Dutchman hangs around for a bit
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I have invited the contributors at CharPo to, when the mood strikes them, write what we are going to call "Reconsidered". The idea is that, after thinking about it, many people will revise opinions about a work of art. We come out of a play with friends, we go to a café, and over the carrot cake we parse what we have just seen. The others put ideas into our head, we into theirs and then - hours, days, weeks later - we are hit by a new idea about the show. Those ideas remain largely unexpressed. However, I feel they form the foundations of future considerations not just of the piece seen but of the art itself.
The "Reconsidered" pieces will not be, "I thought it was shit, but now I think it's great!" - though that's okay too. It will be along the lines of a comment a colleague made last year when he was considering his top ten for the end of the year. He said that the plays that he was remembering for his list were, more often than not, the ones he had not raved about.
A current example of mine would be The Flying Dutchman, here at the Opéra de Montréal (a production borrowed from the COC). It is not so much that I now think this was brilliant, but I do now believe that both the COC and OdeM did me - and Canadian opera-goers - a favour in presenting it. There was not only something to like for everyone (the set, for instance) but also something to hate (the set, for instance). Suddenly friends - on Facebook and in the real world - were talking about an opera. It wasn't just another standard-issue Rigoletto or Tosca hummed along with and forgotten. Here in Montreal, especially, it awakened the debate on Regietheater. It also provoked discussions on Wagner, design, opera audiences... Moreover, OdeM shared ALL reviews on Twitter - even profoundly negative ones because, for some odd reason, reviewers rose to the occasion. (You can't "fake" discussion of Wagner, it seems.) It all demonstrated what COC boss Alexander Neef said to Shannon Christy in interview, "I would like [audiences] to embrace being opinionated."
This is a bracing concept which, I believe, we fear in Canada. We are so afraid of sharing an opinion (as this might be seen as a lack of politesse) that we would prefer to eat our guts out. As a result of all the We-Are-The-World-Hold-Hands-And-Sway, Canadian live performance is always in danger of becoming stagnant.
As a publisher I see that each time we put up something provocative. The comments tend to be more about the tone of the piece rather than the substance. This week, for instance, we reprinted an opinion about the Montreal Fringe and its writer, Rob Salerno, who targeted an institution and method was himself, subsequently, personally targeted despite the fact much of what he said pokes at a wound that has been festering in Montreal for a decade.
Yes, we should be proud of our arts organizations but also desperately wish for them to be better in practice and, especially, at doing precisely what art is supposed to do - provoke.