Is ‘Grisly’ too stong a word for Griselda?

& Well! The opera buffs must be buzzing this morning in Santa Fe.

It seems as if the opening performance of the third opera of The Season, as it’s known around here, stuck in the craw of the local newspaper’s critic. James M. Keller’s review of Saturday’s premiere performance of Vivaldi’s Griselda was not exactly something that the director, Peter Sellars, will cut out and hang on his refrigerator.

Not that I’m anybody who actually knows about opera — the only thing I know is what a New York cab driver told me once, long ago, on a 15-minute ride on 42nd Street, most of which I’ve forgotten. To me, opera is about as interesting as golf. I’ve played two rounds of golf, badly, and I’ve slept through two operas, soundly. But, uncultured as I may be, I can read.

Sellars probably wishes that the New Mexican’s critic was sleeping Saturday night as, in Keller’s words, “the three hours of Sellars’ re-invention of Vivaldi’s Griselda crept on.” In the cordial, cultured, civilized world of opera-going, it might be said that the critic penned a less-than-gratuitous response to the director and the performance. Out among the rabble, it could be said that Keller ripped Sellars a new one.

“When opera people argue about whether directors have gone too far in imprinting their fantasies on the productions they oversee,” Keller began, “they are talking about the sort of thing witnessed Saturday night at Santa Fe Opera’s house premiere of what was represented to be Antonio Vivaldi’s Griselda.”

The way I read that, Keller thinks Sellars essentially rewrote the opera and misrepresented the composer. Things were done, Keller said, that “might have been illegal in Vivaldi’s Venice.” I never knew a respectable writer of anything who would stand for such shenanigans, but, unfortunately Vivaldi can’t complain because he’s dead.

But although M. Sellars may wish to the contrary, M. Keller is not dead. The very same critic who has been very generous to this season’s performances of La Boheme and Faust unloaded like a malfunctioning manure spreader on this one. In each of the nine-paragraphs of this review, he doesn’t miss a chance to cast aspersion. He hammers Sellars for condensing a three-act drama into two, for rearranging and messing with the music, and for heavy-handed overused staging gimmicks like too many guns and a cast that “rolled about on the floor more than you might think necessary.”

The performers fared no better. Keller tells us of a cast that couldn’t keep the beat, of a soprano with a “shrill timbre” who “was made to run around dressed like an MTV award presenter”, a mezzo-soprano “who did not seem well-suited to her role”, a tenor “whose lunging for notes yielded unconvincing results,” and a contralto “whose uncentered pitches, swallowed diction and graceless stage deportment rendered her casting incomprehensible.”

Sounds like there may have been those in the audience who, as soon as the Fat Lady sang, beat feet for La Fiesta lounge in La Fonda, a stiff drink, and the soothing sounds of Soulman.

At least there’s a bright side. For the director of the next opera, it seems, the review can’t be any worse. 

& Off to listen to Bob Dylan, who seems very well-suited to his role, I’m outta here.






One thought on “Is ‘Grisly’ too stong a word for Griselda?

  1. Boy are those opera folks dumb. they pay big bucks to a famous director when they could have hired a local hack critic who obviously could do a better job. Why is he wasting his talent as a critic?


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