restricted access David Hockney on “Parade”: Redesigning Modern Opera
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OA VID 'CN HCKIE Y "PA RA O ARADZ" Redesi44odern 01 OO 0 Per8 G/e'7 Loney Considering David Hockney's celebrity as a painter, it was only a matter of time before he'd be invited to design an opera for the Metropolitan. After all, the Met had already honored Marc Chagall by commissioning him to design a colorful Magic Flute for its new home in Lincoln Center. Unlike the legitimate theatre, where producers prefer to engage trained and established scenic and costume designers, the opera stage is a space which can accomodate itself to artistic visions whiich are unhampered by a sense of what "cannot be done" or what is "right" for the production. The problem painters may encounter when first designing for the three-dimensional stage-space is that of adapting two-dimensional visions in such a way that performers can move effectively in the completed settings-also avoiding the trap of having scenery which looks like flat cut-outs from a framed canvas . Sculptors, such as Isamu Noguchi, have understandably had more success in dealing with stage-spaces, but in Noguchi's case, the stage milieu was customarily abstract, not realistic. Opera-lovers who make the annual pilgrimage to Britain's remarkable Glyndebourne Opera Festival already had a clue to what Hockney might 65 achieve for the Met's proposed triple-bill of Parade, Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and L'Enfant et les Sortileges. For Glyndebourne's intimate but fully equipped stage, attached to John Christie's handsome country house, Hockney had created impressive designs for Mozart's The Magic Flute and for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. Hockney's success at the Met has proved to be more than purely visual, though he does delight the eye in a number of ways. The three works do not have much in common thematically or musically, but Hockney's ingenious integration of the sets and costumes, deftly exploited by director John Dexter , makes the ballet and two short operas a unified trilogy which is both an historical homage and an exercise in fausse naif innovation. As Met audiences file into the vast house to see Parade, as the trio are jointly labeled, they see a bare stage with some barbed-wire battlefield entanglements , with French Tricolors bravely flying. This is a reminder that the German forces were only 100 miles from Paris when Parade was premiered in 1917. Its creators were Jean Cocteau (fable), Erik Satie (score), and Pablo Picasso (designs), and they sought to lighten the sad times with a nostalgic evocation of a bygone Parisian circus parade, complete with Harlequin and his commedia colleagues, Chinese jugglers, and other circus entertainers, including the freaks. As the Met's ballet begins, the circus folk start to fill the No Man's Land on stage, outfitted in Hockney's colorful costumes, as theatrical set-pieces drop into place. On the three sides of the proscenium arch, the names of the evening's three composers-Satie, Poulenc, and Ravel-are projected. Large children's building-blocks are used to spell out titles and names, with the costumed cast doing duty as stage-hands. Hockney mingles his own vision of a child's perception of the world of the circus of long ago with deliberate visual references to Picasso's original Cubist designs. For the two operas, the chorus, dressed in fantastic green commedia costumes, with very tall stove-pipe hats, provides not only vocal accompaniment , but also shifts sets and props around as needed. The first of the operas, by Guillaume Apollinaire (libretto)and Francis Poulenc (score), Les Mamelles de Tiresias, also has a connection with the First World War in France, as it makes a comical appeal for the production of children, when so many lives have been lost in battle. Its heroine Therese, however, is an ardent feminist, preferring to make war rather than children. She divests herself of her breasts symbolically, taking two balloons from her blouse and letting them float away. She changes sex, just as her husband dresses as a woman. Later, determined to defeat his wife's decision not to have children, he had 40,049 children by himself all in...


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