In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera


Oct 27, 2011 8:33:00 AM
By BLO Staff

By, BLO Artistic Advisor John Conklin
In the end, is what the artist meant important? The
production result (not the process or even the intent) is what matters. Good
artists work on many levels within themselves and often (thank God) produce
work that they may not completely understand. Accepted ambiguity can provide
meaning, stimulation, involvement. (It can also, of course, in less skilled
hands produce uninteresting muddle.) A group of artists producing an opera on
the stage creates a stimulus—the stage production. They need to commit
themselves totally to the evolution of that stimulus through discussion,
conceptual thinking, research, but they must, in the end, give it over to the
recipients, the members of the audience. The artists in a sense lose control,
but that is the glory and often the misery of being an artist. You don’t own
the piece any more—your audience member now does. Is it possible for an artist
to be misunderstood or misinterpreted? This is a question that goes to the
heart of the artistic exchange.
anecdotal case study number two:
After a performance of Don Giovanni, which I designed, I was
accosted by a audience member—red in the face, veins throbbing. I thought, “Oh,
great, now I’m going to cause the death of an irate operagoer.” He sputtered,
“I didn’t understand ANYTHING that you did in that production. Was Giovanni in
a wheelchair because he had syphilis?” He went on and on. After a bit I gently
stopped him gently, “Sir, you said you didn’t understand anything, and here you
have just give a quite thorough and detailed explanations of what it meant—to
you.” “But is that what you meant?” “That makes no difference.” (Actually his
explanation of Giovanni’s wheelchair was a completely new thought for me, and
in some ways a more interesting interpretation than what the director and I had
discussed.) Pause. The furious red drained away. As he walked slowly away, he
said, “Maybe I should go back and see this again.”
I had somehow given him permission to have his own thoughts,
interpretation, to OWN the production for himself, which was his right... and
responsibility. The power to take over and experience a piece in your mind is a
joy and a rush. We live in culture which tells us all the time what to think
and what things mean—critical reviews, experts’ comments, labels on pictures in
museum which explain what to think. Fear of being wrong, fear of appearing
stupid, colors people’s reactions and make them passive receptors. We as
producers need to make each audience member unafraid, to give the control back
to them.

Topics: opera knowledge, audience engagement, General Opera, John Conklin, loving opera

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