x. I a 's l. I ‘ I g i,
it its second night. I went to see it with a friend. and we were watching it together in the stalls. and she was laughing in all the right places. But there were these three real po-faced bastards sitting in front of us. occasionally turning round and shushing us. you know. during the funny bits. I was really patient. I put up with about ten of these shushes. until I said. “No —.\‘()ll shush!"
‘Then one of these guys in front of me
said. “We‘ve come here to listen to the ' , music. not your wretched cackling." So l kind of leapt forward and said. “Actually. it’s intended to be funny.” You see. these are the people you‘ve got to change.
Opera’s principally music — that’s why we’re doing it. the music is why we’re all here — but it‘s also theatrical. If it’s not theatrical. then it’s nothing. I think we always knew there‘d be a certain kind
ﬂ ,1" ‘ I r who'd find it a ’ “painful
‘ experience. but
change is always painful.‘ From the sound of it. director Jonathan Moore was well prepared for the sharply divided reaction that greeted his Scottish Opera/English National Opera co-production of Alfred Schnittke’s Life With An Idiot —- ‘straight raves or straight kickings’. as he puts it. When the production opened at the London Coliseum in April. a handful of music critics had already sharpened their knives before the curtain rose (still raging. in part. over the ENO’s previous offering. a much-hated Don Giovanni). What the most vehement detractors omitted to say. however. was that the audience — myself among them — kept their loudest cheers for Moore and the design team. Huge dramatic risks had been taken and not all the stage mechanics worked first time round. but that didn’t detract from the
There will be fewer axes to grind when the production makes its way north ofthe border this month. although already the advance posters are attracting flak from more conservative corners — blatant Sex Pistols rip-offs. proclaiming in bright. dayglo yellow and pink ‘Never Mind The Bollocks — Here‘s Life With An Idiot’. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the trite shock-
! The List 5-18 May 1995
thrilling. unconventional. entertaining impact of
Theatrically bold and visually startling, Scottish Opera’s version of Schnittke’s Life With An Idiot is one of the company’s most ambitious productions ever. Director JONATHAN MOORE talks to Alan
Morrison from the eye of a storm of controversy.
for-shock’s-sake of punk. Murder. lust and madness may be staple ingredients in countless operas worn down by constant repertoire revivals. but Life With An Idiot takes these elements further. beyond cliche’. Clowning. slapstick and witty one-liners are followed by slap-in-the-face sequences of wife-beating. decapitation and hetero/homosexual seduction. This is humour encroaching to within an inch of horror. Moore balances it brilliantly. knowing when to allow absurdity to run wild and when to tighten the leash. '
The opera. first performed by De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam three years ago. was written during a ﬂurry of creative output when contemporary Russian composer Alfred Schnittke survived two series of strokes in 1985 and 199]. A relatively unfamiliar name in Britain. the 60-year-old Schnittke found inspiration for one of his rare stage works in Victor Erofeyev’s short story Life With An Idiot. written in 1980. but remained banned by the authorities for a decade. Both Schnittke’s and Erofeyev‘s personal backgrounds are tightly woven into the thematic identity of the piece. The former — half-German-Catholic. half-
‘Clowning, slapstick and witty one-liners are followed by slap-in-the-tace sequences of wife-beating, decapitation and hetero/homosexual seduction. This is humour encroaching to within an inch of horror.’
Russian-Jew — places an individual’s mantle of guilt and torment within a system of moral absolutes; the latter. the son of Stalin’s official interpreter. uses imagination and fantasy as a tool against the repressiveness of the Soviet regime.
The narrative tells how ‘1’. as punishment for an unnamed crime. is forced to lodge a lunatic of his choice in the Moscow home he shares with his wife. After some musing in the local asylum, he decides on Vova. an inmate whose only vocabularly is a surprisingly expressive ‘Ekh!’. Soon. Vova’s presence dominates the flat: he first seduces the wife and leaves her pregnant. then turns his attentions to the jealous ‘1’. Bloody murder and insanity follow.
The text contains several specific political elements which are drawn out in the staging. Vova. with his iconic beard and hairline (although here it is coloured bright orange and he wears a tartan suit ofclown-like dimensions), resembles a bastard offspring of V. l. Lenin and C. U. Jimmy. As a force of simultaneous creation and destruction, he points towards an allegorical or satirical reading of the piece. It’s also. in design terms, a very voyeuristic