in the song ‘Sabbath Prayer’, the skies are lined with an aurora borealis of families lighting candles.
(Gussow 1990: 13)
2. The Aleichem translation that Ruth Wisse uses spells the name ‘Tsaytl’. Librettist Stein spells it ‘Tzeitel’. Each is pronounced ‘ts-EYE-tl’. I will use ‘Tsaytl’ to refer to the Aleichem translation, and ‘Tzeitel’ to refer to Stein. The same will be true for any other inconsistency in spelling, such as ‘Motl’ (Aleichem translation) versus ‘Motel’ (Stein) for Tevye’s first daughter’s beloved.
Until the 2004 revival, time would seem to have treated Fiddler on the Roof well at least as reflected by these New York Times reviews. But not only had these end-of-millennium critics at the Times become aficionados of Fiddler; musical theatre history scholars would wax eloquently as well. Musical theatre historian Richard Kislan, in discussing the primacy of the book in the modern musical, points to the Tzeitel-Motel2 wedding scene.
The use of ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ [presents] a sentimental song of graceful lyrics and pleasing melody, one that would stand out in any score of any musical comedy. What distinguishes the song in its musical play is context, universal sentiment particularized in the specific dramatic situation of the pogrom. How the musical play uses a song adds the layers of dramatic intensity that give dignity to the theatrical moment. The song in its deft context goes deep into audience emotion, finds the human spirit and caresses it. We are made to feel deeply, even cry. Yet we are grateful. On some deep and satisfying level, we have been engaged.
(Kislan 1995: 174–5)
And yet we must ask: is it the purpose of theatre to tap into what some might consider shallow sentimentality, or must the theatre be a force of revolution against such silliness and old fashion? For those who would defend Fiddler, such sentimentality is far from shallow, and goes directly to the depth of who we are as human beings. Fiddler, as a prototype for the entirety of musical theatre, shuns the postmodern, post-human construct, opting instead for a paradigm in which human emotion is the source of true human dignity.
Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age
In terms of craft, Kislan points to the miniscule scene in which third daughter Chava falls in love with her gentile. ‘No better example of economy and clarity exists in the modern musical book than the critical scene [ …] where Fyedka connects with Chava in Motel’s tailor shop [ … ] In less than a page of dialogue, librettist Joseph Stein (1) makes two people fall in love and (2) sets in motion the mechanics for the plot’s denouement’ (Kislan 1995: 181–2). Mark N. Grant provides further positive argument in favour of Fiddler as an icon of the art of musical theatre, this time from the direction of music, movement, and artistic synthesis. In discussing the work of noted Broadway musical director Lehman Engel, Grant writes, ‘Engel invented the idea that Broadway had an equivalent of what classical music has referred to as a “common-practice period”. The classical music commonpractice period of masterpieces runs roughly from Mozart to Brahms (definitions vary). For Engel the Broadway common-practice period was from Pal Joey (1940) to Fiddler on the Roof (1964)’ (Grant 2004: 80). Though one might disagree with Engel’s choice of endpoints, a great compliment is paid to Fiddler composer Jerry Bock. More important to Grant is Fiddler’s service to the Wagnerian ideal of Gesamtkuntzwerk, the integration of words, music, design and movement into a unified piece of art. This ideal would be fostered in the so-called ‘golden age’ of musical theatre by Oscar Hammerstein II, and followed by his disciples, notably Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Alan Jay Lerner. In discussing the end of the career of Fiddler auteur, director-choreographer Jerome Robbins, Grant writes,
Robbins’s retirement from the Broadway stage with Fiddler on the Roof in 1964 was the watershed. The more powerful that directors and directorchoreographers became after the watershed, the more they pursued the direction of conceptual showmanship and abandoned the playwriting choreography of de Mille and Robbins. Conceptual showman directors sit their concepts on top of the book like oil on water. [ … ] After the mid-1960s not only did the book matter less but [ … ] the music and lyrics also became less important. [ …] The organic link between text and movement – which was what had made the high-water American musical different from the light musical theatre of other nations – was sundered for good.
(Grant 2004: 279)
In sum, not only is Fiddler on the Roof a great piece of playwriting – as Kislan argues – but it also represents, according to Grant, the last of what would become a dying breed: the integrated book show, where the integration of plot, music and stagecraft was more important than any of its component parts.
Like any artistic endeavour that has become a mass cultural phenomenon, the larger-than-life entity we have come to know over the past forty years as Fiddler on the Roof comes complete with its own argument and counterargument. Let us deal with the counter-argument first. Simply stated, that argument contends that the American cultural upheaval of the mid-to-late
Charles Eliot Mehler
twentieth century, commonly referred to as the rise of the ‘counter-culture’, perhaps makes Fiddler, once relevant to a Jewish community striving to throw off the yokes of old-world oppression, no longer as compelling to a modern generation of Jews. Village Voice commentator Alisa Solomon describes resentment against Fiddler by the postmodern community plainly and succinctly when she invokes the hallowed attitude taken towards the production of the play with respect to following its long-established recipe. A so-called ‘bible’ exists, controlling all production values from here to eternity, for all major productions of the play. Solomon puts it bluntly in an ‘eleventh commandment’: ‘Don’t fuck with Fiddler’ (Solomon 2004). Comparable to the sight of a Filipino family performing ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ as part of a wedding celebration, Solomon describes a world far removed from the original motivation for Fiddler, in conflict with this eleventh commandment. This brave new world has witnessed what Solomon calls Jewish ‘aggression’ in the Middle East,3 matched by prayers for Palestinian freedom at Passover seders. What was once anathema and sacrilege, a lesbian wedding performed under the chupah, is now nearly commonplace, especially in the large cities with large concentrations of theatre-going Jews in which professional companies perform Fiddler. In contrast, argues Solomon, Fiddler would seem to come from an age in which Jews were still fighting World War II and the Nazis. Like Mel Brooks’ ‘phalanx of Jews’ speech at the 2001 Tony Awards ceremony,4 Solomon implies that Fiddler on the Roof was a victory celebration over Hitler’s attempt to invoke a ‘final solution’. But even Brooks’ 2001 mega-hit, The Producers, pays homage to, then circumnavigates, Fiddler. Solomon comments on the anti-nostalgic comparison between the two plays.
Nowadays, ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ is sampled into hip-hop tunes, and a block away […], The Producers blows a raspberry to Fiddler. As the chorus vinesteps across the stage and violins saw away, Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock throws his arms toward the heavens, tilts his head back, and jiggles his belly. He then shoves away the image of Tevye (and of Zero Mostel, who also originated the role of Bialystock in Mel Brooks’s 1968 film) with a get-outta-here wave of his hand. Of course the gag also pays homage. You can’t kick up a goose-stepping can-can to ‘Springtime for Hitler’ without first bidding a tuneful farewell to ‘underfed, overworked Anatevka’.
3. In revealing her attitude on the conflict in the Middle East, Solomon says, ‘[T]he image of Jewish powerlessness represented – even celebrated – in Fiddler was turned on its head only three years after the musical’s debut, when Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and other territories’ (Solomon 2004). 4. In this speech, Brooks said, in part, ‘Behind me [ …] you see a phalanx, an avalanche, of Jews who have come with their talent, their money, but most of all their spirit and their love for the theater [ …] And that’s what brings us all together tonight. We all love this thing called theater’ (Tallmer 2001).
Nor is the middle-class Jewish theatre audience that Mel Brooks patiently mocks in The Producers the Jewish community that Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty describe in the 1998 musical adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime: penniless immigrants, oppressed by capitalism and in need of liberation by the likes of Emma Goldman. ‘The grandchildren of Tevye’, comments Solomon, ‘no longer dream of becoming rich men (and women) in “a big tall house with rooms by the dozen”. In vast numbers, they’re there’ (Solomon 2004). Worse yet, Solomon makes compelling arguments that Fiddler is an ersatz experience in cultural Judaism. Rather than focus on the real problems of the Jews of czarist Russia, Fiddler becomes an anthem to the American dream, and takes on strongly historically progressive overtones.
Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age
5. A virtually identical article, ‘Shtetl Shtick’, by the New Republic’s Ruth Franklin, would appear in The New York Times of Sunday, 29 February 2004. Franklin adds to Solomon’s criticism the idea that Aleichem was a bourgeois stockbroker from Kiev, himself perhaps guilty of trying to invent a Jewish milieu that had already begun to disappear when he wrote his stories.
[Fiddler] succeeded, writes the Yiddish literary scholar Seth Wolitz, because it was able to ‘fill the needs of Jewish cultural adaptation’. Imposing enormous changes on the plot and tone of the Sholem Aleichem stories on which it was based, Fiddler made what Wolitz calls ‘a gigantic substitution’: American ideals of individual rights, progress, and freedom of association were presented as also Jewish – except that in Anatevka they were thwarted by oppression. In the golden land of America [ … ] these Jewish values would at last find full expression.
In contrast to the tragedy, dark comedy and pathos of the original Aleichem stories, Fiddler would seem to offer a mere shadow of the true oppression the residents of any real Anatevka would have faced. Solomon compares the Anatevka of book-writer Stein, lyricist Harnick and composer Bock to Brigadoon, Lerner and Loewe’s mythical, Disneyfied Scottish city, the setting of the musical play of the same name. So Fiddler might be seen as a Yiddishkeit experience of dubious value, to be avoided at all costs by anyone with a serious concern with Jewish culture. ‘Many more American Jews’, says Solomon, ‘know the words to Fiddler’s curtain-raiser, “Tradition”, than know the prayers and practices that once constituted that tradition’ (Solomon 2004). In the 1980s, comedian Bill Cosby offered America an African American grandfather image which America accepted. In a similar vein, Fiddler ‘offered everybody [ … ] the zeyde (grandfather) they’d like to think they would have had’ (Jeffrey Shandler quoted in Solomon 2004). In the end, like the musical itself, Solomon remains hopeful: ‘I like to think’, says Solomon in conclusion, ‘that the nostalgia Fiddler stirs up today is more salutary – speaking to Jewish yearning for the more liberal and expansive ethos that once defined us. [ …] I, for one, fully expect to [sing along at the upcoming revival]. And to have a good cry’ (Solomon 2004). One would imagine that Solomon’s tears would be both tears mourning the loss of a culture, as well as tears celebrating Jewish survival.5
In considering both Solomon’s counter-argument against and the argument in favour of Fiddler on the Roof, one must consider the musical play in terms of both its theatrical and literary roots. Let us first, then, deal with Fiddler as a piece of theatre. Specifically, let us deal with Fiddler as a piece of theatre that is of primary importance to American Jews. In the early part of the twentieth century in America, gentile Americans came to find themselves in greater day-to-day contact with Jewish immigrants and their children. This created the need to deal with a new reality, a reality which no one had had to face in the ‘old countries’ of Europe – the novelty and import of the American Jew as fully-functioning citizen. Thus there would be an inevitable transition in theatre of the portrayal of the stock Jewish character from sinister caricature to something less threatening. In discussing the transition between the portrayal of the Jews as a ‘sheeny villain’ (Erdman 1997: 37) to something more in keeping with this newly found place in the world, Harley Erdman creates a construct based in popular song lyric. ‘“For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”’, writes
Charles Eliot Mehler
Erdman, ‘usefully serves [as] a symbolic cultural test that Jewish men – that is, Jewish male characters – had to pass as they tried to perform as themselves as Americans in this moment of transition’ (Erdman 1997: 64). Erdman examines each critical word in the lyric – ‘jolly’, ‘good’, and ‘fellow’ – and determines that these words served as a sort of litmus test for the Jew in the process of assimilating into American life (Erdman 1997: 64–5). This Jew, particularly the male Jew, had to be affable, of high moral standing, and ready to take on the responsibilities of citizenship. And so it is with the Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof. Like Solomon’s zeyde reference, the Tevye that book-writer Stein creates is at once a friend, a spiritual advisor, and someone we would trust as a judge in a courtroom. This ‘jolly good fellow’ Tevye would prove to be a metaphor for the upwardly-mobile Jewish community of mid-twentieth-century America that came to know Stein, Harnick and Bock’s Tevye in over 3000 performances on Broadway. The importance of this identification to the World War II generation cannot be overstated. As mentioned earlier, Fiddler on the Roof is based on the ‘Tevye’ stories of Yiddish-language author Sholem Aleichem. In a lecture at Syracuse University in 1979, Ruth Wisse summed up Aleichem’s important place in the annals of Yiddish folk literature.
One of [Aleichem’s] admirers, the Hebrew writer, Y. Ch. Brenner, said that Sholem Aleichem was not a folk writer, nor even the folk writer; he had transcended all literary genres to become ‘the living essence of the folk itself ’. A generation later, the Soviet Yiddish critic, I. Dobrushin, wrote with much the same enthusiasm that Sholem Aleichem’s works were actually ‘life itself; his works transgress the boundaries separating literature from life’.
(Wisse 1979: 1)
Wisse continues by discussing Aleichem’s gift for keeping his characters, here specifically Tevye, in a state of mystery while the audience, aware of what Tevye will face, remains compelled by the force of the narrative, using what Wisse calls the ‘literary sport of recognition’ (Wisse 1979: 4). Most importantly, Wisse points out the significance of Tevye and his communication with his daughters. This would become the basis of the dramatic conflict when Aleichem’s stories were adapted to the musical stage by Stein, Bock and Harnick.
With Tsaytl, the eldest daughter, Tevye engages in full-bodied discussions of their differences. [ … ] At first Tevye tries to impose his own traditional Jewish ideals of status, but when he gives way, he argues himself down in the very same words that the young couple has used against him. [ … ] The fact that Tevye has no semantic difficulty in understanding this daughter is a sign of their relative cultural proximity. But with Hodl, the second daughter, the cultural distance grows. From Tevye’s first encounter with Feferl, the revolutionary on the road, to the final leave-taking from Hodl when she goes off to join her husband in Siberian exile, there is a gap of understanding that no amount of affection can bridge. [ … ] The pathos increases in ratio to the threat that each daughter poses. With the third daughter, Chava, all
Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age
6. For lack of a better translation, one might describe the shlamazzle as a ‘goofball’. One might look to Art Carney’s ‘Ed Norton’ character from the Honeymooners television show for an appropriate modern, goyischer comparison. 7. See footnote 5.
communication is severed. Chava’s decision to marry a non-Jew necessitates her conversion to Christianity. At this point, the very act of speaking to his daughter would imply a measure of acceptance that would undermine Tevye’s essential being.
(Wisse 1979: 11–13)
It is in these stories of Tevye and his daughters that we find the organic link between Fiddler and the great Aleichem. Stein’s book for Fiddler avoids much of the racier, more blatantly worldly detail of Aleichem’s original, such as discussions of matters of sexuality and Tevye’s near-constant desire to be plied with alcohol by his social superiors. In fact, Solomon is correct when she argues that Stein’s Tevye is substantially more heroic, less of, in Aleichem’s words, a shlamazzle6 than Aleichem’s original creation. Nevertheless, it is this choice on Stein’s part to focus on the loss of Tevye’s daughters from the Jewish tradition to the modern, secular world that makes Fiddler as effective as it is. Wisse would seem to agree that this need for Jewish cultural continuity was as important to Aleichem himself as it was to either the lackadaisical Tevye of his original stories or the heroic Tevye of Stein’s libretto. In describing the end of Aleichem’s life and his posthumous wishes, Wisse writes:
While allowing his children whatever religious convictions they may or may not [have held], he [bid] them remain Jews. ‘Those of my children who cut themselves free from their roots and cross over to another faith have thereby severed themselves from their roots and from their family, and erased themselves from my will, and they shall have no share or portion among their brothers’.
(Wisse 1979: 27)
Thus, there exists a clear comparison between Stein’s Tevye and Aleichem himself. As Tevye in Fiddler walks offstage with his milk-buggy and all his worldly possessions, he is bound for America, hopeful for his new life, yet unwilling to compromise his roots. As Aleichem walks off into eternity, encumbered only by his literary legacy, he is bound for his reward, hopeful that he has done well in the world, but unwilling to deal with those of his progeny who choose to reject their roots.
In his text that reproduces and comments upon critics’ reviews of original Broadway productions (see Walter Kerr’s ‘Father Complaint’ review supra), Suskin provides a ‘scorecard’ for each play mentioned. In Suskin’s ‘scorecard’, the original 1964 Fiddler received two ‘rave’ reviews and four ‘favorable’ ones (Suskin 1990: 210). Let us create a more rigorous scorecard for the now older, presumably wiser Fiddler. First, let us consider Fiddler as ‘shtetl shtick’.7 Not only does the play perhaps pay more homage to its musical theatre roots than to its part in the promotion of Yiddishkeit culture, it plays more to a sense of American progressiveness than to the real feelings and yearnings of those who would be victims of czarist pogroms. Next, let us consider Fiddler as the last vestige of the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. As critics Grant and Kislan argue, Fiddler was perhaps
Charles Eliot Mehler
the zenith of the Gesamtkuntzwerk style of musical theatre, as fostered by Oscar Hammerstein II and his disciples. Being in love with the musical theatre reminds one of the lyric from Kern and Hammerstein’s Showboat (1927): ‘Tell me he’s lazy – / tell me he’s slow – / Tell me I’m crazy – / maybe I know’ (Hammerstein: 23). One can love Fiddler on the Roof and still accept its faults, especially those of the intellectual variety. Fiddler is not the perfect reflection of Aleichem’s original intent. Yet it stands on its own to promote Aleichem’s primary purpose – the continuation of a great and glorious culture. We can perhaps look at a play like Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and accept the idea that Stella Kowalski capitulates to Stanley’s crudeness and violence as a vestige of a long-past time. Both in terms of mid-twentieth-century Jewish-American culture and the cultural revolution that would follow, we might consider extending the same privilege to Fiddler on the Roof. Works cited
Barnes, C. (1976), ‘Celebrating Return of Fiddler’, The New York Times, 30 December. Brantley, B. (2004), ‘A Cozy Little McShtetl’, The New York Times, 27 February. Erdman, H. (1997), Staging the Jew: The Performance of an American Ethnicity, 1860–192, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. Franklin, R. (2004), ‘Shtetl Shtick’, The New York Times, 29 February. Grant, M. N. (2004), The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical, Boston: Northeastern University Press. Gussow, M. (1990), ‘Fiddler Returns with a Heritage of its Own’, The New York Times, 19 November. Hammerstein II, O. and Kern, J. (n.d.), ‘“Showboat”: a Musical Play in Two Acts’, London: Chappell & Co. Ltd. Kislan, R. (1995), The Musical: A Look at the American Musical Theatre, New York: Applause Books. Shepard, R. (1981), ‘Stage: “Fiddler on the Roof ”’, The New York Times, 10 July. Solomon, A. (2004), ‘Fiddling with Fiddler: Can the Broadway Revival of Everyone’s Favorite Jewish Musical Ignore Today’s Radically Different Cultural Context?’, Village Voice, 13 January, www.villagevoice.com/issues/0403/solomon.php. Accessed 16 April 2008. Suskin, S. (1990), Opening Night on Broadway, New York: Schirmer Books. Tallmer, J. (2001), ‘Springtime for the Six Million at the Tony Awards’, New York Theatre Wire, http://www.nytheatre-wire.com/jt01061t.htm. Accessed 16 April 2008. Wisse, R. (1979), Sholem Aleichem and the Art of Communication, [B.G. Rudolph Lectures in Judaic Studies ], Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University.
Mehler, C. E. (2008), ‘Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age’, Studies in Musical Theatre 2: 1, pp. 51–60, doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.51/1
Charles Eliot Mehler is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Theatre at Louisiana State University. Mehler’s previous publications include the articles ‘Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars’ (2005), ‘Mamet, Homosexuality, and Chicago
Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age
Politics’ (2004), and a review of Jessica Sternfeld’s The Megamusical for Studies in Musical Theatre (2007). As a playwright, Mehler has written a musical adaptation of Shaw’s Major Barbara entitled Wealth, and How Not to Avoid It (2004) and the original musical Poster Children (1992), as well as the non-musical play Flip-Flop (2004). As a lyricist, Mehler has contributed to Hard Road (2002) and Downtown (2007). As a translator, Mehler has written verse translations of Molière’s Critique of the School for Wives and Impromptu at Versailles (both 2006) and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu roi (2005). In addition, Mehler holds degrees in mathematics and teaches it to gifted children online.
Charles Eliot Mehler
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.61/1
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Anastasia Belina University of Leeds Abstract
Sergei Taneyev (1856–1915) was a Muscovite, a piano virtuoso, music theorist, composer, and pedagogue. He was a pupil and later a close friend of Tchaikovsky, and a teacher of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner, Glier and Gretchaninov, among a host of other Russian composers. Taneyev was also known for his passionate interest in Greek antiquity, in the early music of the Netherlands, and in counterpoint. The choice for the subject of his one and only opera Oresteia (1894),1 based on the eponymous tragedy by Aeschylus, perplexed its critics and audiences.2 While Aeschylus made a number of changes in his The Oresteia that challenged the established perception of its characters, Taneyev’s changes and additions were necessary in order to combat his listeners’ lack of familiarity with the tragedy and its storyline. This article concentrates on Taneyev’s treatment of women’s roles and explores the ways in which Taneyev’s Clytemnestra and Cassandra are similar to, and different from their counterparts in the original source. The important changes and additions made by Taneyev are analysed and set in the context of the nineteenth-century Russian operatic scene.
Taneyev Oresteia Aeschylus Clytemnestra Cassandra
Taneyev’s Oresteia, based on the eponymous tragedy of Aeschylus (525/4–456/5 BC), was composed between 1882 and 1894. It sharply contrasted with the operas that appeared during this twelve-year period: Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa (1884), Charodeika [Enchantress] (1887), Pikovaya Dama [Queen of Spades] (1890), Iolanta (1892); Mussorgsky’s Khovanschina in Rimsky-Korsakov’s edition (1886); Borodin’s Prince Igor (1890); RimskyKorsakov’s Mlada (1891), Snegurochka, Noch pered Rozhdestvom [Christmas Eve] (1895); and Rachmaninov’s Aleko (1893). Apart from Iolanta, all these works were inspired by Pushkin’s dramas, Russian fairytales or history. When viewed in the context of other Russian operatic works composed at the end of the nineteenth century, Taneyev’s Oresteia is thus something of an anomaly – a forgotten, under-performed work that baffled both critics and audiences. According to Tchaikovsky, only ‘real, living people, feeling in the same way as I do’ were able to appeal to audiences (Zhdanov 1951: 169).3 Accordingly, Tchaikovsky told Taneyev: ‘I would not have chosen such a subject as yours, with terrible atrocities, with the Eumenides and Fate as characters’ (Zhdanov 1951: 169). But while Tchaikovsky indeed chose subjects with ‘real, living’ characters, Aeschylus’ The Oresteia was a natural choice for Taneyev, who had become interested in ancient Greek history and literature at a young age. His
SMT 2 (1) pp. 61–81 © Intellect Ltd 2008 1. The title of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia appears in Russian as Oresteia, because the definite article does not exist in Russian. This article will therefore refer to Taneyev’s opera as Oresteia, and the original work of Aeschylus as The Oresteia. 2. For a detailed discussion of antiquity in Russian literature, music and art, see Korabelnikova 1986: 101–109, and Korabelnikova 1979: 83–92. 3. All translations from Russian sources belong to the present author, unless stated otherwise.
4. Taneyev’s choice also reflected the stance of Russian revolutionarydemocratic criticism of the last decades of the nineteenth century, which ‘discovered in Ancient Greece characteristics of ideal social order’ (Korabelnikova 1979: 100). One of the most important characteristics of this kind of order was the right of every citizen to appeal to and take part in civil court.
father’s passion for Greek tragedy ignited Taneyev’s own interest in various aspects of ancient history that became his lifetime pursuit. When he found a Russian translation of The Oresteia in 1882 in a bookstore, he thought that the second part, The Libation Bearers, would make a good subject for an opera, and began composing (Korabelnikova 1985: 175). The myth of The Oresteia appealed to Taneyev because it gave him an opportunity to graft his own beliefs onto Aeschylus’ story.4 The final scene of Oresteia shows Taneyev’s attempt to promote forgiveness and equality: Taneyev’s Athena pardons Orestes because his suffering and repentance earned him freedom from guilt, and the closing chorus concerns ‘love of man for man’ and ‘pity’. Aeschylus’ Athena pardons Orestes because she is biased in favour of the male:
In everything I’m for the male with all my heart (except I would not marry one); I am the true child of my father Zeus. And so I will not give a greater status to a woman’s death who killed the man, the guardian of the house.
(Aeschylus 1995: 740)
Taneyev himself had no prejudice against gender: he treated both sexes equally, with his usual politeness, and he did not leave any evidence that might have pointed to the contrary. Among his closest friends were three sisters: Anna, Sophia and Varvara Maslov, as well as their two brothers, and during his last year as the Director of the Moscow Conservatory he helped appoint a woman, Alexandra Ivanovna Hubert, to the post of the inspector. He even had to convince her when she voiced her doubts and mentioned that it would be strange for a woman to hold such a post. Taneyev wrote to Tchaikovsky:
Apropos Alexandra Ivanovna’s argument that it would be strange to appoint a woman to this post, I say that in the past it might have been indeed strange, but not now, when there are women doctors, academics, professors, and so on.
(Zhdanov 1951: 161)
Taneyev made sure that Hubert would have strong supporters in the conservatory, and enlisted Tchaikovsky’s help in convincing Alexandra Ivanovna to accept the post, to which she finally agreed.
After the premiere
After Oresteia’s premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1895, the critics decided that Taneyev’s work enjoyed some close relation to that of Aeschylus: ‘[Aeschylus] wrote in dead language, and [Taneyev] wrote a dead opera’ (Anon. 1895b). One critic concluded that there was no reason in ‘bringing back the dead in order to put to sleep those who are still living’ (Anon. 1895a). Many reviewers agreed that Taneyev’s musical language was plain and unmemorable, with the exception of the choral scenes, which they found melodically rich and interesting. But many of these reviewers were not prominent or even professional musicians, and while they found the music of Oresteia lacking in memorable melodies, many of Taneyev’s colleagues had different opinions. Thus, RimskyKorsakov wrote after hearing Taneyev play the opera on the piano at his
house in St Petersburg that he ‘astonished us all with pages of extraordinary beauty and expressiveness’ (Rimsky-Korsakov 1935: 323). Tchaikovsky, although he did not approve of the subject for Taneyev’s Oresteia, nevertheless admired the work so much that in 1893 he convinced the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg to produce it at the Mariinsky Theatre (Zhdanov 1951: 188). A music critic and composer, Herman Larosh, a friend and colleague of both Tchaikovsky and Taneyev, wrote that the music of Oresteia was ‘noble, delicate, rich in beautiful melodies’, and that it suited very well ‘the character of his chosen story and reflects all its nuances with wonderful truthfulness and warmth’ (Larosh 1974–78: 345). Thus, many members of the professional community were far from believing that Taneyev’s opera lacked in musical invention and interest. Aeschylus created his trilogy for an audience that knew several versions of the myth, but he introduced a number of important changes and innovations in his own version. Michael Ewans discusses these changes in detail, listing among the most important a move away from Homer’s ‘alltoo-feminine Clytemnestra’, who was ‘chaste and at first unwilling’, and who was seduced by Aegysthus into helping him kill Agamemnon, to a ‘strong, masculine-inspired Clytemnestra who does the murder herself ’ (Ewans in Aeschylus 1995: xxviii–xxix).5 Greek history and Greek and Latin were among the obligatory subjects in nineteenth-century Russian universities, and many translations of philosophical and literary works from Greek appeared in various academic journals and publications of the time. However, none were of considerable merit, and many were of poor quality. I. F. Annensky published the first important translation of Greek tragedy, Euripides’ The Bacchae in 1894, the year in which Taneyev completed his Oresteia. The works of Aeschylus were not well known, and only one Russian translation of The Oresteia existed when Taneyev began his work on the opera (Aeschylus 1864). Taneyev’s listeners were much less acquainted with the tragedy, and some of his changes were necessitated by this lack of familiarity with the story. For example, while Aeschylus does not refer to Clytemnestra’s intent to kill Agamemnon until after his return (Aeschylus 1995: 34), Taneyev’s audience learned of her decision before Agamemnon came back. Aeschylus’ Aegysthus enters the stage after Agamemnon’s death, but Taneyev’s Aegysthus appears before Agamemnon’s arrival. Aegysthus’ early entry in the opera allowed Taneyev to develop his role, by giving Aegysthus a monologue in which he disclosed another part of the history of the house of Atreus – Thyestes’ feast.6 Taneyev’s Clytemnestra tells the audience about the sacrificial murder of her daughter Iphigenia, while in the original tragedy, the event is recounted by the Elders. This article aims to explore the ways in which the female roles of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia compare and relate to their counterparts in Aeschylus’ version, and attempts to show how these women fit into the general context of the nineteenth-century Russian opera. Musical analysis here will be contextual and descriptive, to illustrate how the music supported and enhanced the portrayal of these two characters. Taneyev’s Oresteia is a three-act opera and the acts are named according to the corresponding parts of Aeschylus’ tragedy: Agamemnon, The
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
5. The translation by Michael Ewans has been used throughout this article. It was found to be most appropriate because it attempted to make the tragedy more accessible and suitable for the modern stage, and it is also one of the most recent translations in existence (see Ewans in Aeschylus 1995: xv). 6. Agamemnon’s father, Atreus, killed his own nephews, and fed their flesh to their father, and his brother, Thyestes.
7. Foley lists further sources on discussion of female-male conflict in the Oresteia: Zeitlin 1978, Gagarin 1976: 87–110, and Winnington-Ingram 1983: 101–31.
Libation Bearers, and Choephoroe. In addition to the central female roles of Clytemnestra and Cassandra that are discussed here, there are also those of Electra and the goddess Athena, and women, of course, form a part of the chorus.
Clytemnestra in Agamemnon
Helene Foley described Clytemnestra as ‘the most infamous of Greek stage wives’ (Foley 2001: 201); Edith Hall characterized her as ‘a murderer, an androgyne, a liar, and orator, and executor of a palace coup’ (Hall 2005: 53–4), while Sally MacEwen thought that ‘of all the women in ancient Greek literature, Clytemnestra seems to have been the most interesting (MacEwen 1990: 3). It is fascinating that Clytemnestra is perceived by many as even more infamous than Medea, who committed the graver sin of killing her own children. Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra possesses masculine qualities, and is compared to a strong animal. When she informs the Elders that Agamemnon is coming back victorious, they remark that she speaks ‘graciously and wisely, like a man’ (Aeschylus 1995: 12), and Cassandra calls Clytemnestra a ‘doublefooted lioness’ (Aeschylus 1995: 38). Foley wrote that ‘The Oresteia evolves dramatically as a male-female conflict and tensions between the genders are explicit throughout’, and that the tragedy ‘offers the climactic female challenge to a masculine system of justice, language, and ethics’ (Foley 2001: 203).7 Clytemnestra tore apart the moral fabric of civilization by delivering revenge on Agamemnon. She thus took on a male role, further insulting the patriarchal system by replacing Agamemnon as ruler of Argos (MacEwen 1990: 29). After Agamemnon’s murder, Clytemnestra comes out to the Elders to explain that she killed him because ‘He took my own child [that] I brought up, my much-lamented Iphigenia, and for what he did unjustly to her he now suffers justice’ (Aeschylus 1995: 46). The Elders ignore her statement, and their reply shows that a wife who kills her husband was perceived as committing a greater crime than a father who butchers his innocent daughter: ‘Who will lament him? Who will bury him?’ (Aeschylus 1995: 47). Clytemnestra tells the Elders that she will bury Agamemnon herself, and that Iphigenia will ‘embrace and kiss her father lovingly’ when he crosses ‘the swiftly flowing stream of tears’ (Aeschylus 1995: 47). Perhaps Aeschylus shows Clytemnestra’s caring side here: she does not want to destroy the relationship between father and daughter in the afterlife, despite Agamemnon having robbed Iphigenia of her life in this world so mercilessly. But Clytemnestra does not regret the murder and she stands by her decision. Aeschylus deemed Agamemnon’s choice ‘impious and unholy and impure’, and his thoughts ‘reckless’. His verdict on Agamemnon’s deed read: ‘shameful are the counsels of that wretched mania which gives men courage to embark upon a chain of miseries’ (Aeschylus 1995: 220). Here, Aeschylus clearly tells his audience that Agamemnon’s choice was wrong, and that it brought a curse and further tragedies on the house of Atreus. While Aeschylus shows the process of Iphigenia’s sacrifice and her father’s moral
dilemma, Clytemnestra does not deliberate: she acts. The question of choice between avenging her daughter and killing her husband does not come into the equation, and her conviction and drive for revenge are unshakable. Aeschylus counted on his audience’s previous knowledge of the tragedy. Agamemnon’s imminent murder would be in the minds of the spectators, and thus Clytemnestra’s chaste words about her faithfulness would intensify the feeling of duality and deceit. Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra is openly audacious. She sends a messenger to Agamemnon to tell him that when he comes back;
he will find a faithful wife just as he left her, watchdog of the house, loyal to him, an enemy to those who wish him harm, and as she was in every way; through all this time she’s broken not one seal. Of pleasure from another man, or rumoured scandal, I know less than how to temper bronze. Such is my boast; brimful of truth and one a noble woman may proclaim without disgrace.
(Aeschylus 1995: 19)
In fact, she openly challenges those around her, but they do not pick up the gauntlet that she throws to them. It shows the respect and, perhaps, the fear that she commands over the people. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra enters the stage as a faithful wife, rejoicing at the thought of seeing her husband again. The news of the king’s return has reached Argos, and the slaves are carrying the corpses of sacrificed animals, flowers, incense, and singing ‘Glory to Zeus’. Clytemnestra enters with the words ‘Oh powerful, mighty god, Zeus the protector of wedlock, the judge of the sinful, accept our gifts of gratitude’, which are nothing more than hypocrisy - she has not been faithful to her husband, and she will soon kill him (Taneyev 1900: 23–24). The gratitude she expresses to Zeus is for bringing Agamemnon back alive, so that she can have the pleasure of killing him herself. Thus, her words are charged with a hidden meaning, but outwardly she still appears as a wife who is ready to greet her husband after a ten-year absence. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra tells the people about the imminent return of Agamemnon, and they rejoice at this welcome news. Taneyev removed even the slightest suggestion of the power struggle between her and the Elders (or the people, in the case of this opera), which is present in Aeschylus (1995: 10–12). This Clytemnestra is an authority whose words are accepted without doubt; she is the queen, the woman who looked after her people during her husband’s absence and in whom they trust.
Clytemnestra and her men
Taneyev used music as a descriptive tool that shows Clytemnestra as a loving woman in one case, and a hating, vengeful wife in another. Two examples will be discussed here, in both of which Clytemnestra greets her men on stage, and in both cases these are their first entries. To Aegysthus she sings: ‘Oh my Aegysthus, my love, the dawn of our bliss is rising’ (see Figure 1).
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Figure 1: Clytemnestra’s greeting to Aegysthus. Act 1, scene 4.8
8. All musical examples in this article are taken from Taneyev 1900.
Clytemnestra’s musical characterization here is lavish and sensuous; her vocal line is accompanied by the entire violin and woodwind sections, which help illustrate her loving words to Aegysthus, and show the audience her caring side. Clytemnestra’s greeting to Agamemnon is strikingly different: it is sparsely accompanied by a single chord progression in the strings unison (see Figure 2). While Clytemnestra’s vocal line is measured and calm, the chords that accompany her line are unevenly placed, as if reflecting her nervous anticipation of Agamemnon’s execution. Faking her happiness at seeing Agamemnon, Clytemnestra proceeds to lead him inside the palace, inviting him to walk on the rich red fabric. Her vocal line becomes recitative-like, accompanied only by the string’s tremolando. When the king begins his entrance to the palace, Clytemnestra quietly sings: ‘Let this path, red as
Figure 2: Clytemnestra’s greeting to Agamemnon. Act 1, scene 7.
blood, be the last path you take’ (Taneyev 1900: 95). Even without her words, the funeral-like, sinister music would be enough to show that Agamemnon is embarking on his last walk (see Figure 3). When Clytemnestra announces Agamemnon’s death to the people, she appears joyous, victorious and satisfied. She recounts exactly how she killed Agamemnon, and how his blood ‘sprinkled her as if it were heavenly dew’ (Taneyev 1900: 129–130). The process of Clytemnestra’s talking and thinking about murder is different in Aeschylus’ tragedy. There she talks about it in great length and detail, describing every blow she delivered to her husband’s body, and even derives sexual pleasure from the act of murder. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra, although overjoyed at exacting revenge for her murdered daughter, treats Agamemnon’s own murder strictly as a necessity, and any satisfaction she receives originates from an accomplished deed, rather than the process of killing itself. The sexual element is completely absent not only from this aspect of Clytemnestra’s characterization, but from the whole opera as well, no doubt because of the outwardly conservative morality of nineteenth-century Russia, the standards of the censor, and Taneyev’s own views of propriety.
Clytemnestra and Cassandra
When Agamemnon instructs his wife to welcome his mistress, Cassandra, Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra appears kind to her, trying to make her feel better about entering their house as a slave. When Cassandra does not reply to Clytemnestra’s greeting, she wonders if Cassandra does not speak their language, and remarks: ‘I’ll reach inside her mind and win her over with my words’ (Aeschylus 1995: 32). Taneyev’s Clytemnestra is not gentle with Cassandra. Right from the start, she lets the young woman know where she stands: ‘Get down from the chariot. Do not be proud. A slave has no right to be proud’ (Teneyev 1900: 96–97). When Cassandra responds only with silence, Clytemnestra does not disguise her direct threat: ‘You do not want to obey? You are annoyed that you arrived here as a captive, as a slave. Give me time. I will teach you obedience’ (Taneyev 1900: 96–7). Taneyev clearly wanted to make his Clytemnestra more assertive and more ruthless with Cassandra. His Clytemnestra does not feel any natural
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Figure 3: Agamemnon’s last walk. Act 1, scene 7.
warmth or affection for her husband’s mistress, and she does not waste time on trying to calm her down and make her feel welcome. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra almost openly disobeys Agamemnon and demonstrates that she will not do what she is told.
Clytemnestra in The Libation Bearers
It is inconceivable to think of Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra as weak and frightened. She does not regret killing her husband and she displays no remorse. She begins to have terrifying and ‘roving horrors’ after killing Agamemnon, and dreams of giving birth to a snake that bites her breast (Aeschylus 1995: 70). She screams in terror when she wakes up, but she does not repent. Taneyev attempted to develop this aspect of Clytemnestra’s character in a way that was typical of nineteenth-century Russian opera. He opened the second act of the opera, The Libation Bearers, with a scene that is absent in Aeschylus. Here Taneyev shows Clytemnestra as a vulnerable and frightened woman. Her opening words, ‘Oh, I am a hapless sinner, and my soul’s peace is gone forever!’, show her suffering after the murder (Taneyev 1900: 174). She appears dishevelled, and her face is pale – in contrast to her composed and confident self in the first act. Clytemnestra is afraid to sleep in her bedroom, where everything reminds her of Agamemnon, and where his phantom visits her every night. She is tormented not only by his spectre, but also by her guilt, and she asks Morpheus to grant her peaceful rest. She falls asleep, but soon Agamemnon’s ghost returns again, prophesying her imminent death at the hand of their son Orestes. By dramatizing Clytemnestra’s dream, Taneyev introduces a psychological element, which relates his Oresteia with a number of its Russian contemporaries. A good example is Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, where the sinful tsar is tormented by the spectre of his nephew, whom he killed in order to inherit the throne and whose bloody apparition eventually drives him to madness. Another is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada of 1891, in which Voyslava is tormented with guilt after killing Mlada. The character of Salieri, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Motsart i Sal’yeri [Mozart and Salieri] of 1897, also experiences emotional anguish after poisoning Mozart. In narrating Clytemnestra’s dream, Aeschylus employed symbolism to foretell the return of her son who would kill her – in the aforementioned dream in which the snake bites the queen’s breast. But Clytemnestra chooses to ignore this powerful image and only when Orestes decides to kill her does she understand the meaning of the dream. In the opera, Taneyev is very direct with his delivery of the prophecy that makes Clytemnestra’s situation more difficult – she has to live under the threat of death at the hand of her own son. Clytemnestra’s last appearance on stage occurs at the end of The Libation Bearers. She greets a wanderer who brings her the news of Orestes’ death. When Clytemnestra replies to the sad news, which should plunge her, as a mother, into despair, her vocal line is even and measured, displaying none of the emotion that is expected in such a case. Her stage directions read ‘with false sadness’, and the music shows a complete absence of grief (Taneyev 1900: 231). In fact, the hurried demisemiquavers in the orchestra demonstrate her nervous excitement (see Figure 4).
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Figure 4: Clytemnestra’s false grief. Act 2, scene 19.
Clytemnestra pretends to be distraught, but sings to herself: ‘This is good news – I will find peace again’ (Taneyev 1900: 231). Her words show that nothing has changed in her emotional state since her last appearance. In fact, when she learns of Orestes’ death, she is trying very hard to suppress her relief, for now she thinks that she can at last live without fear for her life. Clytemnestra’s words show that it was not remorse that she felt in the bedroom scene, but fear and terror about Agamemnon’s prophecy coming true. The scene of Clytemnestra’s confrontation with Orestes changes everything. She finds out that the wanderer is her son, and that he has already killed Aegysthus. Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra is almost certain that she will die: ‘Now we die by treachery, just as we killed’ (Aeschylus 1995: 82). But she still does not give up, she says, ‘Let’s see if we are finished, or still have
a chance’ (Aeschylus 1995: 82). When Orestes decides to kill her, she says that her Furies will pursue him. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra plunges into turmoil at the news of Aegysthus’ death, but it is shown only in the orchestra: her stage directions read ‘she stands still, struck by terror’ (Taneyev 1900: 236). However, her terror lasts for a very short time and she very quickly regains her composure. She is determined to fight for her life and when Orestes appears before her she attempts to stop him by reminding him that she is his mother, that she gave birth to him, she nursed him, and most of all, that it was not she who killed Agamemnon, but fate guiding her hand. At first, she merely gives Orestes reasons why he should spare her life. But gradually, when she sees that her son is not swayed by her words, she pleads for her life. When Clytemnestra realizes that all is lost, she curses her son and tells him that her Erinias, or the spirits of retribution, will haunt him forever. Clytemnestra’s characterization in these last scenes is the most varied she appears as a welcoming host, a falsely grieving mother, a resolute fighter, a woman desperate for survival, and lastly as an angry female who has lost everything she loved, and will soon lose her life. Clytemnestra meets her death with a curse and resentment, having exhausted all possible ways of avoiding it. The musical language of these last scenes is as varied as Clytemnestra’s emotional states. The following examples demonstrate Clytemnestra’s entreaties to her son, where at first she asks him if he would indeed raise his sword at his mother, then reminds him of their mother and son bond. The accompaniment’s rocking motion, lullaby-like, alludes to her words ‘I carried you under my heart’ (see Figure 5). Figure 6 shows her cursing Orestes. Interestingly, when Clytemnestra tells her son that fate guided her hand during Agamemnon’s murder, her words appear incongruous with what the audience has learned about her character previously. These words are just an excuse, one of her tools in the arsenal with which she tries, unsuccessfully, to save her own life. Agamemnon and Orestes were ordained by the gods to sacrifice Iphigenia’s life and kill Clytemnestra, and even Cassandra, whose scene will be discussed next, was led to her death by Apollo. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra, therefore, appears to be the freest character in the opera, of either sex. She was not ordered by a god to kill Agamemnon: his execution was thought up and executed by her, guided only by her own free will. Perhaps this is the reason why Taneyev chose to concentrate on the consequences of her deed and show her suffering after the murder. It remains to mention that Clytemnestra was perhaps not such a shocking character for Russian morals of the late nineteenth century. Natalia Pushkareva tells a story of Vera Zasulich, one of Russia’s ‘New Women’, who educated themselves through the works of Western socialists and Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s 1862 novel What Is to Be Done, in which the author ‘pointed the way to “action and freedom” and how they could be achieved’ (Pushkareva 1997: 204). ‘On January 24, 1878, [ …] Zasulich shot and fatally wounded Fedor Trepov, the governor of St Petersburg. He had ordered the use of corporal punishment on a political prisoner’ (Pushkareva 1997: 206). When Zasulich was tried, the jury acquitted her, despite there being no doubt about her guilt. In fact, the jury found her
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Figure 5: Clytemnestra pleading Orestes. Act 2, scene 21.
actions fully justified. This incident prompted a large number of similar assassination attempts, and in the 1880s over eighty women were put on trial. It is perhaps not too difficult to imagine Clytemnestra as one of the ‘New Women’, fighting for freedom – physical, emotional, and political.
Cassandra arrives in Argos at the most inopportune time and in the least favourable situation. Agamemnon has brought her as his mistress, and calmly asks Clytemnestra to welcome her, only fuelling his wife’s already raging hatred. Cassandra has received a gift of prophecy from Apollo, and thus her character combines divine and human elements. She is shown as both a seer and a human being; a young woman who is frightened of
Figure 6: Clytemnestra curses Orestes. Act 2, scene 21.
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
9. Taneyev used leading motifs (often termed leitmotifs by scholars) to identify the characters, their emotional states, and abstract ideas, such as fate, retribution and justice.
dying alone in a foreign country. Her role is confined to one scene only, but it is an important scene, which not only explains the past tragedies of the house of Atreus, but also foretells the key events of the future.
Cassandra as a prophet
Cassandra’s divine character is inextricably linked to the tragic element in the opera. Cassandra’s scene is structured to correspond with the same scene in Aeschylus’ tragedy, but Taneyev shortened it, compressing all the information into a third of the space devoted to it in the original. In both versions, Cassandra sees the gruesome past and future events right at the beginning, and refers to the palace as ‘a prey for the Furies’, whose ‘tuneless chorus’ she can hear (Taneyev 1900: 100). All her visions are traumatic: the butchered children, Agamemnon’s murder and her own death, and the killing of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes. Aeschylus’ Elders do not believe her prophecies, and the chorus representing the people in Taneyev’s opera realize that Cassandra can see the sinister past of the house of Atreus, but they are too terrified to act upon her predictions for the future. Their inability to take action deepens the sense of tragedy, particularly for those who know that her prophecies will come true. When Taneyev’s Clytemnestra asks Cassandra to step down from the chariot, she does not reply, but the orchestra responds with a plaintive, gentle motif in the oboe (see Figure 7). It is associated throughout the scene with Cassandra, and functions as her leading motif.9 When Clytemnestra leaves, Cassandra immediately becomes agitated. When she finally speaks, her first words, ‘Oh, terror! This wretched country!’ (Taneyev 1900: 98–99), begin on A-flat of the second octave above middle C and sound like a piercing shriek. This corresponds well with Aeschylus’ description of her ecstatic speech that is moulded ‘to a melody of dissonant and piercing strain’ (Aeschylus 1995: 35). Cassandra’s vocal line during her prophetic visions in the opera is abundant in high and piercing notes, large leaps and tritone (augmented fourth) intervals. Taneyev made a slight but important change to Cassandra’s words ‘A house that hates the gods’ (Aeschylus 1995: 33) altering them to ‘A house that gods hate’ (Taneyev 1900: 100). The words are more blasphemous, their meaning haunts the house of Atreus to the point where everyone appears forever doomed – there is apparently nothing that can help lift the curse. The defining moment for Cassandra is the vision of Orestes’ arrival, at which point her character begins to transform, for she knows that her own death, and that of Agamemnon, will be avenged. When Cassandra knows that Orestes will expiate the house of its sins, and avenge his father’s murder, she is ready to accept her fate. She breaks her prophetic emblem (her sceptre) and bravely faces death. In Aeschylus’ tragedy,
Figure 7: Cassandra’s leading motif. Act 1, scene 8.
Figure 8: Cassandra foretells the arrival of Orestes. Act 1, scene 8. Cassandra merely throws away her sceptre and the woollen bands around her neck, the symbols of prophecy, but by making her break the sceptre, Taneyev imbues her character with decisiveness and defiance. The tonal stability of this episode (see Figure 8) contrasts with the musically and emotionally unstable opening of the ensuing Arioso (see Figure 9) where Cassandra’s part is diametrically opposed to that of Cassandra, the prophetess.
Cassandra and the human element
Cassandra’s human side is shown in her Arioso that comes as a contrasting lyrical interlude after the dramatic first part of the scene (see Figure 9). But, instead of offering respite from her highly charged emotions, it only strengthens the tension and increases the drama by underlining her poignant situation. Taneyev highlights Cassandra’s uncertainty about her future in the opening section of the Arioso by using tonal ambiguity, which
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Figure 9: Cassandra’s Arioso. Act 1, scene 8.
is created by a progression from a half-diminished seventh chord to the dominant of A minor (see Figure 9, bars 1–5), and by withholding the arrival of the anticipated tonic. In this short number, Cassandra laments her death, which, as she comes to realize, is imminent. She begins to prepare for it with the words ‘The will of Fate cannot be changed, and there is no hope for me’ (Taneyev 1900: 106–107). In the Arioso, Cassandra laments about her pitiable fate and reminisces about her happy past. Aeschylus’ Cassandra remembers her homeland with the words: ‘Skamander, river of my native land – beside your banks I once was nursed and grew unhappy’ (Aeschylus 1995: 35), but in Taneyev’s Oresteia her childhood memories are happy and she treasures them. Cassandra’s reference to her homeland forms the middle part of the
Arioso - the only part of the whole scene written in a major key - which makes references to her past happiness and highlights her plight even more. Undeniably, it also strengthens the drama and gives more weight to Cassandra’s laments about dying alone ‘under the foreign skies’, without being properly mourned by her family (Taneyev 1900: 107). Cassandra concludes her Arioso by reiterating her opening words about fate’s will. She sings again that she will die alone, without family and friends around her. Cassandra’s character is in consonance with a number of female roles in contemporary Russian opera. Her characterization is close to that of Liza from Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dama [Queen of Spades] of 1890, Tatiana in Evgeni Onegin [Eugene Onegin] of 1881, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada of 1891. All these young women find themselves in distressing situations. While Tatiana does not die, she enters a marriage to save her family from poverty; Liza, Mlada and Cassandra all die tragically and undeservedly.
Taneyev’s portrayal of Clytemnestra and Cassandra differs from that of Aeschylus in several aspects. While his Clytemnestra still gets her ‘just deserts’, she is psychologically tormented after the murder, and realizes that her actions will have dire consequences. Taneyev’s interpretation of Clytemnestra’s role added to the established perception of her character. In the drama, as well as in the opera, Clytemnestra is portrayed as a regal, powerful woman, obsessed with the idea of revenge, and her irrevocable conviction and resolution result in tragedy. She is a mother, punishing Agamemnon for his heartless slaughter of their innocent daughter as she pleaded for her life in vain. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra provokes mixed emotions. The sin that she commits is too grave to be ignored, but the motivation behind it is too serious to be discounted. It is difficult not to admire her resolution and strength in carrying out such a horrific and unprecedented act that alienates her from humans and gods alike, and ineluctably leads to her death. For today’s audiences, Agamemnon’s murder is perhaps easier to comprehend: he died because he sacrificed his young daughter to satisfy the whimsical demands of a deity. Today, these reasons appear as nothing more than a cruel, superstitious fancy. Few members of today’s audiences would relate easily to the idea of a wife staying faithful to her husband for ten years, especially after he had murdered their child. His return ten years later with a young mistress would most certainly elicit little empathy from the majority of listeners. Throughout the opera, Clytemnestra appears in various emotional states, despite her attempts to remain outwardly strong. In the bedroom scene, Taneyev showed the change in Clytemnestra’s mental state: she was weakened by the terror that Agamemnon’s visits brought to her, and by having to live with the consequences of her actions. By adding this scene, Taneyev wanted to focus attention on the consequences of Agamemnon’s murder, bringing an element of psychological drama to his opera, a defining element of Russian nineteenth-century opera. The scene also gives the audience another reason to feel sympathy for Clytemnestra and believe in her remorse. Taneyev’s Clytemnestra is a woman who begins to suffer the consequences of her deed, and who knows that what she did will alter her
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Figure A: Sketches of the costumes for Cassandra, Agamemnon, and Aegysthus by F. F. Fedorovsky. Reproduced with the permission of the Moscow State Bakhrushin Theatre Museum.
life forever. She does try to maintain her composure when Orestes appears with a sword in his hand, but, when she realizes that her end is near, she attempts to change his mind by talking to him, reminding him about their blood bond, and even pleading for her life at the end. When everything fails her, Clytemnestra does not think twice about cursing her son forever, throwing doubt onto her earlier expressions of motherly love and affection. Cassandra meets her death very differently from Clytemnestra. After seeing the past and the future of the house of Atreus, she is at first shocked and overwhelmed by her vision of her own destiny. However, she accepts it and meets her death with confidence. Her character evolves from a frightened and helpless prisoner of war, through a tragic prophetess, to a person who is ready to face death in the assurance that it will be avenged. When she walks into the palace, her divine and human elements are fused together, and she becomes a person who tragically sacrifices her life through understanding and acceptance of her fate. Taneyev’s Cassandra is not so different from Aeschylus’, but her human side is much more developed, as is seen in her Arioso. There is no question about which woman invites more sympathy. But although these two women are portrayed very differently, they each evoke their own measure of sympathy from the audience. Clytemnestra finds herself
Figure B: Maria Slavina as the first Clytemnestra in the first production of Oresteia in 1895.
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
isolated and remorseful, and, like Cassandra, she is afraid to die. But while Cassandra dies with confidence, Clytemnestra does so with resentment and curses. Cassandra’s portrayal is reminiscent of a number of female roles in contemporary Russian operas that depict young women in tragic or dramatic situations. Clytemnestra’s rebellious character, while appearing somewhat unorthodox and shockingly blasphemous, is not all that far from the real-life personas of such women as Vera Zasulich and her fellow ‘New Women’. Works cited
Aeschylus (1864), Oresteia (trans. N. Kotelov), St Petersburg: N. Golovin. Aeschylus (1995), Oresteia (trans. M. Ewans), London: Everyman. Anon. (1895a), untitled and unattributed in Peterburgskaya Gazeta, No. 281, 18 October [P. I. Tchaikovsky State House-Museum in Klin, II b, B9, No. 1]. Anon. (1895b), untitled and unattributed in Peterburgskaya Gazeta, No. 283, 20 October [P. I. Tchaikovsky State House-Museum in Klin, II b, B9, No. 1]. Foley, H. (2001), Female Acts in Greek Tragedy, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gagarin, M. (1976), Aeschylean Drama, Berkeley: University of California Press. Hall, E. (2005), ‘Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra versus her Senecan Tradition’, in Macintosh, F., Michelakis, P., Hall, E. and Taplin, O. (eds), Agamemnon in Performance 458 BC to AD 2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 53–75. Korabelnikova, L. (1979), ‘Oresteia S. I. Taneyeva. Antichnyi syuzhet v russkoi hudozhestvennoi kulture vtoroi poloviny XIX v’ [‘Taneyev’s Oresteia. Antique Subjects in Russian Culture of the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century’] in G. Y. Sternin, G.Y. (ed.), Tipologiya russkogo realisma vtoroi poliviny XIX veka [Typology of Russian Realism of the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century], Moscow: Nauka, pp. 79–128. Korabelnikova, L. (1986), Tvorchestvo S. I. Taneyeva: istoriko-stilisticheskoe issledovanie [Taneyev’s Works: Historico-Stylistic Investigation], Moscow: Muzyka, pp. 99–121. Korabelnikova, L. (ed.) (1985), S. Taneyev: Dnevniki [Diaries], Moscow: Muzyka. Larosh, G. A. (1974–1978), Izbrannye stat’i v 5 tomakh [Selected articles in 5 volumes], Gozenpud, A. (ed.), Leningrad: Muzyka. MacEwen, S. (ed.), (1990), Views of Clytemnestra, Ancient and Modern, Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press. Pushkareva, N. (1997), Women in Russian History: from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century, Levin, E. (trans. and ed.), New York and London: M. E. Sharpe. Rimsky-Korsakov, N. (1935), My Musical Life, (trans. J. A. Joffe), New York: Tudor Publishing Co. Taneyev, S. (1900), Oresteia [Vocal Score], Leipzig: Belyaev Publishing House, reprinted (2000) by Elibron Classics. Winnington-Ingram, R. P. (1983), Studies in Aeschylus, Cambridge: University Press. Zeitlin, F. (1978), ‘The Dynamics of Misogyny: Myth and Mythmaking in the Oresteia of Aeschylus,’ Arethusa 11, pp. 149–84. Zhdanov, V. (ed.), (1951), P. I. Tchaikovsky, S. I. Taneyev: Pisma [P. I. Tchaikovsky, S. I. Taneyev: Letters], Moscow: Goskultprosvetizdat.
Belina, A. (2008), ‘Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia’, Studies in Musical Theatre 2: 1, pp. 61–81, doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.61/1
Anastasia Belina is a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Leeds, where she is currently working on the dissertation entitled, A Critical Re-Evaluation of Taneyev’s Oresteia. Anastasia is a writer and translator for Naxos and Toccata Classics recording labels, and a regular presenter of talks and lectures on Russian music. Her research interests include Russian and European opera, Soviet music, and Wagner.
Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.83/1
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’ as a conceptual and musical basis for a postdramatic music-theatre performance
Demetris Zavros University of Leeds Abstract
This article explores issues that pertain to the concept of ‘music-theatre as music’ through a discussion of the performance Clastoclysm. Using Lévi-Strauss’ notion of the affinity between the domains of music and myth as a point of departure, the article presents the ways in which the performance makes use of a musicallyderived conceptual model, which is applied to mythic text in a way that evades the boundaries of structuralism. The model is based on the concept of the ‘continuum’, derived from musique concrète, and its application will be explored through a discussion of the process of the composition of the performance score, as well as the process of performance. In the last section of the article we will return to the original issue that informed our discussion of the musical model, and will discuss how the concept of the continuum was used to include in the performance a metalingual function as a performed clash between tonal music and musique concrète.
postdramatic theatre as music Clastoclysm musique concrète continuum music theatre
Clastoclysm (2007)1 is a music-theatre performance based on the composition of several mythical fragments. The fragments are chosen on the basis of their connection to the notion of ‘creation’ and their inclusion of the elements of stone and/or water. The myths are connected through the use of motivic relationships that do not support a linear logic of cause and effect. The composition and visual translation of the mythic texts on stage (through several degrees of abstraction) give rise to a redefinition of the performers’ roles, which escapes mimetic imitation. The performance brings together seventeen performers (actors and musicians) in a conventional studio theatre space, where there is a clear sense of a ‘stage’ area (however, this is blurred at times through the placing and nature of action). The stage set is minimal and includes a seven-foot tall platform (upstage) made of steel decking covered with white gauze and a steel ladder mounted on its left side; a square metal sheet raised from the floor on a wooden square frame (in front of the platform ladder); a small glass tank filled with water (downstage right); a narrow wooden trough (along the downstage area); and a rectangular wooden frame filled with soil (stage left). It was first commissioned and performed as a work-in-progress at the Song, Stage and Screen II conference (School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds, United Kingdom, 23 March 2007). In its completed
1. The word is derived from Nonnenmann’s ‘iconoclastoclysm’ and the conjunction of the two prefixes ‘clasm’ (destruction, suspension, negation) and ‘clysm’ (construction, constitution, position) (Nonnenmann 2005: 4).
SMT 2 (1) pp. 83–100 © Intellect Ltd 2008
2. Lehmann quotes Eleni Varopoulou’s talk about the ‘musicalization of all theatrical means’ in Frankfurt in 1998 (Lehmann 2006: 91). 3. These instances are: (1) musicalization of language; (2) application of sense of rhythm and music to classical texts; (3) polyglossia; (4) electronic manipulation of vocal and other sounds; (5) composing the sonic space through simultaneous superimposition of sonic worlds; (6) using props as musical instruments.
version, Clastoclysm was performed as part of the festival-conference Masterworks (School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds, United Kingdom, 18 May 2007).
Music-theatre as music: a trait of postdramatic theatre and Lévi-Strauss
The term postdramatic theatre has drawn notable attention since the publication of Hans-Thies Lehmann’s book Postdramatic Theatre (2006) in English. Even if ‘this term may not be familiar to many readers’, as Christopher Balme wrote in 2004, ‘the phenomenon it embraces most certainly is’ (Balme 2004: 1–3). The introduction of the term is a result of the re-evaluation of the historical break, postulated by Peter Szondi in Theory of the Modern Drama (Szondi 1987), between Aristotelian drama and epic theatre. Lehmann suggests a new schism between dramatic theatre (which according to him includes Brecht’s innovations) and a ‘theatre without drama, i.e. without the representation of a closed-off fictional cosmos, the mimetic staging of a fable’ as Karen Jurs-Munby explains in her introduction to the book (Lehmann 2006: 3). Lehmann discusses the idea of ‘theatre as music’2 as a trait of postdramatic theatre. In a theatrical performance, where ‘drama’ is not the predominant factor, music can provide a basis for the shape of the performance such that ‘an independent auditory semiotics emerges’ (Lehmann 2006: 63). In his exemplification of the term (Lehmann 2006: 91–3), Lehmann notices several instances3 in which this term becomes apparent in the practice of theatre directors. These instances of ‘musicalization’ fall within what he calls ‘the no longer dramatic language of theatre’ (Lehmann 2006: 93). Taking Lehmann’s term as a point of departure, I will try to unfold, in a more comprehensive manner, one specific way in which it can be applied in the creation of a postdramatic music-theatre performance. Thus, this article will present how the creation of a ‘music-theatre as music’ performance can be based on a musically derived conceptual model for ‘the musicalization of all theatrical means’ (Lehmann 2006: 91). The article begins with a discussion of the musical/conceptual model used in the performance Clastoclysm. In the following sections, it focuses on the ways the model was applied in the composition of a performance score, as well as in the process of performance. In the final section, we will return to issues that initially informed our discussion of the musical model to show how these issues can be ‘performed’ by way of inclusion.
In search of a musical model: a painting in time
In his structural analysis of myth, Lévi-Strauss makes the argument that a structural correspondence exists between the domains of myth and music. The reason behind the ‘initially surprising affinity’ between the two, he argues, is to be found ‘in the characteristic that myth and music share of both being languages which, in their different ways, transcend articulate expression, while at the same time – like articulate speech, but unlike painting – requiring a temporal dimension in which to unfold’ (Lévi-Strauss 1970: 15). He notices that, in the way they are received, myth and music both make demands on the listener who, in order to correctly grasp the recurrence of certain themes and other forms of back
references and parallels, has to allow his mind to survey the whole range of the story as it unfolds. So, after he has compiled several different versions of a myth, Lévi-Strauss does not concentrate on the story (a diachronic reading). Instead, he suggests that a synchronous reading of a myth entails its breakdown into motifs that fall into ‘binary oppositions’ (or opposite poles). This presentation of opposites leads to a sense of resolution of the subject under consideration. In surveying ‘the whole range of the story’ to make meaningful connections, Lévi-Strauss comes close to an idea postulated by Lehmann who states that ‘the spectator of postdramatic theatre is not prompted to process the perceived instantaneously but to postpone the production of meaning (semiosis) and to store the sensory impressions with “evenly hovering attention”’ (Lehmann 2006: 87). Yet there is a major discrepancy between Lévi-Strauss’ analysis and the context of my research, which we will address at the outset of this article.4 Lévi-Strauss bases his view of the affinity between the two sign systems on quite a limited definition of music, referring mainly (if not exclusively) to tonal music. In his writings he attacks other forms of music because they do not support his structuralist notion of the binary: musique concrète is one of them.
By rejecting musical sounds and restricting itself exclusively to noises, musique concrète puts itself into a situation that is comparable, from the formal point of view, to that of painting of whatever kind: it is an immediate communion with the given phenomena of nature.
(Lévi-Strauss 1970: 22)
4. Balme notices that the theatre critic Elinor Fuchs regards the same developments that Lehmann is preoccupied with ‘as a response to the massive critique of Western models of subjectivity that we associate with terms such as poststructuralism and deconstruction’ (Balme 2004: 1–3). In this article, I will not endeavour to explicate a connection between poststructuralism and postdramatic theatre. While I am using Lévi-Strauss’ ideas as a point of departure, I will base my discussion (and the inevitable shift from structuralist theory) on the musical discrepancies that exist in his work. 5. In tonal music the first level of source material is to be found in the domain of a culture-based organization (i.e. the hierarchical structure of the scale), whereas in musique concrète that first-level material includes sounds as they appear in nature.
He objects to musique concrète because, he suggests, it is a musical system that is built on a first level, which is antithetical in its degree of abstraction to that of tonal music.5 He argues that this special characteristic makes it less of a musical system, because it creates a problem on the level of the binary between culture and nature that he bases his study on. Because of its first-level material, Lévi-Strauss regards musique concrète as being closer to a type of painting – one which would have to unfold in time. And this idea opens up possibilities for a theatrical realization based on a musical model. Taking Lévi-Strauss’ idea of the affinity between the structural systems of music and myth as a point of departure, we will focus on musique concrète, as a musical style that makes use of the notion of the ‘continuum’. Thus, we are introducing a notion (which comes in opposition to the ‘binary’) both as a conceptual and a musical basis for the compositional and performative aspects of a ‘music-theatre as music’ performance. In doing this, we propose a departure from the structuralist idea of the ‘binary’ to a more open space of meaning: a flooding of mythical images that are structured musically.
Musique concrète and the ‘continuum’: a flooding of images
Musique concrète is a term coined by radio technician and composer Pierre Schaeffer and his associates at the Studio d'Essai in the late 1940s in Paris. The Encyclopædia Britannica Online states that musique concrète is
an experimental technique of musical composition [which uses] recorded sounds as raw material. The fundamental principle of musique concrète lies in
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
6. The New Grove Dictionary of Music states that with regard to Lachenmann’s (born in Stuttgart on 27 November 1935) musique concrète instrumentale, ‘the composer's intention was to explore a new sound world and to create compelling and logical musical works based predominantly on sonorities which had remained unused and hence uncontaminated in the past’ (Mosch 2007).
the assemblage of various natural sounds recorded on tape (or, originally, on disks) to produce a montage of sound. During the preparation of such a composition, the sounds selected and recorded may be modified in any way desired – played backward, cut short or extended, subjected to echo-chamber effects, varied in pitch and intensity, and so on. The finished composition thus represents the combination of varied auditory experiences into an artistic unity.
(Musique Concrète 2008)
What is more, Priscilla McLean notices two strands of generative processes: one in which identifiable sounds from the environment are used and altered ‘but the actual source or intended imitation is still clearly recognizable’; and another in which the resulting sound ‘is removed several degrees from any obvious source into a more abstract level. [ … ] This imago-abstract sound, often gestural in nature, evokes dual sets of realities’ (McLean 1977: 205). The notion of musique concrète that we have used in this particular project (both conceptually and practically) is closer to the second type. In other words, the originating source of sound becomes perceptible at some point in the compositional process, but the rest of the sound (through manipulations) becomes detached from the original sound-image. At this point, I would like to clarify the above notion by discussing an example of musique concrète in Clastoclysm. In the opening sequence, the pre-recorded sound is based on the manipulation of a sound sample of the recording of a water spring. The sound of the spring does not appear until the end of the sequence. The rest of the recorded section is composed of a gradual transformation of the spring sample, from its breakdown into ‘clipping sounds’ to the water sound. Aurally, the continuum is diachronic but also synchronic in nature, since (while not recognizable as a reference to the sound source) all the stages of the sound evolution are connected acoustically. The three stages of continuous transformation can be presented in the following diagram:
------------------------------------abstracted sound objects
Figure 1: Representation of the ‘continuum’ in the first piece of musique concrète. Musique concrète makes use of the notion of the continuum, both in its treatment of the sound-material on an aural level, and its treatment of the sound source which is semantically ‘abstracted’ on several degrees through manipulation and/or organization. This continuum, in the form of the preceding diagram, can be further explored in considering a view expressed by Rainer Nonnenmann in his discussion of Helmut Lachenmann’s musique concrète instrumentale.6 Nonnenmann asserts that, because of the concrete visualization of the process of the sound production, a dual reception process – which he names ‘iconoclastoclysm’ – takes place in the following manner:
First, the demand made by musique concrète instrumentale to reveal mechanicalenergetic conditions of sound production, in order to liberate sounds from all existing tonal, connotative and expressive baggage [is] an iconoclastic act, so to speak; that is, to free them from the sum of intra- and extra-musical pre-formations, and instead to create music based exclusively on soundimmanent structures through a reduction to the concrete acoustics of the sounding material. Second, the sounds thus removed from existing images are intended to reveal a new form of expression through being redefined by the composer, and made newly accessible to the listener in altered contexts. They are two sides of one and the same phenomenon, and can thus supply the ambivalent compound term ‘iconoclastoclysm’, formed from the opposing terms ‘iconoclasm’ and ‘iconoclysm’.
(Nonnenmann 2005: 4)
While the idea of ‘iconoclastoclysm’ is demonstrated within the context of musique concrète instrumentale, which is different (as Nonnenmann points out) to musique concrète, I believe that the idea could be extended to the domain of the latter, if we were to consider the second type of musique concrète that McLean refers to. A sound composition that illuminates the process of transformation of a sound (especially one of concrete reference) can break free from established forms of aural signification – a breakingfree which Lachenmann set as a goal of his compositional practice along with other composers of electro-acoustic music, differences between their uses of respective media notwithstanding. When musique concrète allows itself an aural and structural detachment from the original sound-object, it does not always refer ‘back to its original context’ (as Nonnenmann suggests with regards to Schaeffer’s musique concrète) (Nonnenmann 2005: 6). And this is especially true when the original sound-object is not presented to the audience until the end of a section, as in the example presented in Figure 1. Through the exploration of its acoustic properties, musique concrète can accomplish a de-semanticization of the sound, similar to the iconoclastic process entailed by musique concrète instrumentale: ‘[D]estruction and construction, suspension and constitution, negation and position’ (Nonnenmann 2005: 4) happen simultaneously as the sign is ‘the process of becoming’ itself. And this process happens while the mind of the listener is flooded with ‘images’ which are neither ‘unambiguous nor arbitrary’, but, rather, ‘possible, more or less convincing ones’ (Nonnenmann 2005: 5). In this sense, it would be beneficial to suggest an alternative to the term ‘imago-abstract’ used by McLean, by using the term: imago-clysmic. Regarding the opening-sequence piece of musique concrète, in the process of its transformation from ‘clipping sounds’ to the water sample, the soundscape of the intervening sections does not have a concrete reference to an everyday life sound-object. Yet one reading of the sound (or one ‘possible image’, to use Nonnenmann’s term) in the process of transformation could be ‘the sound of rolling stones’. When stone becomes a recurring visual element in the subsequent sequences, this ‘image’ that impregnates the musique concrète of the opening sequence may (or may not, according to each individual audience member) come to fruition in the sense of a ‘meaning’; but the ‘meaning’ will be of a structural connection. Similarly, when the concretization of its referent (through the presentation of the
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
7. In ‘Of Sounds and Images’ Berio states that ‘Musical theatre only seems to take on a deep and enduring meaning once the dramaturgical conception is generated by the music’ (Berio 1997: 296).
original sound source) does not relate in the form of signification, but only in an (obvious) structural way to another sign, then structure becomes primarily a vehicle of presentation: a vehicle of communication, not of signification. Meaning remains in a state of flux and, maybe because of that, the experiencing of the ‘flooding of images’ comes with the experiencing of the corporeality or materiality of the sign in this process of communication. The musique concrète in the opening sequence, as will become apparent in the following discussion, takes the form of an introduction which encapsulates the essence of the performance: a musical structure that approximates the creation of a continuum between water and stone. Furthermore, this introductory piece of musique concrète presents a model of composition that will be used quite extensively in the performance of the score: creating a continuum of (re)presentation that supports the idea of abstraction/flooding and which climaxes with the presentation of the concrete reference. However, how can the visual be incorporated (in a music-theatre performance) in such a way that it does not counteract the process of this ‘flooding of images’, as introduced by the musique concrète continuum? By making this question the focal point of our creative investigation, the idea of using the music for the intrinsic ‘dramaturgical conception’ of the piece (as suggested by Luciano Berio 1997: 296)7 and its performance becomes a significant conceptual apparatus. In the following two sections, I will endeavour to show how this was attempted in the performance of Clastoclysm; firstly, with the composition of the ‘performance score’ (which I will be using as a substitute for ‘dramaturgy’) and, secondly, with the process of translating the score into a performance.
Composing the performance score based on fragments that support a continuum of relationships rather than a binary opposition
In his Myth, Music and Nature or The Dolphins of Arion, François-Bernard Mâche proposes ‘to put forward a concept according to which music (more than any other exercise in thought) has remained close to mythic roots’ (Mâche 1992: 8). In this, he comes from a standpoint that is far from strange to Lévi-Strauss’ analysis, and while he separates his theory from structuralism, he does admittedly use models of the latter in his project. In the first chapter, ‘Music in Myth’, he looks at a collection of myths, drawing a conclusion which at first seems to create a binary opposition with regards to musical creation and the way it relates to the elements of stone and water. He notices a connection between music and water as a metaphor which is supported by the assertion that ‘music rises from the depths of the unconscious, of which the sea is the image’ (Mâche 1992: 11). At the same time, he also states that in a few of the myths ‘petrification represents the antithesis of music, or its enemy’ (Mâche 1992: 15). If we were to take this initial proposition, it seems that a binary could be formed on the basis that water=music=creation and stone=non-music= destruction. Coming from the standpoint that ‘mythic thought always (surreptitiously, or explosively) revindicates its rights to multiplicity’ (Mâche 1992: 28), Mâche could not explicitly propose such a binary. In fact, while it is initially implied in his writings, later he does mention the inversion of the initial metaphor wherein stone ‘regains life’ (citing the myth of Pygmalion).
Based on these observations and more extensive research on Greek mythology, it became obvious that this initial binary could be problematized on the grounds that the relationships between creation and water/ stone present a more diverse universe of connections which can be regarded in the form of a continuum of relationships. By emphasizing the motifs in these mythological stories (or by creating a ‘first level of motivic relationships’ for the composition of the performance score, as will be shown below), we are looking at the stories in the way that Lévi-Strauss would be looking at one myth in a synchronous manner in order to create his binary categories. Yet by relating motifs from different myths, we depart from structuralist theory: the goal shifts from the creation of binaries to the presentation of relationships that could represent points on a continuum. These points are presentations of relationships between the notions of creation and destruction and the way they relate to the elements of water and stone in musical myths. In this sense, we are not forcing a musical structural connection, but we are extracting musical (motivic) relationships that already exist in (Greek) mythology itself, just as LéviStrauss suggests.
8. ‘Primary’ only in the sense of a starting point, but not in their treatment in the process of composition.
First level of motivic relationships
If we think of the motifs in the initial binary opposition (now, the extremities on a continuum of relationships) as the primary motifs8 (i.e. primary motif 1: water=music=creation; primary motif 2: stone=non-music= destruction), all other relationships can be seen as variations of these primary motifs, and could be regarded as intermediary (to the extremities) on the continuum of relationships. To clarify this, I will present an example of how motivic relationships are generated with regard to two of the mythical fragments used in the performance. The first mythical fragment uses the myth of the Sirens and Odysseus. The Sirens sing to Odysseus and when he successfully sails away, overcoming the temptation of their singing, they hurl themselves into the sea and are drowned. The second fragment uses the myth of the Sirens and the Argonauts. Orpheus, who is on the ship Argo, sings against the song of the Sirens. One of the Argonauts (Butes) still succumbs to the temptation of the Sirens’ music and he jumps into the sea towards them. He is saved by Aphrodite (a divine intervention), and all the other Argonauts are saved by Orpheus’ song. Because of their failure, the Sirens, in this case, are lithified. These two myths relate music and creation to the elements of water and stone in ways other than the ones expressed by the primary motifs. In the second myth, we have the Sirens’ music=destruction=stone (in the case of their petrification) – thus a reversal of primary myth 2. In the same myth, we have Orpheus’ music=non-destruction (a variation of music= creation) and the Sirens’ music=almost destruction by water (in the case of Butes) – thus a variation of the reversal of primary myth 1. In addition, in the first myth, we see the Sirens’ music=destruction=water (since they drown themselves), which is a reversal of primary myth 1. Using these new relationships (as variations of the primary motifs), we can place them as points on a continuum represented in the diagram below:
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------P.M.1 Variation of P.M.1 Reversal of P.M.2 Variation of reversal of P.M.1 Reversal of P.M.1 P.M.2
Figure 2: Representation of the motivic relationships in the two myths as points of the ‘continuum’.
9. This is further supported by the fact that the particular performer (with two other performers) was involved in an act of making music in the opening section where she came opposite the instrumentalists (who are sitting in the audience) and together they created a musical soundscape that accompanied the sound of the pre-recorded musique concrète. The three female performers (onstage) (re)presented singers ‘singing’ against the soundscape created by the instrumentalists (offstage). The space of reception of the roles here remains open as it is not clear whether the instrumentalists take on the role of ‘characters’ or the performers take on the role of musicians. This blurring of the boundaries between musicians and actors/performers is one that was further explored in the performance extending the continuum of the assignment of these roles to encompass the audience.
The same process could be applied to the rest of the fragments used in the performance. The presentation of myths (such as the ones presented here) in the performance score provides a structurally unified composition, based on the coexistence of the different variations of the primary motivic relationships. While their presentation in a linear fashion (as in the diagram above) accommodates their belonging to a continuum, their motivic relationships create a connection between them that would support their reading in a synchronous manner. In other words, the resulting amalgamation will be that of a musical structure which conceptually presents an approximation of a continuum.
Translating the performance score: the continuum as a basis in the process of visual presentation
In the visual realization of the score, we come to address the idea of musique concrète being akin to a type of temporal painting, or a melding of forms (mentioned earlier in connection to Lévi-Strauss’ writings). In the context of a theatrical performance based on the presence of real performers on stage, this melding can happen on the level of the presentation of the performers’ ‘roles’. Firstly, we will look at how a piece of musique concrète can be used practically as an impulse that gives rise to a continuum of (re)presentation in the performance. Secondly, we will analyse the presentation of the mythical fragments on a continuum of abstraction/ concretion.
Musique concrète and continuous ‘melding’ of (re)presentation: the ‘leaking vessel’
The musique concrète example of the opening sequence (discussed earlier) ends with the recorded sound of the water sample. What follows is the continuation of that water sound created live on stage by a performer who takes water out of a small tank in a leaking vessel. As she walks (in the trough that is situated along the downstage area) the water leaks out of the vessel she carries. Because the sound of the leaking water (presented through a concrete visualization of the sound production) is a continuation of the pre-recorded sound in the musique concrète segment, the act of creating sound could be read (initially at least) as another mode of ‘making music’.9 If the performer who sprinkles water is to be read as a ‘musician’, then she escapes another form of referential representation (as with regards to functioning as a ‘character’). In the process of the performance, though, her role changes gradually as she continues performing the same action in a slow, ritualistic manner until the end. This performative mode (‘ritualistic’, alone) initially disrupts her association with the musicians, but only until other, thus-far-designated ‘instrumentalists’ come on stage and also perform music in the same performative mode. Thus they put her role (and theirs) as a ‘musician’ or ‘actor’ in flux.
Figure 3: The Danaid as ‘noise’. Photo: Georges Bacoust.
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
---------------Pre-recorded sound of water sample
---------------Concrete visualization of the sound production and performer as ‘musician’
---------------Performer as ‘actor’
---------------Performer’s action as metaphor
---------------Performer’s action as a representation of a mythical character
Figure 4: A diagram of the continuum of representation given rise to by the musique concrète of the opening sequence.
10. ‘ lyric poem may not A be called a narrative – that is, it may not have the impact or felt quality of a narrative – yet almost invariably it will include all kinds of narrative bits and pieces. These bits can even have a high degree of narrativity, yet still the effect of the whole is not that of a narrative.’ (Abbott 2002: 28).
Arguably, another point on the continuum of (re)presentation would be that the performer not only creates ‘noise’ which is used to connect the compositional structure aurally, but also represents ‘noise’ in the sense that in her endless journey she gets in the way of the audience’s gaze on the other happenings. When she is perceived as an ‘actor’, however, the continuous repetition of an action of ‘no consequence’ can be further read as ‘action as metaphor’. Finally, the ultimate degree of concreteness of the image (on this continuum of referential concreteness) will be its referential attachment to the myth by which it has been inspired. The performer represents a Danaid who was ‘punished’ by being made to carry water in a leaking vessel for eternity. Both the stages of receiving the image as a metaphor and as a mythical representation depend on the individual experiences of each audience member. Because the pattern of the Danaid was conceived and composed structurally (as an ostinato pattern) in its relation to other happenings, the audience is free to draw from an open space of semantic correlations with regard to their coexistence. But far from relinquishing responsibility for the resulting associations, we need to ensure that the continuum becomes a means of opening up a free space of associations, different in the mind of each one of the audience members. This could be a point where LéviStrauss’ ideas can be brought closer to the notion of the postdramatic. ‘[M]usic has its being in me, and I listen to myself through it [… ] the myth and the musical work are like conductors of an orchestra, whose audience becomes the silent performers’ (Lévi-Strauss 1970: 17).
Second level of motivic relationships
In having composed the score of the performance so that the first level of motivic relationships comes to the forefront, I used mythical fragments which are admittedly narrative fragments in themselves, but do not achieve an overall sense of narrative in their composition (just as it would be in the case of a lyric poem according to H. Porter Abbott).10 The space of meaning will be opened up if the multifarious correlations between the notions take precedence over any other relationship of cause and effect. Abbott talks about ‘the need to interpret by exclusion’ (Abbott 2002: 80), a need that is accommodated by the formulation of a narrative. The presentations of mythical fragments could create causal relationships that support a mechanism of interpretation ‘by exclusion’. But if a creative construction points to its inclusive character by way of structure, it could arguably resist such
an interpretation. If, in their presentation (the execution of the score) as well as in their composition, the fragments are related very strongly through musical strategies of organization, i.e. motivic relationships, then the process of ‘exclusion’ could be (at least) suspended. Abbott argues that themes and motifs can help interpret a narrative text in the way that they point to connections used by the perceiver to fill in apparent gaps in the ‘reading’ of a narrative (Abbott 2002: 89). But an extensive use of motifs which appear in many evidently unrelated (narrative-wise) contexts could even multiply the gaps instead of bridging them. In this way, a relationship of cause and effect will become extremely difficult to establish (however much the audience tends to ‘under-read’) and would be replaced by a sense of flux of order or meaning: a flooding of images. Along these lines, a second level of motivic relationships (which I will call the ‘motivic gesture’) was introduced. The challenge at hand relates to the decision made in the translation of the mythical fragments into actions, which are connected in terms of gestures and their permutations. Again, these translations do not happen on a constant level of abstraction but are based on a continuum of abstraction/concretion, so as to primarily accommodate the creation of a strong structural bond between them. To exemplify this process, let us take three mythical fragments that were included in the score because of their first-level motivic connections: Narcissus wasting away into the water of the river; Pygmalion’s statue coming to life as Galateia; and Teiresias dying after he drinks water from a pool that has been spread over with stones. In the myth of Narcissus we see a performer’s persistent (but futile) attempt to touch his object of desire: his own reflection in the water. The movement of the arm as it is trying to reach for something ungraspable is treated as a motif when it is used later for the representation of Pygmalion’s unrequited love for Galateia. Galateia, who is still a statue, remains just as unreachable/unattainable an object of affection as Narcissus’ reflection. Pygmalion’s gesture is a transposition of Narcissus’ arm movement on a vertical rather than a horizontal plane. The same arm movement is re-contextualized towards the end of the performance when Teiresias (the blind seer) reaches to drink water from the water pool and dies. The motif, in this last case, is a variation of the first instance, since Narcissus can see and cannot touch the water, while Teiresias cannot see but eventually touches it. So what we have here is a gestural motif (which we can name ‘reaching for the object of desire’), a transposition of it on the vertical level in the second sequence, and a variation of it in the last. In the way they are used, these gestural motifs do not bridge the gaps of a narrative, nor do they form any other relationship of cause and effect, but they connect the fragments in a musical way, creating a structure. Teiresias appears at the end of the performance while Narcissus is seen in the opening (followed by Pygmalion). The connection between these two groups of fragments is one of the strategies employed in the creation of the cyclic structure that the performance is built on. In between these sections, arm movements are also used in other mythical fragments and re-contextualized through a variation of this gestural motif (arguably another level of form-melding). The variation of the motif
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
Figure 5: Gaia and Cronus. Photo: Georges Bacoust.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Teiresias Narcissus Pygmalion Rhea Gaia
Figure 6: Continuum (in levels of concretion) in the visual translation of the five mythical fragments. could be labelled as ‘reaching for the product of creation’. This time the arm movement is used on a higher level of abstraction. When Rhea, for example, gives birth on stage, she does not do it in naturalistic terms, instead there is an abstraction of the birth-giving process into an arm movement sequence. This same motif of ‘reaching for the product of creation’ is reversed afterwards in another sequence when Cronus forces his children back into Gaia’s womb. Gaia is synonymous with Earth, so as Cronus pushes down a pile of soil that the performer (Gaia) was building something out of, she uses the reversal of Rhea’s arm movement motif from the previous sequence. In these last two examples the presentation of the mythical fragments happens on a high degree of abstraction. Yet, in connection to the simultaneous visual realization of other mythical fragments on stage, and through their own development on the continuum of representation, such abstractions are occasionally allowed to acquire a more concrete signification, at least in a narrow sense of a referential attribute. After the climax of her arm section, Rhea holds the product of her efforts in her arms, in the way that a mother would hold her baby. This, in effect, mirrors the process that I described earlier in the musique concrète model, wherein the concrete sound sample is only presented at the end of the process of composition. Yet, again, as long as this reference is not connected in a manner of causality (but only in a structural manner)11 to another happening (or other happenings), the specific section acquires the quality of a happening that is only in the ‘process of becoming’. It never, in actuality, consummates as part of a concrete conceptual order like that afforded by a narrative, used as a tool to ‘making sense’ by exclusion. By creating a clear structure (both on a macro and micro level), the physicality of the performers comes to the forefront. And it is a physicality imbued with several levels and changes of intensity (musical dynamics), rhythm and structure that lends the performance a sense of a musical or (to quote Lehmann) ‘auditory semiotics’ (Lehmann 2006: 91).
11. The sound of a baby crying appears in the next sequence as part of a musique concrète piece. This time, the sound sample gives rise to a melody picked up by the instrumentalists and played live on stage as part of the presentation of another mythical fragment.
Before ‘The Great Flood’: concrète versus the ‘suppressed concrete’ and the metalingual as part of the continuum
At the beginning of our discussion on the musical/conceptual model used for the performance, a decision was made to introduce the concept of the ‘continuum’ based on musique concrète. Just as Lachenmann tried ‘to liberate sounds from all existing tonal, connotative and expressive baggage in an iconoclastic act, [...] to free them from the sum of intra- and extramusical pre-formations’ (Nonnenmann 2005: 4), we have used musique concrète in an effort to break free from established forms of aural signification. To make this ‘iconoclastic act’ obvious in a theatrical performance, the ‘existing expressive baggage’ of tonal music was presented as a point
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
12. The myth of Orpheus has inspired generations of composers (such as Monteverdi, Gluck, Offenbach, Rossi, Peri, Haydn, but also more contemporary composers like Krenek, Birtwistle, Glass etc.) and its operatic realization through the preceding centuries has been phenomenal, to the point that some of the operas have acquired a mythological status themselves. 13. An aria from Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo (1647), a fragment of which is also to be found in the collage of the climactic sequence.
from which we were to depart. By presenting this, the clash between the ‘continuum’ and the ‘binary’, which informed the conceptual basis of this performance, becomes performed, essentially as a clash between the ‘concrète’ and the ‘tonal’ (or the iconically concrete). In the discussion of the musique concrète example of the opening sequence, I referred to a model wherein the concrete reference is presented at the climax of the compositional process. Based on this model, the presentation of the iconic ‘concreteness’ of tonal music was reserved for the climax of the performance. The music of the climactic sequence is a collage based on musical fragments from operatic realizations of the myth of Orpheus12 (from various periods of the operatic tonal tradition), and more specifically from scenes wherein Orpheus is in the Underworld. So, while the performance is based on the idea of presenting a collage of mythical fragments in a musical way, this is reversed in the climactic sequence where a collage of (tonal) musical fragments accompanies the representation of one mythical fragment. But if we were to present only one instance of tonal music we would be violating not only our conceptual thesis of the continuum, but also the idea of basing the performance on a musical structure (on an aural level). The compositional dilemma can be summed up in the following question: how can the climax have a metalingual effect without being unique in its musical (tonal) material? One way of dealing with this issue can be found in the compositional/conceptual notion of the continuum. The musical material of the climax need not be unique in its nature, as long as it can be unique in its use. As a consequence, other pieces of tonal music are used in the performance, but presented under some form of a ‘suppression’ mechanism. When, in a previous sequence, Orpheus performs a song to protect the Argonauts from the Sirens, his song13 is obscured by the non-tonal clusters of the Sirens (both pre-recorded and live) and by the instrumentalists who also act as Sirens in the simultaneous presentation of the myth of Odysseus. In this case, the suppression of the tonal aria was absorbed as a representational technique in the presentation of the mythical fragments in the following manner. The instrumentalists (musically representing the Sirens) begin by playing clusters and using extended techniques, but, slowly ‘infected’ by Orpheus’ song, they gradually start using pitch-sets from the aria. By the end of this sequence, they all join together in repeating the introduction from his aria like a broken record ad infinitum; thus representing their lithification. The choice of using the repetition of a tonal phrase as a representation of their lithification (again at the climax of this process of musical transformation) was not accidental. It hints at the metalingual point of iconic ‘concretization’ in tonal music that will be more extensively presented in the climax. The tonal music excerpt that the instrumentalists repeat here (the instrumental introduction to Orpheus’ aria) will come back in another sequence, suppressed this time in a different way. Each of the instrumentalists is playing ad libitum in a manner that the sonoric tension created by the simultaneous lines is never resolved into a cadence. The suppression is not used as a method of narrative representation of the mythological fragment, as in the previous case, but as a method of using the audience’s
Figure 7: The scene of Orpheus on stage. Photo: Georges Bacoust.
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
Figure 8: Conducting the scene of Orpheus (offstage). Photo: Georges Bacoust.
14. This action is, of course, part of a presentation of another mythical fragment that happens simultaneously. The performers represent Hercules’ enemies whom he kills with stones that have fallen from the sky as help from Zeus.
pre-supposition of a well-known, tonal musical device (the cadence). The aural element is complemented by what is happening on stage; the musical device is shared between the aural and the visual. A group of performers keep falling to the floor,14 as if visually transliterating the meaning of the cadence (Latin cadentia, ‘a falling’), as well as the audience’s desire for a closure. Another performer dances continuously until the lights go off at the end of this sequence. The different suppression mechanisms that accompany instances of tonal music could, in fact, produce a feeling of frustration in the audience. In this way, the climactic sequence would be originally conceived as a release/liberation from the ‘suppression’ mechanisms inflicted on a type of music that the audience is comfortable with. This initial feeling of comfortableness, though, is jarred in this case by the visual. On stage, there is one performer (representing Orpheus) and the conductor. The visual representation of the myth is in fact quite abstract, as we see a male performer following, very slowly, his own shadow (projected on the gauze of the platform) from stage left to stage right where there is a ladder. Yet the fragments of operatic music in this case impose on the performer the character of Orpheus. In addition, the use of perpetuating tonal/operatic clichés exposes and supports the mythic narrative: as the music is brought to a climax, he turns around and looks at the audience (his shadow disappears).
At the same time, the audience is confronted with a reversal of usual operatic staging and practice: the performers/actors become musicians/ singers – and part of the audience – as they stand amongst the audience; the conductor, who conducts the instrumentalists/musicians/performers and, arguably (by way of his placement), the audience, conducts to a pre-recorded piece of music, and thus becomes a performer as much as a conductor. Returning to the idea of musical creation and the way it is presented in myth via the elements of water and stone, the climactic sequence poses a question: if the relationships between water/stone and creation in Greek mythology do not fall strictly within categories of binary opposition but on a continuum, is it because musical creation (as any type of creation arguably) inherently includes the element of destruction? The music of the climactic sequence includes quotations of tonal operatic music, which have been taken out of context and used to create a new piece of music. The composer/conductor/Orpheus is thus created from the music as much as he creates it. He is conducted by it as much as he conducts it. And the audience members find themselves in a place where they are not only watching, but unless they reject this invitation, they are performing in silence.
While mimesis in Aristotle’s sense produces the pleasure of recognition and thus virtually always achieves a result, here the sense data always refer to answers that are sensed as possible, but not (yet) graspable; what one sees and hears remains in a state of potentiality, its appropriation postponed.
(Lehmann 2006: 99)
Clastoclysm is a musical presentation of myth, which invites the audience to participate in an act of listening and seeing myth through themselves, if not themselves through it (Lévi-Strauss 1970: 17). It does not intend to offer resolutions or definite meanings such as the ones suggested by a structuralist analysis of myth. Both the processes of composition and performance pertain to a musical conceptual model that comes in antithesis to the notion of the binary. Using the continuum for the creation of the score, we invited a ‘flooding’ of mythological fragments (‘images’). Applying the continuum to the realization of the score, the performance opens up the space of possible connections between the ‘sense data’ by highlighting musical (motivic) relations between them. In this way, the musical structure does not delimit the space of meaning: it multiplies it. The performance supersedes the boundaries of dramatic theatre in that it is not subordinated to the primacy of the text. The determining factor for all aspects of the performance is the music. The mythical fragments are chosen to fit the musical model; the compositional process of the score gives predominance to musical over dramatic strategies; the visualization of the score elucidates motivic connections, which evade the boundaries of a logic based on cause and effect. The particular musical model is certainly not exclusive in its ability to do this. I believe that through its treatment of the sign as ‘a process of becoming’, the model facilitates our understanding
Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’…
of how music can be used in a theatrical happening to create ‘sense data that refer to answers that [… ] are not (yet) graspable’ (Lehmann 2006: 99). Works cited
Abbott, H. P. (2002), The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Balme, C. (2004), ‘Editorial’, Theatre Research International, 29, pp. 1–3. Berio, L. (1997), ‘Of Sounds and Images’ (trans. David Osmond-Smith), Cambridge Opera Journal, 9: 3, pp. 295–299. Lehmann, H. (2006), Postdramatic Theatre, Wiltshire: The Cromwell Press. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1970), The Raw and the Cooked (trans. John and Doreen Weightman), London: Cape. Mâche, F. B. (1992), Music, Myth and Nature or The Dolphins of Arion (trans. Susan Delaney), Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers. McLean, P. (1977), ‘Fire and Ice: A Query’, Perspectives of New Music, 16: 1, pp. 205–211. Mosch, U. (2007), ‘Lachenmann, Helmut’, in Macy, L. (ed.), Grove Music Online. http://www.grovemusic.com.wam.leeds.ac.uk/shared/views/article.html?from= search&session_search_id=284118134&hitnum=1§ion=music.15776. Accessed 12 October 2007. ‘Musique concrète’ (2008), Encyclopædia Britannica Online, http://www.britannica. com/eb/article-9054441/musique-concrete.html. Accessed 15 April 2008. Nonnenmann, R. (2005), ‘Music with Images – The Development of Helmut Lachenmann’s Sound Composition Between Concretion and Transcendence’ (trans. Wieland Hoban), Contemporary Music Review, 24: 1, pp. 1–29. Szondi, P. (1987). Theory of the modern drama: a critical edition. (trans. Michael Hays). Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Zavros, D. (2008), ‘Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’ as a conceptual and musical basis for a postdramatic music-theatre performance’, Studies in Musical Theatre 2: 1, pp. 83–100, doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.83/1
Demetris Zavros is a music-theatre Ph.D. student at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries of the University of Leeds. He is Associate Director of the theatre company ‘Altitude North’ and also works as a freelance composer for the theatre. His music-theatre works include: AiAs Mana, Icarus, and Clastoclysm. His theatre music includes: Tender Dearly, The Little Prince and other stories, Ajax, On/Off, Frozen (as composer) and A Stranger in the House (as orchestrator).
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.101/7
Detached signifiers, dead babies and demon dwarves: Bieito’s Dutchman1
Kara McKechnie University of Leeds Abstract
The Catalan director Calixto Bieito is a successful opera director, critically acclaimed for his often violent and confrontational concepts. He has worked mainly on German stages in the last decade, where audiences have often been scandalized by the explicit imagery and radical re-interpretations in Bieito’s work. This ‘reactive’ review critiques his production of The Flying Dutchman for Stuttgart State Opera (2008), applying mainly semiotic and some phenomenological analysis. It also contextualizes Regietheater (director’s theatre) with audience expectation. The context of the production and the impact of using an earlier (1841) version of the opera is examined with reference to direction, scenography and conceptual updating of The Flying Dutchman.
When you go to the opera, you want to feel the energy. It’s about energy, like at a bullfight.
(Bieito in Beyer 2007: 124, my translation)2
Richard Wagner The Flying Dutchman Calixto Bieito Stuttgart State Opera interpretation semiotics
Although the Catalan director Calixto Bieito is talking here about the energy onstage, his new production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman at the Staatsoper Stuttgart created energies similar to a bullfight amongst its viewers. Though it can be distracting, the feeling of polarization certainly raises the emotional temperature in the auditorium, felt even after the first night, when protest and acclaim had been reported as noisy and confrontational. At this, the third performance (2 February 2008), sarcastic laughter was projected at images on stage; even more extrovert audience members chose the quiet introduction to the Dutchman’s first aria to declare they had had enough and walked out, slamming the door. Come the end, though, surprisingly, no booing was heard. This lack of protest, despite tangible dislike of the production, may be to do with a different emotional temperature having developed during the second half of the evening. I am going to argue in this reactive article that, while Bieito often practises a style of detached signifiers (i.e. a semiotic signifier that has very little connection with what it signifies, or normally signifies), and is always looking to develop his ‘surreal language’ further (see Beyer 2007: 127), he follows the emotional curve Wagner sets out in The Flying Dutchman. I will
1. I would like to thank the press office at Staatsoper Stuttgart (Frau Meyer and Frau Peitz) for their generous permission to reproduce the image used in this article (copyright of Sebastian Hoppe). My thanks and appreciation are also due to Harry Rowohlt for his translation of Bernstein’s poem specially for this article. 2. ‘Wenn Du in die Oper gehst, willst du die Energien spüren. Es geht um Energien, wie bei einem Stierkampf ’.
SMT 2 (1) pp. 101–108 © Intellect Ltd 2008
try and elaborate on a production that juxtaposes moments of striking poignancy with effects which got stranded in this seafarer’s tale. If opera should counter apathy and produce opinionated audiences, then Stuttgart State Opera can bank a success: outraged audience members insist that state subsidy should consider those who just want to recognize the story and withdraw funding from a production which flippantly associates a favourite operatic wandering ghost with fridges and showgirls. Afterwards, some people hover expectantly, wanting confirmation that no, you didn’t understand why there was a white Wendy house with women’s legs sticking out of it, either. The national press, meanwhile, is in raptures over Bieito’s innovative provocations. Opera manages to combine and conflict the progressive and the reactionary more than most art forms. Productions like Bieito’s violate the reactionary expectations of opera that have turned out to be very persistent, despite about forty years of Regietheater (director’s theatre; see also Brandenburg 2008: 19). This is not necessarily a clean split between avant-garde production and a traditional audience; it is a conflict that divides opera companies themselves. The composer, the revered auteur, is often seen as the creator of narrative and scenic ‘intention’ (‘that’s not how Mozart intended the work to be staged’). This can be described as an intentional fallacy, which means audience members confuse their own expectations, often based on more traditional experiences of a production, with the composer’s ‘intention’, seeking legitimization for something that is essentially a matter of taste. The question of intention is no longer problematized in critical literature, as there are such compelling reasons why this approach is flawed – theatre is ephemeral and can never be recreated, and historical veracity cannot be achieved, as production context and audiences are not of the original period:
A director wanted to make the seats uncomfortable for the audience when they were watching a Greek tragedy, as they would have been uncomfortable in their seats in the original amphitheatre, so I suggested they turn the heating up as well.
The authenticity issue is nonetheless alive and well for a sizeable proportion of the audience: some people go to the opera to recognize what they already know. Opera strives to be accessible on the one hand, but will not survive by repetitive revivals of archaic scenic inventory on the other. Thus, productions often do not pursue the objective of clear storytelling, and directors are not appointed to facilitate or clarify. They instead seek to interpret a work in their own creative language, and often in relation to their contemporary surroundings, rather than the world contemporary to the composer and librettist. According to Bieito, the real scandal is caused by art refusing to face up to reality (Brandenburg 2008: 19). Given the small number of works in the operatic core repertoire, the narratives of the popular, canonical operas are so familiar that some directors see it as unrewarding or unchallenging to simply pursue another easily accessible telling of the story. The convoluted and dramatically abstruse nature of some libretti may also prompt radical updating. Familiarity can thus be a
carte blanche to be playful and bank on the solid, well-known frame of Carmen or The Magic Flute,3 making conceptual and visual choices ever more extraordinary. The current generation of big name opera directors have no concern over their obligation towards ‘intentions’ or expectations; they see works as the ‘material’ and their productions as versions or variations on a tale, as the director Peter Konwitschny explains:
Mozart won’t be turning in his grave and even if so [… ] Theatre is a very short lived affair. We have the scores as a template only. The score is the skeleton, the real theatre comes through the live people, they lend their life to the work for a certain time, which revives the skeleton. [… ] It is not our job to direct the pieces in the way that the author imagined them, how should that work anyway? It is our job to ask certain important questions in order to prompt a discussion. The pieces are the material with which to do this, they are not just for their own sake. [… ] If you understand Mozart as a closed system, you are abusing him and he can’t get out; that is also true for Wagner and most artists.
(Konwitschny quoted in Beyer 2007: 27–29, my translation)4
3. Opera occupies a special position for UK audiences, as it is often sung in a foreign language, and words cannot always easily be identified over the orchestra – the simplistic vocabulary of gestures and scenic shortcuts often associated with traditional opera can partly be explained by this. 4. ‘Mozart dreht sich deshalb nicht im Grab herum und selbst wenn. Theater ist eine sehr kurzlebige Angelegenheit. Wir haben die Partituren nur als Vorlage. Die Partitur ist das Skelett, das eigentliche Theater entsteht mit den lebenden Menschen, de leihen ihr Leben dem Werk für eine gewisse Zeit aus, wodurch das Skelett für drei Stunden belebt wird. [… ] Es ist nicht unsere Aufgabe, die Stücke so zu inszenieren, wie es sich die Autoren vorgestellt haben, wie sollte das auch gehen? Unsere Aufgabe ist es, bestimmte wichtige Fragen so zu stellen, daß darüber diskutiert wird. Die Stücke sind das Material dazu, sie sind kein Selbstzweck. [… ] Wenn man Mozart als geschlossenes System begreift, tut man ihm Gewalt an, da kann er nicht mehr aus sich heraus, das gilt genau so für Wagner wie für jeden anderen Künstler auch’. 5. The terms Bildungsauftrag (‘the mission to educate’) and Kulturauftrag (‘the mission to provide culture’) are very present in German society, and are
If opera audiences don’t recognize what they already know, they at least want to understand what they are seeing. German audiences might sometimes be persuaded, for the Bildungsauftrag5 of its generously state-subsidized theatre, to suspend culinary and aesthetic pleasure for intellectual insight. But a theatre like Bieito’s, full of violent emotion and detached signifiers seems to satisfy neither demand. To call Bieito’s work semiotically dysfunctional would be doing it an injustice, though. It is image-based theatre that sometimes reveals a striking parabolic meaning to a scene. Bieito describes how the impulses for ideas originate in his work with the score:
It is our job to interpret the music in accordance with its different levels of interaction with the scene [… ] When I start rehearsing, I know the music off by heart, I can manipulate it, or maybe it is better to say I play with it. [… ] I work more with the music than I do with the text.
(Bieito in Beyer 2007: 126, my translation)6
Bieito also dismisses criticism that accuses him of pursuing a sensationalist, forcibly updated agenda, seeing himself rather as a destroyer of operatic clichés. When Quentin Tarantino and his particular style of violent nonchalance first came to popular consciousness in the mid-1990s, some critics compared his texts to those of Jacobean playwrights Webster or Marston. Bieito, sometimes compared to Tarantino, sees his heritage in his culture, however, providing an autobiographical aspect to some of his concepts:7
My black humour comes from Cervantes, Valle Inclan and Cabedo. That’s my culture – my surrealistic view of life comes from my background and culture. People have said that my work is like Tarantino but I’m far closer to Goya. His paintings are violent but he was the precursor of the Expressionists. I was shocked when I was young and saw Goya’s pictures at the Prado.
(Bieito, quoted in Fisher 2003)
Detached signifiers, dead babies and demon dwarves: Bieito’s Dutchman
Figure 1 The dinghy of lost capitalists and the boatswain of lost signifiers. Heinz Goehrig and men's chorus, Staatsoper Stuttgart. Photo: Sebastian Hoppe.
Xavier Zuber, Bieito’s long-term collaborating dramaturg, outlines conceptual choices in the informative and visually striking programme booklet for the Dutchman, which apes the appearance of a MasterCard on the cover, and is laid out like a credit card statement on the inside. The production team decided on using the Urfassung, the 1841 version of the opera: it is performed without an interval, is set in Scotland rather than Norway and can be aligned with Wagner and his situation at the time, as elaborated below. Conductor Enrique Mazzola also discusses ‘the straightforward kinds of feelings that are expressed here’, in contrast to a spirit of transcendence which didn’t enter the score until the 1861 version. The transfigurative qualities of Wagner’s later version(s), he remarks, would not match the conceptual approach of the Stuttgart production, which is free from allusions and hints (Mazzola 2008: 53)8. ‘The opera is thus Wagner’s attempt to artistically contribute to the societal situation of the times, clad in the gown of the Dutchman’s legend’ (Zuber 2008: 9).
central to the expectation of a theatre or opera company’s public role. 6. ‘Die Musik entsprechend zu interpretieren und auf ihre verschiedenen Niveaus mit der Szene zu reagieren ist unser Job. [… ] Zu Beginn der Proben habe ich die Musik auswendig im Kopf, ich kann sie manipulieren, doch das ist vielleicht das falsche Wort, ich kann mit ihr spielen. [… ] Ich arbeite darüber mehr als mit dem Text’. 7. In some interviews preceding the Stuttgart Dutchman, Bieito described an epiphany at Zurich airport, where he suddenly felt like a rootless, eternally travelling Dutchman figure in a faceless airport lounge. This, however, is not mentioned in the programme booklet for the production. 8. It is debatable whether the term ‘Urfassung’ can be used, as the 1841 version was never performed as it is presented in the Stuttgart production: ‘the material was not produced by Wagner in this form’ (Mazzola 2008: 53).
In the overture, with the ‘violent tremolo, the hollow fifths and octaves’ that constitute the ‘ghostly Dutchman motif ’ (Kaiser 1992: 24), a woman’s silhouette is visible behind semi-transparent glass panes. She is surrounded by threatening shadows, enormous when far away, and only diminishing to human size when they are close to the panes. One male figure with a briefcase approaches the woman and alternates affectionate attention with brutal acts, striking her and stubbing cigarette ends out on her skin. The proximity of this act makes it even more disturbing, although it is anonymized by the semi-opaque glass. One assumes that the figures are Senta and her father, Donald in this version. After the male figure has left, the female paces the length of the curtain, looking outwards, and finally writing ‘Rette mich!’ (‘Save me!’) all over the panes with a lipstick. The scene is set: Senta’s desperation, her innere Notwendigkeit (inner necessity) to escape the abuse she has just encountered (and the conformity she is expected to show in later scenes) has clearly been formulated. It is juxtaposed with the Dutchman’s inner necessity to escape, shown in the first scene. The Dutchman is not a ghost in this interpretation. Bieito and Zuber map his search for redemption onto Wagner’s description of an inner necessity, and interpret it as the character’s need to escape the ‘inner apocalyptic prison’, the ‘steely hard structure’ of capitalism (Weber, quoted in Zuber 2008: 8). ‘The Dutchman as modern businessman of today [in a] life between duty and loneliness. Thus the first scene was born, a boat full of men, stranded victims of modern working life. Survivors of our achievement’ (Zuber 2008: 8). It is Max Weber’s ‘steely hard structure’ that has given the main impulse to Bieito’s scenography – a cold metal frame which encases the depth of the stage and extends the proscenium arch on the inside. The production’s dramaturgy draws a parallel between the outcast that is the Dutchman and a destitute Richard Wagner during his time in Paris. Here, he likened himself to a shipwrecked person, not as one who comes up against cliffs, but one who slowly sinks in bog and quicksand – the artist’s dependence on capital, sponsorship and funding. Hence the two main elements of the scenography: a steely hard structure, set on wet, boggy sand, into which one helplessly sinks.
Detached signifiers, dead babies and demon dwarves: Bieito’s Dutchman
9. ‘My mother said it was simple to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. I said I’d hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit’ (‘Jerry Hall’ 2008).
Donald’s ship does not deliver romantic seafarer’s fantasies: it is an overcrowded rubber dinghy onto which the male chorus is piled. They are wearing black suits, the disjuncture between formal wear and inadequate boat making sure we understand that these men are stranded: shares, bonds and other signs of financial transaction littering the scene as they enter. There is a PowerPoint projection at the back that formulates the vocabulary they have been conditioned to respond to: life coaching, natural selection, motivational talk. Gradually, the words flashing up on the screen speed up, giving the impression of being out of control, hollow repetitions of corporate jargon. Here is a clear case for getting out. The German word Aussteiger is used a lot in the materials provided with the production – it can be translated as ‘someone who leaves the rat race’, and it certainly looks as though the Dutchman has taken that decision and joined the futile crew on the dinghy. Confusingly, no distinction seems to be made between Donald’s and the Dutchman’s ship, there is one (generic?) rubber dinghy. Another enigma, albeit of the entertaining kind, is provided by the Boatswain. With no direct narrative function in the plot of the opera, a provider of maritime atmosphere, Bieito has sought new playful outlets for this figure. Dressed in white, he is accompanied by two showgirls with headdresses and white feathery costumes and a lit-up Wendy house that can walk. A male dwarf bursts out of it, dressed in a bridal gown and projecting demonic laughter at the bewildered audience. After the Boatswain’s aria ‘Durch Gewitter und Sturm’, he and the dwarfbride-demon retreat to the walking Wendy house for sex. The signs produced by this white-dressed conglomerate are at best speculative (a perversion of the pseudo-romantic ideals of a screwed-up society? A perversion of a domesticity that is just based on transaction – homeliness for money and sex? But what about the showgirls?!). Apart from the dinghy, the most quoted image in reviews and reactions consists of the three rows of fridges that are brought in for Act 2. They are multi-purpose fridges, replacing the spinning wheels in the women’s chorus of the same name, and functioning as objects to sit on, lean over and to engage with choreographically. Disturbingly, when opened, they reveal copious amounts of shiny shrink-wrapped meat, and a human foetus each. The associations evoked by the fridges are supported by the women’s appearance and behaviour, motivated entirely by the need to please the tastes of their husbands. This prompts thoughts about Jerry Hall’s famous quoting of her mother’s recipe to keeping a man: a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom.9 Senta, although equipped with the same attributes, a blonde wig and her personal fridge, never for a moment belongs to this perversion of a sisterhood. Given her position, she is not yet able to be the Aussteiger the Dutchman has already become. She, however, has a powerful voice. In her ballad, at the very core of the opera both dramaturgically and musically, striking imagery is found for Senta’s in-between situation. She is encouraged to sing the ballad (against the wishes of Mary, a fierce ‘butch’ supervisor figure in a monochrome suit), but in order to be contained, is ‘chained’ with marigolds between two fridges, so her arm movement is restricted. Bieito follows the musical structure of the ballad, which suggests disinterest by the other women at first, but draws them into joining the chorus and developing
empathy for the Dutchman’s plight. When this happens, Senta’s arms are freed by one of the women and the first step towards her emancipation has been made, it seems. The ballad has interrupted the women’s routine of preening dances and the existence based on wanting to please.10 It is the mass scene at the harbour in Act 3 that culminates in one of the climaxes of this production: the ghost choir. The disintegration that has started in the fridge scene takes hold even more. It is best perceived through the bodies, hair and make-up of the chorus, not so much on the disintegration of the set, which is by now far too chaotically messy and overloaded to offer any parabolic or metaphorical clarity. This prompts a question about whether directors like Bieito need a strong scenographer as a collaborator, resulting in more of a visual counterpoint in which to embed the concept. The chorus, in calling the sailors from the ghost ship, turn towards the audience, which is confrontational, but we don’t yet understand what the point of this is. When the ghostly voices from the (here invisible) Dutchman’s ship respond, the doors of the auditorium are flung open, piercing light floods in, and the amplified choral voices enter the auditorium and have their effect on the stage. While this is a hair-raising moment, which provokes genuine tension, some of its danger is spoilt by the stage exploding into action during this sequence. Sixty people simulate total meltdown in strobe lighting on a stage covered in neon-coloured wrapping paper and discarded data sheets. They rip off their clothing and writhe in wet sand and fog. My criticism of this does not relate to the provocative element this sequence doubtlessly carries, but to the fact that an initially thrilling and unsettling idea has been weakened: the disembodied voices attacking the audience’s comfort zone, which possibly equate us with the ghost choir, desperately need a counterpoint of stillness on stage. The German word Aktionismus – action for the sake of it – unfortunately describes the mayhem on stage. In conclusion, the semiotics of this production do produce exciting results for some key features: the MasterCard programmes introduce the production before the curtain rises; the steely frame and the fridges provide dramaturgically motivated scenography; the ghost choir raises pulse rates; the biographical allusions to Wagner’s outsider status prompt further thinking. Bieito is at his most successful where an image or a scene at first triggers a strong phenomenological reaction, which then contributes to a semiotic response. As for the detached signifiers, some have emotional triggers, some are pure spectacle, which prompts the question about the interaction between dramatic narrative, in which the opera is constructed, and the function of spectacle within it. The emotional temperature in Bieito’s productions, described as ‘either boiling hot or ice cold, but never lukewarm’ (Brandenburg 2008: 21) responds to the needs of operatic expression, so dependent on heightened emotions. It is this quality that gives an edge to Bieito’s work over other ‘scandalous’ opera productions, despite its frequent dramatic unevenness. Is the unevenness of the production conceptual or an accepted by-product? This question is provoked by the production’s more enigmatic images, which do not seem to serve an immediate emotional or dramaturgical function. They might, of course, have the function of simply livening up the more ‘connected’ aspects of the evening. I would firmly put the
Detached signifiers, dead babies and demon dwarves: Bieito’s Dutchman
10. There is a slight irony to the ‘emancipation’ of Senta over the other women as Wagner envisaged her as a prototype of the ‘new ideal woman’, who gives herself up entirely in support of the man she loves. There are possible connections with the stormy relationship he had with his first wife, Minna Planer, at the time of working on Dutchman, as is pointed out in the programme booklet.
11. ‘Horch – ein Schrank geht durch die Nacht / Voll mit nassen Hemden… / Den habe ich mir ausgedacht, / Um Euch zu befremden’.
Boatswain, the showgirls and the howling, cross-dressing dwarf into this category. In accepting the ‘unreadability’ of this series of images, one is reminded of a poem by the German poet F. W. Bernstein (Fritz Weigle) that promotes confusing one’s audience for the sake of it:
Hark – a closet walks by night Full of shirts so wet … Did I invent this, thought you might Be displeased? You bet.
(Bernstein 1994: 14, translated by Harry Rowohlt)11
Bernstein, F. W. (1994), Reimweh: Gedichte und Prosa, Stuttgart: Reclam. Beyer, B. (ed.), (2007), Warum Oper? Gespräche mit Opernregisseuren (2nd ed.), Berlin: Alexander Verlag. Bradley, J. (2008), personal communication, March. Brandenburg, D. (2008), ‘Der menschenfreundliche Extremist’, Die Deutsche Bühne, March, p. 18. Fisher, P. (2003), ‘I’m Not a Monster’, The British Theatre Guide, http://www. britishtheatreguide.info/otherresources/interviews/CalixtoBieito.htm. Accessed 16 April 2008. ‘Jerry Hall’ (2008), Brainy Quote, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/ j/jerryhall182855.html, Accessed 21 March 2008. Kaiser, J. (1992), Leben mit Wagner, München: Piper Verlag. Mazzola, E. (2008), ‘Zur Urfassung von 1841 (Nach einem Gespräch mit Xavier Zuber)’, Der Fliegende Holländer (programme), Staatsoper Stuttgart. Zuber, X. (2008), ‘Jenseits materieller Werte und Konventionen. Zur Dramaturgie und Inszenierung’, Der Fliegende Holländer (programme), Staatsoper Stuttgart.
McKechnie, K. (2008), ‘Detached signifiers, dead babies and demon dwarves: Bieito’s Dutchman’, Studies in Musical Theatre 2: 1, pp. 101–108, doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.101/7
Kara McKechnie is a Lecturer in Dramaturgy and Literary Management at the University of Leeds. She has a professional background in opera and gained her MA from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. She has worked extensively on Alan Bennett (Ph.D. 2004), specifically in the field of television drama (Alan Bennett, The Television Series, Manchester University Press 2007). She teaches and publishes on adaptation, intermediality and new writing, and has recently been working with Opera North, both within the University of Leeds partnership with the company, and as a freelance dramaturg.
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Reviews. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.109/4
Opera From the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of Appropriation, Michael Ewans (2007) Aldershot, Hampshire and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 216 pp., ISBN 978-0-7546-6099-6 (hbk), £55.00
Reviewed by Barbara Poston-Anderson, University of Technology, Sydney
This examination of the ways in which selected opera librettists and composers have used, or – as Michael Ewans states – ‘appropriated’, elements of story, style and form from traditional Greek sources makes for captivating reading. The author traces each of the eight selected operas back to its source texts, in particular, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and the Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. The following chart lists these operas, their librettists and composers, and the ancient Greek source materials to which they are traced. The first three operas were originally performed prior to the twentieth century, and the last five during the twentieth century. In some cases, the opera chosen for analysis is close to the style and spirit of the source material (e.g. Iphigénie en Tauride); in others the opera is a compilation of several stories about the same mythical person or series of events (e.g. Oedipe); or is a free or even fragmentary adaptation (e.g. King Priam); or is a totally new re-interpretation of the characters and themes
Opera 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Composer Claudio Monteverdi Christoph Ritter von Gluck Luigi Cherubini Richard Strauss George Enesco Michael Tippett Hans Werner Henze Mark-Anthony Turnage
Source Material Homer’s Odyssey Euripides’ Iphigeneia Euripides’ Medea Sophocles’ Electra Sophocles’ Oedipus plays Homer’s Iliad Euripides’ Bacchae Sophocles’ Oedipus
Il Ritorno d’ Ulisse in Giacomo Badoaro Patria Iphigénie en Tauride Médée Elektra Oedipe King Priam The Bassarids Greek François Guillard Benoît Hoffman Hugo von Hofmannsthal Edmond Fleg Michael Tippett W. H. Auden/ Chester Kallman Steven Berkoff
SMT 2 (1) pp. 109–120 © Intellect Ltd 2008
reset in an identifiable contemporary setting (e.g. Greek, an East End of London Oedipus story). The relationship between each opera and the text of its Greek source raises important issues, which Ewans claims are ‘always complex and problematic, especially so when the source text comes from an ancient culture with radically different values and beliefs from the modern audience’ (p. 5). There are key questions associated with these issues. Can Christian religious beliefs or psychoanalytic and modern psychological or philosophical theories be effectively ‘grafted’ onto an ancient Greek tale? Can the Greek concept of fate or destiny be meaningfully understood and appreciated within a contemporary opera? For his investigation, the author selected those operas that he believed most noticeably drew attention to these and other related questions. To highlight these issues the author uses ‘a comparative analysis of significant divergences of plot, character and dramatic strategy between source text, libretto and opera with reference to the values and belief structures of the original Athenian writers and audiences and of their modern counterparts’ (p. 5). The result is an organized, well-balanced, and in-depth treatment that provides insight into the source texts as well as the operas themselves. Historical, social, psychological and philosophical influences on the works are analysed; development of ideas that appear in subsequent variations in the selected libretti over time are traced; and a discussion of how the music interacts with and impacts on the libretto in each opera, along with some implications for staging the various performances, is featured. Each chapter treats a separate opera, with well-placed musical examples replicated from the score to support the author’s key points relating to characterization, atmospheric intensity and dramatic development within the libretto and the music. The extensive footnotes at the bottom of most pages are particularly useful to the reader because they provide additional information, alternate points of view, or references to other relevant studies. One of the key strengths of this text is the clear way in which the author shows how librettists and composers have adapted traditional source materials to reflect the central issues of their own times. Opera creators have used ‘local’ concerns as a main criterion by which to judge the contemporary relevance of traditional elements and, subsequently, to decide which themes and motifs to preserve or delete. For example, the Greek male revenge-ethic and the female mother-bond in Euripides’ Medea give way in the Hoffman/Cherubini opera Médée to the conflict between ‘reason and passion’, a characteristic debate within French classical tragedy (p. 77), and the concerns in Sophocles’ Electra about ‘right and wrong, justice and expediency’ are replaced with preoccupations about ‘silence and psychology’ in Hofmannsthal/Strauss’ Elektra (p. 91). The author’s perceptive analysis in this area makes for a fascinating study in the history of ideas and their application within an operatic framework. The author also provides insight into the creative tension experienced by librettists and composers as they combine their talents to shape the content and form of an opera. The story of complementarity or competing ideas, textual or musical dominance, or shifting emphasis between forms within an opera affect the work’s overall composition and, ultimately, its performance.
The only limiting feature of the book for researchers is the lack of publisher names for the monographs cited in the secondary literature section in the bibliography. Despite this drawback, the text of the book itself is compelling reading and inspires the reader to want to consult the original source material as well as listen to or watch the operas under discussion. The clarity of the writing style, the in-depth insight into the operas, complete with musical examples, and the erudite analysis of the relationship between opera and source material all make this a valuable resource for music researchers, students of opera, and also for those general readers interested in the development of opera as it relates to classical Greek epics and theatrical forms.
Oklahoma! The Making of an American Musical, Tim Carter (2007) New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 327 pp., ISBN 978-0-300-10619-0 (hbk), £20.00
Reviewed by Barbara Poston-Anderson, University of Technology, Sydney
This scholarly work traces the creation and development of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (originally entitled Away We Go!) from its inception in 1942 through rehearsals and tryouts for the New York opening and then through its first ten years of performance up to the 1955 film version of the musical. Oklahoma!, based on the 1930 Lynn Riggs play, Green Grow The Lilacs, was considered a characteristically American musical with ‘homespun’ values. The show was hailed as innovative because of its ‘realism’ and ‘naturalness’ and because it integrated music, dance and drama – characteristics that set it apart from other popular musicals of its time (p. 26). Oklahoma! defied classification, even by the production team itself, and was alternately described as: an operetta, a folk opera, and a musical play. This show was one of a small number of musical productions of its day, including Porgy and Bess and Show Boat, which were said to explore the essence of what it meant to be ‘American’. Because the images in Oklahoma! engendered positive feelings of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ in its audiences, the show was used to raise the morale of citizens and soldiers alike during the war years (p. xiv). In retrospect this show was deemed to have achieved a ‘golden mean, successfully reconciling all the different demands facing the Broadway stage in the early 1940s’ (p. 27). Tim Carter’s opening chapter considers the context in which Oklahoma! developed. Insight into Riggs’ play, the musical’s source material, is provided with a discussion of how characters and their emphasis in the storyline changed when they were transported from the original play into the developing musical (e.g. Jeeter became Jud, Ado Annie’s role was extended). The theatre scene in New York is also discussed, in particular the development of the influential Theatre Guild that initially produced Oklahoma! The careers of Riggs and Rodgers, first when he was with Hart and then with Hammerstein, are outlined, and the collaborative partnership between Hammerstein and Rodgers that ‘dominated Broadway in the 1940s and 1950s’ is analysed (p. 21).
The following chapters include rich descriptions of the external context and internal workings of Oklahoma! including the responses that it received from the press and the public. Particularly worthy of mention is the chapter entitled ‘Creative Processes’ that takes a close look at how the text and lyrics were crafted. To make his points, Carter compares various drafts with the final version and the original Riggs play in order to identify changes to the storyline, revisions made to the dialogue and which songs were included, deleted or rearranged at various stages of the creative process. Several songs are given special emphasis. For example, Hammerstein said that ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’’, the first lyric composed for the show, was ‘a very significant moment in the “childhood of the play” and influenced a great many other of its later-developed characteristics’ (p. 82). There is also a detailed analysis and discussion of the ground-breaking dream ballet, choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Snippets from the lyrics and score are included, when appropriate, to highlight the key examples. In addition to specific insight into the making of Oklahoma!, the reader is introduced to the nature of theatrical production during the 1940s and 1950s. The success of Oklahoma! was far from inevitable. The production and artistic teams faced many seemingly insurmountable challenges, for example the initial effort to find actors, particularly in the face of Hollywood’s reluctance to release desired actors from contractual commitments to be in a Broadway musical; the constant revisions to the dialogue, music and staging; the fight not to lose leading men to the draft during war time; and the ongoing struggle against the stereotype of the musical genre as ‘lightweight’. Overall this work is a thorough, step-by-step account of Oklahoma!, the historical context in which it matured and all aspects of its development and production. Detailed notes for each chapter and the appendix, which is a chronology of all the ‘datable’ events relating to the show up to the New York opening, are notable for their comprehensiveness. The book’s strength is that it places Oklahoma! and its hard-earned success clearly within the artistic, socio-historical and monetary contexts that impinged upon its development and production. The researcher’s tenacious detective work at digging out from the vast collection of reviews, letters, theatre programmes, audition tapes, photos, autobiographical accounts and other memorabilia those items relevant to telling the story, and the way in which he skilfully pieces this jigsaw together are admirable. Carter frequently uses several forms of evidence to support points or to highlight discrepancies between what was ‘said’ and what actually happened. In addition, direct quotations from the playwright-librettist and composer add credibility and provide valuable insights into the musical’s creation process. At times this information treasure trove runs the risk of overwhelming the reader with minutiae, yet in light of Carter’s intended aim of creating the definitive account of Oklahoma!, the detailed approach is understandable and, no doubt, justifiable. Carter himself states that prior to his own work, ‘the material has remained untapped in any systematic way’ (p. xvii). He justifies his comprehensiveness by contending that it is only in the detail that generalizations can be ‘supported, modified or undermined’ (p. xvii).
In short, this scholarly work deserves recognition for the valuable contribution it makes to research about ‘the musical’ in general, and Oklahoma! in particular. Carter’s well-documented treatment should delight both musical aficionados and researchers alike.
Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins, Amanda Vaill (2007) London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 675 pp., ISBN 978-0-2978-4797-7 (hbk), £25.00
Reviewed by Arthur Pritchard, University of Leeds
There can be little of significance in the life of Jerome Robbins omitted from Amanda Vaill’s comprehensive biography of the legendary dancer/ choreographer. As a child she had seen Robbins’ production of Peter Pan (1955); she discovered that he lived on her block in New York City, and her infatuation was born. Widely known as the prodigiously talented choreographer of On the Town (1944) and director of West Side Story (1957), Robbins’ career is traced painstakingly in these pages. In getting to know this huge, contradictory personality, the reader engages with a Who’s Who of all the talents (and a legion of lesser-knowns) assembled on or near Broadway in the mid-twentieth century. So comprehensive is Vaill’s treatment of her subject that one senses the whole history of American music theatre beating just beneath the surface of the text. Robbins’ first stage training took place at the Stanislavski-based Group Theatre. Here the dance/mime artist Gluck Sandor urged apprentice Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz to find a non-Jewish stage name to perform in character-based dance dramas, and to study ballet. Four years as a summer camp hoofer provided contacts and a foundation in comic choreography. His eclectic studies in dance took him to the New York City ballet where he toured in wartime under George Balanchine and ‘his mentor’ Michel Fokine (p. 86). He rehearsed with Doris Humphrey, was directed by Agnes de Mille, associated with Antal Dorati and Anton Dolin, and fell in love regularly and indiscriminately with men and women, including the movie actor Montgomery Clift with whom he lived for two years from 1947, with breaks for affairs with Rose Tobias, Tanaquil le Clerc and many others. Vaill’s is a colossal achievement, made possible by Robbins’ sporadic journals, diaries and letters, as well as copious notes for ballets and music theatre projects, completed or not, that the author with an overwhelming appetite for detail of events, performances and personalities has traced, corroborated and analysed. Indeed, Vaill seems determined to emulate Robbins’ own fastidious research impulses; a man who, early in his career, would ‘fill his offstage hours with writing – stories, vignettes, scenarios [ …] for short ballets’ (p. 65). His ideas for new work ‘crossed genre lines and mixed different media’ (p. 65). A ‘driven perfectionist’, he would later research film archives for ‘ideas for chase sequences’, or ‘track down members of the few surviving dance teams who knew how to do the Castle Walk, a pre-World War I ballroom dance’ (p. 141).
In a lengthy career of dance and musical projects, working with all the major Broadway names, his collaboration with Leonard Bernstein forms a central, continuing and absorbing thread in this narrative. While Robbins works to discover new directions and subject matter for stage dance, Bernstein is restrained by the demands of his position as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Serge Koussevitzky. The sexually themed, ‘enigmatic’ ballet Facsimile (1946) is an example of Robbins’ innovative choreography, set to a ‘haunting’ score that Bernstein eventually produced in a three-week burst of writing, which received mixed reviews: ‘the principals [two male, one female] roll on the floor, kiss[ing] indiscriminately’ (p. 130). Critics later attempt quite reasonably to justify the piece as a projection of Robbins’ own experience, for Robbins had indeed planned works with Oedipal themes, imagined an erotic dream narrative which ‘morphs into a homoerotic orgy full of rubbing bodies and an atmosphere “like thick warm cream around him”’ (p. 130). Vaill manages to find the excitement, and glamour, as well as the personality clashes, tensions and frustrations of a show business career, and she strings together a sinewy, robust American prose to communicate Robbins’ determination to carry through his vision for each new project. He is an uncomfortable subject, as we find when, hauled in to testify at Senator McCarthy’s un-American Activities hearings, he names fellow artists; he lives on nervous energy, and can be riddled with doubts over an unsuccessful show which require regular visits to the analyst’s chair. The genesis of West Side Story provides spicy ingredients for Vaill to work with and she adds colourful detail to this well-known narrative. At audition, the artists could be recalled as many as a dozen times, effectively providing pre-rehearsal sessions at no cost to the production; in the eightweek rehearsal period Robbins used method acting techniques to build individual character histories for the show’s chorus. In this, as in all his collaborations, Robbins’ intuition and bloody-minded obsession with every detail of production drive the achievement. Often uncompromising and not always likeable, and at times virtually alienating Bernstein and Sondheim, he can find moments of genuine humanity, such as his tender attention to Tanny le Clerc when she falls victim to polio, an example of the gentler side of his theatrical genius. Yet even when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening abdominal abscess, Robbins could be at loggerheads with this woman (the one he truly loved?) over his credits in the film Nutcracker. The author has evidently determined to write the definitive account of Robbins’ career. However, it sits slightly uncomfortably between biography and cultural history, daunting in length and detail. The numerous forgotten shows and names with only minimal bearing on Robbins’ development are covered elsewhere in the work of such authors as Bordman and Mordden. Vaill’s treatment could be more selective: her accounts of long-forgotten shows and projects could be relegated to the ample end notes, as well as her gossipy speculations on flings with dancer, starlet or hunk. But for all the less memorable tittle-tattle, the book delivers some useful insights: following Robbins’ struggles with his ballet production of The Dybbuk (1974), his studies in The Ordeal of Civility, a sociological account of
Jewish assimilation, revealed that the ‘enormous anxieties’ that had beset his working life were located in his Jewish identity. His career had been ‘a lifetime of work to assimilate’ himself into American society, lest he be found out to have no talent, to be ‘a little Jewish kike’ (p. 447–448). Readers of this book should keep a Yiddish glossary to hand.
Berio’s Sequenzas: Essays on Performance, Composition and Analysis, Janet K. Halfyard (ed.) Ashgate: Aldershot, 2007, xxii + 306 pp., ISBN 978-0-7546-5445-2 (hbk), £60.00
Reviewed by Martin Iddon, Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts
With Berio’s death in 2003 still recent, it is certainly an appropriate time for scholars to begin a large-scale reappraisal of the import and impact of his musical output. That the ongoing development of his virtuosic Sequenzas for solo instruments was central to Berio’s compositional work and thinking is hardly in doubt. It seems apt, then, that the first major English-language scholarly publication to deal with his music since his death, engages with precisely these pieces. As the book’s subtitle suggests, the chapters are divided by three broad themes: performance issues; compositional processes and aesthetics; and analytical approaches. With the exception of Sequenza XII for bassoon and Sequenza XIV for cello, each of the Sequenzas is examined in detail at some point during the volume; Sequenza I for flute, Sequenza III for voice and Sequenza IV for piano feature prominently in more than one of the contributions. In the first section of the volume, two essays (one by Cynthia Folio and Alexander R. Brinkman, which examines Sequenza I, and one by Patricia Alessandrini, which focuses on Sequenza VII for oboe) take as their theme issues posed by the fact that each of these two Sequenzas exists in two discrete versions. The first essay examines performative distinctions between the 1958 version’s proportional and the 1992 version’s precisely metrical notation. While both these versions were completed by Berio himself, Alessandrini considers immanent differences between Berio’s original notational grid structure for Sequenza VII and a redrafted, metered version by the oboist Jacqueline Leclair. Although, in a similar way, multiple versions of Sequenza IV exist, Zoe Browder Doll’s essay focuses on just one, concentrating specifically on Berio’s various uses of the sostenuto pedal in this version of the piece (and in Leaf and Sonata), demonstrating the rich range of tonal vocabulary Berio draws from technical means. Though more analytically superficial than the other essays in this section, Kirsty Whatley’s personal reflections upon Sequenza II, written from the harpist’s perspective, contain many striking observations that analysis alone might be unable to educe. Jonathan Impett’s response to Sequenza X also contains ideas developed from his own experience as a performer, situating the piece within a wide cultural discourse of the trumpet’s gestural language.
The volume’s central section is doubtless the strongest. Janet Halfyard’s contribution – informed by, but certainly not limited to, her own performative engagement with the theatre of Sequenza III – dovetails neatly with Impett’s. She marshals numerous contextual factors in an examination of the nature of virtuosity as it is (re)conceived within the Sequenzas. Like Halfyard, Paul Roberts’ essay, focusing on Berio’s reworkings of several of the Sequenzas into ensemble pieces, the Chemins, is informed by a factor exterior to the music, namely Roberts’ activity as Berio’s musical assistant. This inside knowledge is demonstrated by a rich description of the interlacing paths that the Chemins take away from, and occasionally back to, the Sequenzas. Two chapters draw parallels between the work of Berio and Umberto Eco. Eugene Montague interlaces his analysis of Sequenza VIII for violin with Eco’s Theory of Semiotics and, most especially, Foucault’s Pendulum. Montague’s essay employs an innovative strategy, whereby the semiotic mutability of Sequenza VIII is ultimately utilized to open more complex perspectives on the narrative of Foucault’s Pendulum. The second Eco-focused chapter is similarly impressive: Edward Venn’s contribution reworks Eco’s theory of open form, finding imaginative strategies for building upon what seems to have been initially a misunderstanding of the way in which Sequenza I might constitute an open-form work, alongside such unlikely bedfellows as Stockhausen’s Klavierstück XI. The last essay within the second section, Andrea Cremaschi’s examination of Sequenza IX for clarinet, and its proliferation into Sequenzas IXa, Sequenza IXb, La vera storia and Récit (Chemins VII), as well as the withdrawn ‘Chemins V’, reflects the conception of the pieces under examination by walking the reader through the various paths the common musical material takes through these pieces. The essays within the final section are predominantly examples of much more conventional analytical fare. Irna Priore’s discussion of vestigial serial practices within Sequenza I adroitly covers significant analytical ground, while demonstrating the ways in which even these practices might be regarded as to some degree ‘open’, working from the same creative misunderstanding as Venn. Didier Guigue and Marcílio Fagner Onofre’s analysis of Sequenza IV is of a completely different order from Doll’s earlier consideration of the same piece. Though its observations regarding the larger-scale polyphony of ‘sonic objects’ are doubtless analytically insightful, there is an extent to which this reader, at least, would have preferred to see more of the results of the analysis than the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the analysis itself. Nevertheless, the complexity (and subtlety) of the analytical framework will doubtless be genuinely valuable to some readers. Sequenza VI for viola is dealt with by Amanda Bayley with an equally rigorous analytical framework, in an examination of the various ways in which expressivity is generated through non-tonal means, focusing in particular on the piece’s transformations of timbre and texture. Mark D. Porcaro’s examination of Sequenza XI for guitar utilizes a variety of analytical strategies to demonstrate structural and morphological elements of polyphony in ways that certainly suggest an extension of this tactic to a wider range of Berio’s output might be fruitful. This focus on polyphony – both literal and metaphorical – is continued in the final essay in the volume, Thomas Gartmann’s discussion of Sequenza XIII for accordion. While strong analytically, Gartmann never loses sight of the
wider context, and many of the volume’s issues as a whole – performativity/ theatricality, openness of form, commentary, polyphonies of style – underpin an extremely lucid discussion of the piece, alongside providing the reader with a concrete understanding of how the nature of the accordion impinges upon the compositional practices at work. For all that is good in this volume, it is a little disappointing that none of the contributors begin a serious engagement with the collaborative processes of composition undertaken by Berio in the Sequenzas, since, as is observed repeatedly within the text, with the exception of Sequenza IV each piece was written with a specific performer in mind, often in discussion with that performer, often in person. Despite the fact that the issues at stake in examining such examples of composer-performer collaborations rely upon primary materials, which may in many cases be extremely difficult to obtain, the absence of such a discussion is palpable, even in the cases of essays such as those from Halfyard, Gartmann and Impett, where a detailed description of the respective instrumental idioms is on display. Nevertheless, as a whole, the volume contains much valuable, insightful commentary on one of the most significant contributions to the solo instrumental repertoire of the past fifty years, and will hopefully lead to much further discussion of the rich seam that the Sequenzas represent.
The British Musical Film, John Mundy (2007) Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 276 pp., ISBN 978-0-7190-6321-3 (pbk), £14.99
Reviewed by Christine Etherington-Wright, University of Portsmouth
This book seems unsure whether it is a major contribution to academic debates or whether it is a comprehensive guidebook for students. Since the agenda is unclear, appropriate judgements need to be made with care. John Mundy is right in noting that this area ‘suffers from critical neglect’ (p. 2). In recent years there have really been only two comparable books to consider: K. J. Donnelly’s Pop Music in British Cinema: A Chronicle (2001) covering music in British films, both as musical scores (part one) and as British film musicals (part two), while also providing a detailed chronological review history; and Jan G. Swynnoe’s The Best Years of British Film Music, 1936–1958 (2002), which is concerned with the special British contribution to film music, detailing how the idiosyncrasies of British film, and of the British character, set it apart from its Hollywood counterpart. Mundy’s book sits well beside these two works. His earlier chapters, on the years from 1920–1969, cover a similar period to that he has addressed before in Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video (1999), which also has a chapter on British musicals. However, in The British Musical Film, he sets himself the task of providing a comprehensive study of ‘the centrality of music in British cinema’ (p. 8). To allow this study to be more encompassing he has used the term ‘musical film’, as it admits a broader definition and allows for the distinctive way that ‘specific cultural and aesthetic traditions’ (p. 8) have impacted on British ‘film music’ and
British musical films. Mundy notes that audiences often see these films as poor relations of the Hollywood musical films. His work here goes some way to redress that criticism. His stated intention is ‘to redress what has been a critical dereliction of an important area of British cinema’ (p. 10). One of the tenets of this book is that British musicals of the period both drew upon and articulated important and distinctive aspects of British national identity, including contentious issues of social class, regionalism, attitudes to youth, and gender. To examine these issues, each chapter provides a brief history of the decade under scrutiny. Then, from chapters two to five, the content follows a similar format: production, distribution and exhibition context, legislation, censorship, and brief biographical artist details where appropriate. These combine with selected and detailed case studies of plot analysis that are placed in an historic context. His detailed critical analyses, which tease out the dynamics and implications of the social and the cultural influences, are thorough. This organizing principle of the first five chapters works well. But where this book disappoints is from chapter six, ‘The 1970s and beyond’, where Mundy amends his format of ‘one decade, one chapter’ to cover thirty to thirty-five years in as many pages. It is a question of balance. Whilst I am certainly not advocating that each chapter should be of equal size, the cramming of the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and a mention of the 2000s into one chapter raises several questions and problems of faulty proportion within the book. For this I can see no justification: elsewhere Denis Gifford charts 38 British musical films from 1970 to 1979, whilst Linda Wood has 30 ‘pop music’ films listed for 1971–1980; these alone require a greater ‘fleshing out’. These thirty years deserve a full exposition. The changes which took place from the 1970s to 2000 and beyond match the changes from the 1930s to the 1960s in their different complexities. Perhaps Mundy is less assured in his consideration from the 1970s onwards, as there is still a deal of research to be undertaken if the last chapter of this book and his bibliography are to be considered representative. A further disappointment of the book as a whole is the lack of technical detail: a fuller ‘soundscape’ would give a greater dynamic to these films and would introduce the reader to a vocabulary of useful expressions (heightened sound effects, long-lead notes, ascending flutes, dissonant suspense, for example). Mundy’s methodology tends to be too dependent on plot paraphrasing which is an unhelpful technique for analysing film musicals (the fact that Dorothy is concussed during a ‘twister’ hardly forms an analysis of musical film, for example). Work in film and in musical film requires some kind of technical analysis: how music works at a technical level; how musical discourse relates to verbal and visual discourse and questions of musicality all require scrutiny. This book is to be recommended as a good, informative, broad-based survey, useful for students of film, media, music, drama and cultural studies who are looking for an entry into this broad genre and to use this text as a general resource. But the reader needs to be alert to errors. One of the more entertaining examples is that Leslie Howard was the star of Brief Encounter (p. 110). This is not a book that opens up new research questions or offers new ideas. The density of this study is at once a strength and a weakness, and
difficult to adapt to the needs of an undergraduate. In terms of its contextual scope it may be a useful resource for students, but it is a book to use rather than to read. Works cited
Donnelly, K. J. (2001), Pop Music in British Cinema: A Chronicle, London: BFI Publishing. Gifford, D. (1986), British Film Catalogue, London: David and Charles Publishers PLC. Swynnoe, J. G. (2002), The Best Years of British Film Music, 1936–1958, Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press. Wood, L. (1983), British Films 1971–1981, London: British Film Institute Library Services.
British Pantomime Performance, Millie Taylor (2007) Bristol (UK) and Chicago (US): Intellect Books, 208 pp., ISBN 978-1-84150-174-1 (pbk), £19.95
Reviewed by Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen, Bath Spa University
In Britain, the annual ‘panto season’ has become a staple of Christmas along with carols, turkey and mulled wine. Within the cultural hierarchy, it clearly falls at the popular end of the spectrum but other than that it is surprisingly hard to categorize in relation to other forms of music theatre. For people brought up outside this tradition, pantomime can also be highly confusing – I have vivid memories of trying to explain to a group of incredulous French teenagers how an art form that revolves around crossdressing, anarchic behaviour and double entendres is seen in Britain as the ultimate in family entertainment. In British Pantomime Performance, Millie Taylor succeeds admirably where I struggled, providing a fascinating and very accessible analysis of what is in fact a deceptively complicated form of theatre. The great strength of this book is the way in which Taylor weaves together elements of history, theory and practice within twelve chapters that deal with topics ranging from the pragmatic (‘Money Matters’), to structural and dramaturgical questions (‘Quests and Transformations in Pantomime Stories’, ‘Mixing Genres in Pantomime Music’), gender theory (‘Is she or isn’t he? Gender and Identity’) and cultural readings and reception theory (‘Audience Participation, Community and Ritual’). Thus the stock role of the Principal Boy (traditionally played by a young woman in a short tunic) is explored in terms of its historical roots, feminist theory and contemporary theatre practice, including interviews with producers concerned about the impact on young children and the recent move towards having male actors playing the role. One core focus of the book is the sophisticated relationship between illusion and reality in pantomime, with the overt ‘reality’ of contemporary cultural references and direct audience address offset by use of fantasy and nostalgia. At the heart of the pantomime experience, Taylor suggests, is a
shared idea of ‘pantoland’ created through the moments when the actors step out of character or acknowledge their performance in addressing the audience: ‘pantoland is not the place where the story of pantomime takes place; that might be Nottingham or Peking or the Village of Much Giggling. Pantoland is the theatrical world where the performers exist ‘as themselves’ and from which they tell the story’ (p. 91). The result of this, Taylor argues, is twofold: ‘the performance frame in pantomime is revealed not only to distance the audience from the story, but to draw the audience into complicity with the comedians in the perception of the performance world, pantoland, as unique, original, anarchic and fun’ (p. 102). A key running theme of the book is how pantomime trades on the seemingly opposing ideas of tradition and anarchy. Taylor points out that there is something ‘carnivalesque’ about pantomime, from the transformational storylines and scenery (p. 88) to the central cross-dressing roles of the Dame and Principal Boy which add to ‘the confusion of reversals and transgressions that links pantomime with the anarchic fun of the carnivalesque’ (p. 106). In pantomime, ‘taboos are challenged in a safe and permissive environment’ (p. 43) but crucially the audience is complicit in the anarchic impulses that threaten to derail the story through the slapstick and messy ‘slosh’ scenes: ‘the audience is often involved in encouraging the mess and devastation and this increases the involvement of the audience in the game and the excitement when the target is hit’ (p. 43). What makes this book particularly valuable is the fact that the more scholarly considerations are balanced by pragmatic examples of pantomime in performance. The book abounds with excerpts from recent pantomime scripts and an impressive number of production photographs that root Taylor’s discussion in concrete examples. She also draws extensively on her own experience of working in the band pit of pantomimes and on interviews with current writers, producers, actors and musicians who provide fascinating insights into the kinds of cultural and pragmatic considerations that are currently helping to shape the evolution of British pantomime. Altogether, British Pantomime Performance is an informative, thoughtprovoking and thoroughly enjoyable read. The clarity of the writing, the breadth of knowledge and the obvious enthusiasm of the author for her subject makes this an excellent resource for students, scholars and practitioners of British musical theatre. Given the relative lack of scholarship in this area, it may also help to stimulate further investigation into this hugely popular but largely under-appreciated art form.
Studies in Musical Theatre Volume 2 Number 1 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/smt.2.1.121/7
The following books have been received and will be reviewed in a future issue of the journal:
Atkey, M. (2006), Broadway North: The Dream of a Canadian Musical Theatre, Toronto: Natural Heritage Books. Banfield, S. (2007), Jerome Kern [Yale Broadway Masters Series], New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Clayton, M. and Zon, B. (2007), Music and Orientalism in the British Empire, 1780s – 1940s: Portrayal of the East, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Everett, W. (2007), Sigmund Romberg [Yale Broadway Masters Series], New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Fields, A. (2007), Tony Pastor: Father of Vaudeville, Jefferson, NC & London: McFarland. Hischak, T. S. (2007), The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. Laing, H. (2007), The Gendered Score: Music in 1940s Melodrama and the Woman’s Film, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Miller, S. (2007), Strike up the Band: a New History of Musical Theatre, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Morcom, A. (2007), Hindi Film Songs and the Cinema [SOAS Musicology Series], Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Osborne, C. (2007), The Opera Lover’s Companion, New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Smith, M. W. (2007), The Total Work of Art: from Bayreuth to Cyberspace, New York and London: Routledge. Wollman, E. L. (2006), The Theater Will Rock, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
SMT 2 (1) pp. 121–121 © Intellect Ltd 2008
Music on stage
An international, interdisciplinary conference at Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, Kent, UK October 18th and 19th,2008 This conference will host papers from international scholars on various aspects of performance as well as the creation of the music and its composers. There will be a performance of Richard Arnell’s two chamber operas Moonflower and Love in Transit at the Rose Theatre on campus. Delegate rate is £150.00 for the two days and performances exclusive of accommodation. Enquiries to Fiona.firstname.lastname@example.org (subject to peer review, papers to be published in Studies in Musical Theatre)
Volume 2 Number 1 – 2008
Editorial 3–4 George Burrows and Dominic Symonds Articles 5–32 Emancipation or exploitation? Gender liberation and adult musicals in 1970s New York Elizabeth L. Wollman Hear Jane sing: narrative authority in two musical versions of Jane Eyre Marc Napolitano Fiddler on the Roof: considerations in a new age Charles Eliot Mehler Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev’s Oresteia Anastasia Belina Flooding the concrète: Clastoclysm and the notion of the ‘continuum’ as a conceptual and musical basis for a postdramatic music-theatre performance Demetris Zavros Re: Act 101–108 Detached signifiers, dead babies and demon dwarves: Bieito’s Dutchman Kara McKechnie Reviews Books received
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