Think about it for a bit and youï¿½ll realize that Jerry Springerï¿½s televised shoutspiels are the very stuff of which opera is made. Youï¿½ve got your tissue-thin, sob-story plots, your outrageous characters, your outsized emotions and the charactersï¿½ tendency to strip-search their motives and analyze their most private thoughts in public ï¿½ all that plus the simmering threat (and bloodthirsty anticipation) of violence.
Sounds like most of the repertoire at Cincinnati Opera.
Now, give that the sort of exuberant, take-no-prisoners production that director Alan Patrick Kenny and his New Stage Collective minions have used for Jerry Springer: The Opera and ï¿½ despite some timing and focus blunders in Act One and an Act Two finale that overstays its welcome ï¿½ you have an evening of mocking, stomping, slap-dazzle fun.
Imagine an opera that earns belly-laughs. Think, if you can, about a dozen tap-dancing Ku Klux Klansmen. Consider a bisexual Lothario whoï¿½s triple-timing his fiancï¿½e with her ï¿½crack whoreï¿½ best friend and a transvestite in elevator boots. Think about a heroine of operatic proportions who realizes her ambition to be a pole dancer in a strip club and makes a thoroughly provocative job of it. Think about a singing Satan in a red brocade tuxedo, demanding that Springer mediate an apology for him for being tossed out of heaven and a whining, near-naked Jesus with sparkle dust in his hair.
And thatï¿½s but a fraction of the merry fracas.
Now, imagine this fracas revealed in witty lyrics (Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas) sung to a likeable, listenable score (Thomas) featuring a couple of tunes (ï¿½This Is My Jerry Springer Moment,ï¿½ ï¿½It Ain't Easy Being Meï¿½) that are sufficiently accessible and memorable to hum later. Itï¿½s a mammoth undertaking for New Stage.
Kenny packs the narrow loft space on Main Street with a dozen full-voiced principles (nary a dud among them), a well-tuned chorus of 13, eight musicians, an army of technicians and, on opening night, a sell-out audience of 105. In the title role one of Cincinnatiï¿½s favorite actors, Nick Rose, doesnï¿½t sing but nicely catches Springerï¿½s wry, bantering tone and clipped delivery.
Outside on opening night, 30 or so orderly picketers chanted, held up banners and protested perceived obscenity and blasphemy in Springer, holding fast even during a brief rain shower. (See the CityBeat news story about the controversy here.)
Inside, about 25 minutes into the performance, an electrical glitch blacked out the stage and caused a 20-minute delay. Glitch fixed, the show resumed with spirits undampened, though focus and pace remained a little rattled until intermission.
Divine intervention was not suspected. Subsequent performances will likely run smoothly.
Since its Edinburgh Fringe Festival premiere (with Cincinnatiï¿½s former Mayor in enthusiastic attendance) and its 600-plus performance run in London, people have been counting expletives and debating whether Springer is obscene. In thought and word, yeah, probably. In deed, debatable.
Nobody gets naked. Thereï¿½s little suggestive behavior. But obscenity should be a broader issue than nudity and four-letter words. My Webster's says, first, that obscene means ï¿½disgusting to the senses.ï¿½ Thatï¿½s gonna depend on who does the sensing. Secondly, obscene means ï¿½abhorrent to morality or virtue.ï¿½
The libretto might mock some viewersï¿½ narrow construction of ï¿½moralityï¿½ and ï¿½virtueï¿½ as referring primarily to sexual proclivities, but it does not ï¿½abhorï¿½ a broader morality or seek to pervert virtue. Thirdly, Webster's says that something obscene is ï¿½designed to incite lust or depravity.ï¿½ Thatï¿½s a hoot.
Springer is designed to incite laughter and to entertain. At New Stage it succeeds. Operatically. Amen.
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