Artaserse isn’t La Cage aux Folles. At all.

By now, I think every review about Artaserse and the performance in Nancy has been published, and to my knowledge, there wasn’t a single reviewer who really picked on one specific aspect of the production. This either means that what I am about to write is hilariously far-fetched, or others shared my own concerns: I wanted to write this for a long while already, and postponed it out of cowardice, I have to admit. I just didn’t feel prepared for the shit-storm I am most probably about to create. However, here are my two cents.

I have already written a review of the live performance I attendended, where I was very held-back about the staging in total. So what I am about to say is only one aspect, it wasn’t my main focus then, nor is it now.

It has been stated by many journalists, that Artaserse, mise en scène by Silviu Purcărete, managed to avoid becoming a drag show (“Tuntenball” – which is more than slightly pejorative in German.) Often it has been stressed with a sort of relief that it didn’t even remotely resemble anything like La Cage Aux Folles. Well – does it not? By denying something, we often agree we hit on a conclusion, but reject it. I couldn’t quite understand what should be so bad about the association with La Cage aux Folles in the first place.

Drag queens are overacting, tawdy, a carricature of women? Same has been said about castratos. (It wouldn’t be a line I would have followed if I would have had the chance to make a production; I’m just saying the director might have, even if of course it hasn’t been the only idea or motive he picked up.)

I’m not an expert on musicals, I have to say, and it has been a long long while since I saw La Cage aux Folles. Even though, a few coincidences struck me about the Nancy setting.

  • The opera starts with the glimpse at a work-in-progress; the singers are in their makeup, but in everyday clothes, and are being transformed before our eyes – man, woman, prince, or villain? Impossible to tell beforehand. It’s about the illusion being made evident.
  • The makeup – not completely Baroque, but rather reminding of Klaus Nomi in his prime, or of stage makeup in general.

makeup nancy

  • The old-fashioned dressing-room mirror:

artaserse cencic mirror

cage 1

  • The line-up at the end:

intermezzo nancy

I am what I am 1

  • In Artaserse, Artaserse, King of Persia, wears his coat in a way we can see his everyday clothing underneath – beltbuckle, shoes, pants, and a glimpse of the black tee. Isn’t that a parallel to the appearance of this very brave man, stepping into (or out of) the illusion of all the magic and glitter?

I am what I am 2

You may judge me now 😉

I would have loved to link you the video of the production of the Opéra national de Lorraine, but Youtube decided to kill it off, untimely, poisoned and stabbed it, so to speak. No happy ending there. So I’ll leave you with a bit of John Barrowman, just because he usually manages to calm down the spirits a little – no one seems to be able to be angry with him, at least not for a long time.

I am what I am 
from “La Cage aux Folles”
Words and music by Jerry Herman

I am what I am 
I am my own special creation. 
So come take a look 
Give me the hook 
Or the ovation. 
Its my world that i want to have a little pride in
My world
And its not a place I have to hide in. 
Life’s not worth a damn 
Til’ you can say
Hey world, I am what I am. 

I am what i am 
I don’t need prasie 
I don’t need pity. 
I bang my own drum 
Some think its noise
I think its pretty. 
And so what
If I love each feather and each spangle. 
Why not try to see things from a different angle. 
Your life is a sham 
Til you can shout out loud
Hey world, I am what i am. 

I am what i am 
And what i am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck

sometimes the aces sometimes the deuces
There’s one life
And there’s no return it, no deposit
One life
So its time to open up your closet
Life’s not worth a damn 
Til you can shout 
Out loud 
I am what i am.

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