The following review is included by David Meadows in his Rogueclassicism
today. He adds this comment at the end of his post:
The production, by the way, is performed in Latin, with English and Czech subtitles ... it would be worth going just to see how an Alexander who looks like this Alexander sounds ... road trip, road trip, road trip
I had seen the original web page of The Prague Post
yesterday, however, and obtained permission to re-post the review and photograph on Pothos.
So bad it's good
Young talent produces an entertaining flop
By Frank Kuznik
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
January 31st, 2007
“But the music is beautiful!”
Such were the sentiments even of the ushers at the Jan. 25 premiere of the National Theater’s newest opera production, an original work commissioned from young Czech composer Tomáš Hanzlík. There was every reason to want to like Lacrimae Alexandri Magni (The Tears of Alexander the Great), which does indeed feature some engaging melodies and vocals. But what was happening onstage made it difficult.
In fact, what was happening onstage seemed to have little or no relationship to the opera, which is ostensibly about a young Alexander the Great longing for glory, preparing for the rigors of the battlefield and then having his first opportunity for fame and honor snatched away. But there was no way to tell this from what appeared when the curtain rose: half a dozen Teletubbies perched atop precariously high lifeguard chairs, who remained there for most of the evening. Adding to the confusion was a faceless narrator in a menacing cardinal-red costume and a trio of gymnast clowns who would interrupt the proceedings occasionally with pointless slapstick routines.
The result was such a bewildering mess that it’s impossible to judge this production by any coventional critical measure. Lacrimae is presented more like oratorio than opera, with the performers in isolated static positions for most of the night, with almost no movement or emoting, and virtually no interaction until the second act. Except for the Three Stooges, the piece is like an exercise in anti-acting, with the performers required to remain frozen in mimelike poses for excruciatingly long periods of time.
Because nothing resembling a plot or even dialogue unfolds onstage, the only way to follow the story is to stay locked on the titles screen overhead — not difficult, as there’s no action to miss below. But the libretto, based on an 18th-century Latin text written by an unknown teacher adapting an excerpt from Plutarch’s biography of Alexander, is totally banal and often confusing. So quite soon there’s no point in trying to follow the vague semblance of a story line, and, when in the second act the bright stage lighting washes out the titles, it hardly matters.
As for the score, “beautiful” might be a stretch, but it is pleasant enough. What’s surprising is that Hanzlík breaks absolutely no new ground. Aside from brief passages of Philip Glass lite to add a sense of drama or urgency, the music sounds like a pastiche of classical 19th-century opera: a little Verdi here, a little Wagner there, a dash of verismo and a sprinkling of Romantic, all with very conventional structure and phrasing. It’s comfortingly familiar and, in a different setting, might actually be good.
But this is a doomed effort, even with a solid cast. Steve Wächtner, a German singer, does what he can with Alexander, who is listed in the program as an alto but often sounds like a soprano — an odd choice for an overbearingly masculine role. Veteran Czech opera star Soňa Červená does a surprising turn as the creepy narrator, but it’s a speaking role and not enough to salvage the evening.
This train wreck is largely the work of “Rocc,” a young hotshot stage director and designer from Ljubljana who has some interesting ideas, though they’re totally inappropriate for this work. Or maybe that’s the way everybody involved wanted it. The pileup is so spectacular and completely befuddling that it’s hard to know where to start looking for order amid the chaos.
It’s also tempting to view Lacrimae as a metaphor for the current situation at the National Theater. Because projects are commissioned and planned far ahead of time, that’s not accurate — this is the bastard child of the recently deposed adminstration, not the interim or new appointees. But it would be hard to imagine a better reflection of the turmoil and unrest that’s rocked the theater in recent months.
For all that, a positive recommendation: See Lacrimae if you can. Only occasionally in life does a disaster of this magnitude unfold before one’s eyes, so breathtakingly ill-conceived and executed that it’s like watching a tsunami come ashore, riveting in its awesome, horrific splendor. Like some of the audience on opening night, you may literally be diving for the exits by the end. But, for all the wrong reasons, it will a unique and unforgettable experience.
Here is the photograph which accompanies the review! Hmm, this might make those who hated Colin Farrell’s portrayal feel a little warmer towards him. Then again, perhaps not . . .
Photo by Hana Smejkalová
Caption: Alexander the Great, looking more like a Teletubbie than a warrior, girds for battle.