Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Puccini in the Wild West, and Bacon at the Tate Britain

An magnificent production of Puccini's La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) is currently running at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It was first performed in New York, at the Met, with Caruso and Destinn in the lead roles and was received with great aplomb. It has not has the same success in Europe, though there are some great recordings (I have the Nilsson/Matacic recording); it is being staged with greater frequency in recent years. This production boasts José Cura and Eva-Maria Westbroek, flawlessly conducted by Antonio Pappano. The opera is often described as less 'flashy' than some of Puccini's other works, and there are certainly fewer big arias. But I think that it benefits from this, in a way, in that there's a great narrative thrust to the story. The way the characters use English names for each other (Jack Rance, for example) creates (inadvertent?) comic moments. The set is beautifully designed and executed, the cast is extraordinary. This really is unmissable.

At the Tate Britain there is a powerful and at times disturbing Francis Bacon exhibition. His work intense enough as individual works, but ten rooms of works really do pack quite a punch. And you've been punched in the gut after this. They've tried to provide a broad chronological sweep, with the earliest work dating from 1933 and the latest to 1991. There is also a room of archival material, with a good deal of stuff from Dublin's Hugh Lane (now home to the Bacon Studio). The paintings and studies based on the famous Velázquez portrait of Innocent X are so familiar, iconic really. But seeing them together was tremendous. It is easy to not think about them, to consume them as trademarks. Standing in front of them, however, has the effect of stripping away all of your defences. The screaming mouths, gaping in horror, are directed right at you, and there's nowhere to go. The space, so carefully constructed and also produced by the figures, envelopes you despite its delimiting lines and the way the figures are boxed in.
I bought Deleuze's book on Bacon on the way home and will read it soon. Bacon compels and will compel when you go to this exhibition.

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