When we think of opera, we most likely envision beautiful, zaftig divas and barrel-chested baritones, outfitted in outrageous costumes, long, flowing gowns, or tuxedos. However, there is a new trend in opera that is far sexier, more revealing, and very provocative. This is not your mom and dad’s opera: these productions have sensuality and - nudity.
The NY Times features an article about how nudity is becoming more prevalent in today’s opera world. Karita Mattila, a top soprano, reprises her role as the lead in Strauss’ “Salome” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In 2004, she shook up the stodgy, buttoned-up opera scene with her intensity, incredible vocal performance, and by appearing completely nude in the original production.
During “The Dance of the Seven Veils”, dressed in a white tuxedo a la Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, she stripped off her clothing piece by piece, until she was left naked and in a state of crazed ecstasy. She was so electrifying in the role that The NY Times wrote: “When the history of the Metropolitan Opera around the time of the millennium is written, Karita Mattila will deserve her own chapter."
The Los Angeles Opera’s premiere this September of Howard Shore’s “The Fly”, based on the 1986 David Cronenberg film starring Jeff Goldblum, also has a scene where its star got naked. Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch shed his clothing and stepped into a telepod to engage in the experiment that would change his molecules forever – thereby beginning the slow transformation of becoming “The Fly”.
He emerged from a second telepod, and then faced the audience “full-frontal” with his arms spread like a Christ figure. Although opera goers who saw the performance commended the singers, especially Okulitch, they were unimpressed with Shore’s music.
There is an argument that all this nudity may just be covering up an otherwise mediocre production, and this can be said about any theater production, not just opera. Could directors use nudity as just an exploitative ploy to get seats filled? Does it take away from the integrity of the piece? These are all questions that have been raised.
There is also the opinion that mediocrity is mediocrity and nudity will not conceal this from the true opera lovers and critics. If an opera production is good, then it doesn’t matter if he/she bares all; it doesn’t take anything away, and if anything it adds an extra layer to an otherwise solid piece of theater. The power of opera is in the voices, and everything else is secondary.
Image via The New York Times