Wednesday, December 12, 2018

It's a Wonderful Life (an opera review post)

Wait, what? Opera review? It's a Wonderful Life is a movie, not an opera!
Don't worry; it's still a movie but, now, it's also an opera.
And, of movies that could be turned into operas, It's a Wonderful Life is, on many levels, the perfect choice. It's also a very daunting choice. I mean, the movie is beloved by so many people... It's a fine line to tread to reproduce something in another medium to the satisfaction of people who love it in its original medium and, yet, make it attractive to people who have no association with it. It's why adapting books can work so well. The percentage of readers is usually small enough that it doesn't matter if they like an adaptation or not. But taking a beloved movie, a movie that millions of people watch every year... Well, that's another story entirely.

And let's just get it out of the way:
I love It's a Wonderful Life, which has nothing to do with it being a Christmas movie (because, let's face it; it's not) and everything to do with loving Jimmy Stewart. And this isn't even my favorite Jimmy Stewart movie, just the one I've watched the most and the one that most people know him from. That said, I wouldn't want to be the one cast to fill his shoes in this operatic adaptation.

But before we get to that, does the opera make me want to partake of the source material? That's a much easier question to answer when you're not already familiar with the source material, just by the way. That said, I don't think the opera would have made me want to watch the movie if I hadn't already seen it. I could be wrong. However, we went to see this with a couple of friends who were both mostly unfamiliar with opera and had never seen the movie, and both of them said they felt like, now, they needed to see the movie. They both had a much greater positive reaction to the opera than I did, which could account for that, especially considering some of my lack of positive reaction came from places where I thought the adaptation was lacking.

The greatest area it was lacking was in its George Bailey. George was played by William Burden, who never felt George enough for me. In the movie, one of the main qualities about George is his enthusiasm, his excitement over all that he plans to do. That's really lacking in the opera and, instead, George comes off as seeming rather depressed through most of the opera, sad all the time. It gave the opera a melancholy feeling that the movie doesn't have. Being a story of hope, I think the melancholy dragged the opera down somewhat; at least, it did for me.

On the other hand, Andriana Chuchman really nailed Mary Hatch. She was a pleasure to watch and listen to.

On the other other hand, Rod Gilfry wasn't quite evil enough as Mr. Potter, though that probably wasn't his fault. He doesn't have enough stage time to let the audience know how despicable he is. We have to rely on George's pronouncement that Potter is like a fat spider in a web preying on everyone else as our measurement on how evil Potter is.

The music and singing were good but, overall, not very memorable. It never really soared, and it seems to me that there should have been opportunities for that. Then, again, I'm not a musician.

Then there's the stage...
SFO generally has great sets. You should know; I talk about them pretty much every time I do an opera review. But this one... Well, it was interesting and a great way to handle the first part of the story. The stage was full of doors floating out in space and was where the angels viewed George's life, where Clara (the angel sent to save George (rather than Clarence from the movie)) learns what she needs to know so that she can help George Bailey as he stands on the bridge ready to jump. And they had angels flying around the stage, too, which was really cool.

As they progressed through George's life, different doors would open and the actors would come out and act out the scenes of the important moments. It was really cool, like visions in space for the angels to watch.

The problem was that that was all there was. When they finally got up to "now" in the story and everything was progressing in the moment, the action was still happening in front of the doors. It made the ending seem less real than it should have. At least for me.

All of that said, I did enjoy the opera. It was good; it just wasn't great. And certainly not as great as I wanted it to be. It was something I was glad to see, but it's not an opera I'd go out of my way to see a second time. And, really, there's nothing wrong with that.

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