Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Film Festival, "Magicarena"

On Wednesday evening, September 30th, we went to the Fox Bay Cinema to see the Milwaukee Film Festival's screening of "Magicarena," a new film about the Verona Opera Festival. Staged in the city's ancient Roman amphitheater, this is the world's largest outdoor opera venue.

Specifically, the film covers the staging of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida" as the opening production of the Festival's Centenary season.

Beginning five weeks from opening night, the film shows us the working up of the production, as mainly seen by the rank and file people that make the big show possible. Choristers, dancers, "mime-artists", supernumeraries, and musicians all talk about what it is like to take part in such a venerable yet vital program. We get to see principals, such as the producer/stage director, orchestra conductor, and lead singers in action, but they do not talk to the camera.

"Aida" is among the grandest of "grand operas" and staging it for a hundredth anniversary might tell you it will be a big production, and it is: REALLY big! Not only is there a cast of literally hundreds, this is to be an "Aida for the New Millennium," so the production design by Spanish group "La Fura dels Baus" is quite eclectic. The costumes of the principal singers allude to Classical Egypt, but with light-up accessories. Egyptian storm troopers wear industrial orange body armor, while their Ethiopian opponents wear ragged camouflage. Along the edges of the Nile, mime-artists pose as both crocodiles and banks of reeds. In the scene of Rhadames' triumph, the procession includes mechanical framework camels and elephants marching as cranes construct a giant solar reflector emblematic of the Temple of the Sun. Priests, ranked around the rim of the arena, bear aloft huge flaming occult symbols.

While we were given a very intimate look at the innards of what well may be the most over-the-top production of its type we've ever seen, I was disappointed that we never got to see one whole scene of the opera for its effect. While we got to see substantial parts of some scenes, we never got an idea what it was really like for the audience. I don't know if this was required by the Festival, or if the filmmakers just got so caught up with the fascinating details, there was no time to give the big picture.

Nevertheless, it was a very rare set of glimpses into the making of a truly spectacular production, and we were very glad to have seen it.

In Italian with occasionally amusing English subtitles. (Example: Massimo, the orchestra member, is described as being principal trombone, while he is shown playing the trumpet. "Tromba" is the Italian for trumpet, where as an Italian trombone is --a trombone.)

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Tags: movies, opera
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