I BOOED at Wolf Trap. Everybody in front of me was duly shocked, turning around aghast and taking themselves aback.A bearded man asked me, "Why did you boo?"
"Because that's the director taking a bow and I didn't like the direction," I explained without rancor.
"Do you often boo at opera?" he retorted.
I shrugged, I boo when I have to. I booed Frank Corsaro, the director of Wolf Trap's production of Busoni's "Doktor Faust" that opened Aug. 5. because he confused me. In a confused state at the opera. I do the same thing I do when a call by the ump confuses me at basketball game: I boo.
Corsaro confused me because for almost the entire opera the singers were shielded by a huge see-through peek-a-boo screen called a scrim that had various slides and motion pictures playing upon it. The scrimmy effects confused me because:
1) When I see a sexy women projected roughly to the size of Mount Rushmore lifting up her flimsy negligee and baring bejewelled bosoms, I have trouble listening to the music;
2) When singers sing behind a scrim I have trouble seeing their dolorous grimaces and, fool that I am, when I cannot see those grimaces the opera neither moves me to laugh nor cry;
3) When the scrim is there I always wonder what a rotten tomato smartly thrown would do to it and that speculation takes my mind off the plot.
As I left the opera that night I told my companion, "This scrim and projection business has to be a flash in the pan. People will see it turns opera into a bad home movie."
Brave talk. All that night I dreamed as if in front of a scrim. The review in The Washington Post by Lon Tuck regaled me with "Corsaro is the boldest brainstormer of America's opera world."
My attitude softened. The tavern scene in the opera for all the scrim was effective. The bad acoustics at Wolf Trap may have made the scrim more imposing then the flimsy stuff actually is.
Then last Sunday morning my companion mentioned that according to The Times the here-to-for traditional productions of Wagner's Ring in Seattle will soon begin using projections, i.e. scrim. My companion further reminded me that the Met's big hit last year, "Esclarmonde," was behind scrim. I saw the handwriting on the wall. I said to myself, "Admit it you old conservative, you can't get the visual impact of 'Doktor Faust' out of your mind. What if you can't remember one bar of Busoni's music? Perhaps the orchestra . . . after all what could they pick up for the $300,000 they had to spend considering their film budget?"
Last Sunday night I went to the National Symphony concert, and two women in front of me raved about Corsaro and one mentioned that the big hit of the New York City Opera, "Mephistopheles," used scrim.
I was down and the count was eight. Then at 8:30 the symphony struck up the overture to "Norma" - bar by bar one of the most uplifting.Then a young soprano, Ruth Welting, came out and sang in delirious succession bel canto knockouts by Bellini, Donizetti and Thomas. She's just a kid, no bigger than 5 feet, and tra la bang she shook the entire Concert Hall with a note roughly the equivalent of an E equals MC2. If she had been behind scrim I would have sworn the being projecting such force had to be a gibbon at the zoo whose bel canto can rip a mile of crowded city streets and make the near deaf harken.
I was laughing and applauding. The orchestra was laughing and applauding. And then . . .
Came on stage a soprano who could eat Ruth Welting in three bites. Her name is Nancy Tatum and she, the program boasts, won the gold medal in Bulgaria. She sang an aria from Menottis's "The Consul" and made Menotti sound like Wagner! Menotti is a composer! All his stuff needs is a voice instead of a cast of Mozart sopranos.
The point is, the voice was opening my eyes and ears, making the music alive with no scrim, no movies and no Mount Rushmore nudes.
After arias from "Aida" and "Carmen," the symphony and Tatum concluded the concert with the Immolation Scene from Wagner's "Gotterdammerung." They smyphony was working on a four-for-four night. The guest conductor, Fruhbeck de Burgos, was elegance itself. And Tatum was huge in a flowering gown, divine.
Tatum sang the last notes as the flames started licking her and Valhalla, flames I had no trouble seeing, and Tatum moved nary a finger, like a goddess. The conductor pirouetting above her, the symphony pouring it on heading for home. I saw it all, the whole opera, and they were all naked without a shred of scrim.
Mr. Corsaro, you are backwards, like Plato's men in a cave seeing shadows. Music is light. E equals MC2. Next time you get $300,000 use it to fatten up a few voices like Nancy Tatum's, or organize the $300,000 Corsaro World Series of Bel Canto with a large stage, a top-notch orchestra and singers like Ruth Welting who can belt them out.
Why see opera through a scrim darkly, when the music - even Busoni's - can make everything dazzling face to face?