Outdoor World

Queer the leads and unleash the nudes: how to reboot a sexist classic for the #MeToo age

From the misogynistic Don Giovanni to the heteronormative Calamity Jane, Australian theatre-makers are meeting new ways into problematic texts

artistic administrator

When Opera Queensland’s Don Giovanni opens next week, dozens of ordinary wives- old-fashioned and young, big and small- will appear naked on stage.

The nude display- representing the” avenging ferocities” who, in the opu, drag the ghastly Giovanni to his death- is not a advertisement stunt, claims the director, Lindy Hume( although the press won’t hurt ). It is about reenacting female retribution and empowering women. Women who after centuries of misrepresentation, repression and self-restraint in the performing arts are finally claiming the soapbox as their own.

And yet Mozart’s Don Giovanni- a work of musical genius- is a problematic play: its protagonist, after all, is a serial womaniser and a rapist. Like many operas, most to be prepared by dead white humankinds, it has deep misogynistic undercurrents , not to mention brutal ferocity and aggression directed towards its female attributes. The product raises the issue: how should we address the classics in the wake of the #MeToo movement? More controversially, should we be putting them on at all?

Opera and musicals from decades gone by are specially vexing: the former are unashamedly grisly and sensationalist, often at the expense of women; the latter can hide deeply dated positions within upbeat feel-good tunes and supposed happy finishes. Both are highly subsidised, involving large-scale casts and even larger budgets.

Opera Queensland’s artistic director, Patrick Nolan, doesn’t believe we should be driven by fear when exploring such thorny narrations, but we should use them instead to interrogate our own values and assumptions.

” If by’ problematic’ we entail complex stories that are full of minds that stimulate us to be considered the course we connect with one another, the direction we understand action, the nature of relations between men and women, the lane power is used in interpersonal, societal, political contexts- then yes, Don Giovanni is a problematic opu ,” Nolan says.

” Why tackle it? Because the stage is a space in which we can look at these theories, questioning the motivations behind[ them ].”

It is a mantra that Jack Symonds, the artistic administrator of the Sydney Chamber Opera, also abides by. This year, the SCO’s The Rape of Lucretia divided reviewers and audience alike. As the title intimates, Benjamin Britten’s 1946 “problem” opera features a brutal assault: this time of the chaste Lucretia who, in disgrace and panicking ostracism from her peers, kills herself. The general thrust of the cocksure, brash libretto is summed up with paths such as:” All girls are whores by nature .”

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A scene from the gender-flipped Rape of Lucretia at Dark Mofo in Hobart. Photograph: Zan Wimberley

To abated the jolt and to force audiences to cross-examine such language, the head, Kip Williams, flipped the genders. Male performers, wearing ladylike Roman-era clothing, played female roles lip-synching the libretto. Their voices were provided by female singers who stalked behind them, like an spooky darknes or ghostly conscience. The women, dressed in male togas, lip-synched to the male singers.

The reversal was more than a stunt: the raw performance highlighted the violence unfolding on stage. That violence- which we are so used to seeing is directed towards women in popular culture( think Game of Thrones)- maintained brand-new startle value. As such, Symonds was eager, above all, to” challenge the whole history of representation of rape of stage “.

” I would never have given it to a director who might have just throw it on the stage as is ,” he says, adding that companies such as SCO exist to bring opera into the modern period and” not wall it off in a museum of’ that’s how people anticipated then ‘”.

Richard Carroll, the director of the make musical Calamity Jane, believes there are some classical studies that are fundamentally inconsistent with how we view the world today- sense they should, in his words,” be given a rest entirely “.

Examples Carroll quotes including the 1950 s musical Seven Brides for Seven Brother, in which the brothers kidnap the girls to marry them, and Kiss Me, Kate, the 1948 musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Put simply, he says:” I don’t know how you are submitting a musical that ends with the lead character sing:’ I’m ashamed that girls are so simple .'”

I think we have a very strong responsibility about the tales we want to tell. These tales have ability ,” concurs the actor Virginia Gay, who plays the title role of Calamity Jane .” Unless we subvert the stuff that is archaic and not relevant; that is misogynistic, homophobic; the stuff that is racist- unless we subvert that, we have no right telling these tales .”

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Virginia Gay in Calamity Jane. Photograph: John McRae/ Belvoir

In Calamity Jane, that entailed hiking up the protagonist’s rejection of gender criteria( she is, after all, a female buckaroo who dons men’s apparel and journeys with the best of’ em) as well as her queerness. Carroll applied directorial, performance and designing selections to reframe the narrative with an emphasis on a woman-on-woman enjoy twist.

In one panorama Calamity Jane and the ultra-feminine Katie Brown lay out dwelling together, singing A Woman’s Touch. The film version, featuring Doris Day, testifies Calamity learning how to become proper madam. Here, nonetheless, a” woman’s touch” becomes more literal- a love ballad with a heavy dosage of sex innuendo. The lyrics” With a wipe rub there and a rub wipe here” take on a brand-new sense( a indication: it’s not about the cleanse ).

There are elements of Calamity Jane that the product could not change without messing with the text, such as the ending which involves a triple traditional heterosexual marriage.( Calamity’s boastings about opposing Native Americans are also archaic and, in the case of this production, less well addressed .)

The musical’s message that you need a humankind to attain you happy, one still scampered out today, irritate. During the same-sex wedding plebiscite Gay would throw her posy in the final panorama to a queer couple in the audience. The entire cast would then call:” Stir it legal, Australia !” As Gay says:” It’s so important to be subversive and political, even if you are using industry standards three-act hetero musical theatre comedy: subvert subvert subvert. Otherwise artistry is dead .”

Few attributes in the canon are more schismatic than Salome, a pathological virgin who enjoys in blood lust( it’s hard to forget that kissing panorama with John the Baptist’s severed psyche ). Indeed, most products of Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera, on the basis of the biblical tale and popularised by Oscar Wilde, shamelessly objectify Salome, as highlighted during the infamous dancing of the 7 veils.

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Adena Jacobs’s production of Salome for the English National Opera commits Strauss’s opera a feminist reboot. Photograph: Catherine Ashmore

The Australian feminist queer theatre director Adena Jacobs, whose English National Opera production processes Salome is now on in London, believes the roots of a narrative” are not as important as what we are trying to investigate and why “.

That entails its further consideration of ability, something Jacobs also probed in her brand-new( silent) opera The Howling Girls, which premiered this year. In Salome, she wanted to give her lead character more psychological complexity, removing her from the archetype of biblical femme fatale( a projection of male fiction) to see if she” is likely to be redeemed or extradited from such systems of disintegration and round of violence “.

All too often” the feminine is used as a weapon against[ male] figures to penalise them,[ and] ladies use the feminine to weaponise themselves too”, finds Jacobs.

While Salome is traditionally set in one chamber over the course of one nighttime, Jacobs and her all-female creative team staged the opera through a shifting scenery designed to mirror Salome’s internal combats. The set was a lane to give Salome complexity and organization as the audience travelings” deeper and deeper into her soul- instead of going into the[ patriarchal] system, we go with her into this cave-like room “.

Virginia Gay is resolute the next step is writing our own text, use the classics as launching pad: she has plans to pen a follow-up for Calamity Jane which explores the gay facets in more depth.

The world is ready, she insists.

” If we’d done this 10 years ago, people would say,’ What a nice prove with fag overtones .’ Doing it now, people come out of the depict and say,’ Shame she couldn’t be brought to an end with Katie, huh ?’

” It’s important to know the original text but let’s tell our own tale from here .”

* Opera Queensland’s Don Giovanni pass 19 October to 3 November at QPac; Calamity Jane is passing 12 to 23 December at Arts Centre Melbourne, before opening at Comedy Theatre Melbourne on 1 January; Salome is running at the Coliseum, London until 23 October

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ stage/ 2018/ oct/ 09/ queer-the-leads-and-unleash-the-nudes-how-to-reboot-a-sexist-classic-for-the-metoo-age

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