On a Schizophrenic Production
A post inspired by two critics of the performances of Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine (January 2009) performed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi & Ensemble Mattheus, and staged by Oleg Kulik, a contemporary artist .
On the one hand, Art Actuel, a magazine dedicated to contemporary art :
We are honoured to have attended, at the Châtelet theatre, the performance of the Vespro della Beata Virgine (sic !), by Claudio Monteverdi, with visual concept, staging, lightshow and costumes designed by our friend Oleg Kulik who managed to turn the musical and choral work of the Italian master into a wonderful "experience on the space liturgy".
On the other hand, Classica Répertoire, a magazine dedicated to classical music :
The Châtelet had turned into a 80's nightclub... The stellar liturgy Oleg Kulik wanted for the Vespro aimed at being scandalous, it was only old fashioned with its raelian costumes and its laser ray. Total show of ridiculing Spinosi & ali.
The art critic went to the Châtelet to enjoy Kulik's show, probably not knowing who Monteverdi is and not caring about him, and the musical critic went there to enjoy Monteverdi's music, surely ignoring who Kulik is and not giving a damn about conceptual art experiments.
On an artistical point of view, the description of the staging sounded appealing. It included the use of huge mirrors reflecting the public on the stage and the orchestra in the theatre, and the projection of pictures and colours on the ceiling and walls to build up a cathedral of sounds and colours.
On a musical point of view, the mention that the conducter would face the public, and the orchestra would stay on stage behind him, didn't seem very clever, even if the conductor was supposed to see the orchestra in a mirror placed behind the public. Still on the musical side, there was the killing detail : Kulik had decided to add extra sounds, like alarms, horns and various noises, in order to create the illusion of being in an open space in the middle of the city. "A stroke of genius !", exclaimed the contemporary art fan. "A pain in the neck", sighted the Monteverdi fan. Horns in the Vespro, that's great only when you don't care about Monteverdi's music.
Kulik did what most of the stage directors do nowadays : he used the concert to promote his own work and ideas.
After reading the excellent critic (in French) here. It seems to me clear that Kulik commited a double sacrilege : a musical one, for ruining Monteverdi's music with with the extra noises, and a religious one, by turning that very high and sacred moment of the christian liturgy into a dionysian ritual.
I see the ancient music as a peaceful and preserved continent, and I'm always sorry when the hords of contemporary art fighters bring to it their violence and destruction. Kulik staging Monteverdi, it's Alaric and the Goths invading Rome.