Alex Ross points us to Graham Vick's recent whining about carpetbagger opera directors (i.e., ones with a background in theater and film), and puts in a vote of confidence, or at least open-mindedness, in connection with Woody Allen's planned opera debut, directing Gianni Schicchi for the L.A. Opera next year.
Personally, I don't feel all that optimistic about Allen — he makes the requisite charmingly self-deprecating noises, but history suggests that so-called "high art" can bring out some of his less attractive traits (insecurity, peevishness, a desire to overcompensate).
But some of the best opera directing I've encountered in recent years has indeed been the work of a film director, who as it happens is signed up for the other two-thirds of that L.A. Trittico. That is, of all people, William Friedkin, the auteur of The French Connection, The Exorcist, the underappreciated To Live and Die in L.A. and, most recently, Bug (which I missed in the theater but have moved to the top of my Netflix queue).
In 2002 he directed a double bill of Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi in L.A. that was remarkable for the way it joined two disparate works together while giving each one its own identity. He has a wonderful eye, an obvious knowledge of and love for music, and he moved easily between the worlds of tragedy and comedy (and you have to feel for Allen, not only directing opera for the first time but directing a work that Friedkin staged so unforgettably just a few years ago for the same company).
Two years later, Friedkin topped himself with an amazing production of Ariadne auf Naxos, set amid the egomaniacs and power brokers of Hollywood — natch — but done with wit and pathos and visual energy. Best of all, it was genuinely funny. Sure, Ariadne gets billed as a comedy, but I've always taken that in some specialized, Bayerisch, dumpling-laden sense. Until Friedkin's, I'd never encountered a production that was truly comic, in the sense of, you know, making you laugh.
I can't wait to see what he does with Tabarro and Suor Angelica. And if it means fewer gigs for Graham Vick and his ilk, we'll consider that a fringe benefit.