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Based on the book by Graham Greene, The End of the Affair was adapted for opera in 2002 or so by Jake Heggie. It debuted as an opera in 2004. I mention these things as this was my first exposure to modern opera and I’m certain that it colored my perceptions of the work. I’ve performed modern symphonies, particularly Holsts The Planets. They may not be quite as modern as the word would imply, but by operatic standards they are practically newborn.
All caveats aside, I had high hopes for this opera. The story is moving and dramatic, told by one of the secondary characters who is searching for answers. Maurice’s plight is sympathetic and approachable - he’s lost his love to unknown circumstances shortly after their rendezvous and his near death in a bombing raid in London in 1944. He is still tormented by the loss of Sarah, 18 months later and takes advantage of her unhappy husband to get the answers he wants. This plot practically begs for a tragic opera, particularly with all of the characters coming to God at the end.
I was hugely disappointed in the production. Between the tricks of a Broadway musical (highlighting individuals in spotlights during a choral moment), the gratuitous nudity and the utter failure of the music to evoke any emotion whatsoever.
My expectations for opera are fairly simple. The production is mostly people standing around and singing, exceptional productions have less posing, but for the most part it is necessary for the singers to be stationary to provide the support necessary to get the music out properly. It’s nice when there’s more than posing, but not required. Second, an opera should not try to be another type of medium. If I wanted to go see a musical, I would. Likewise with movies. Therefore, nudity is absolutely forbidden.
Nitpicking aside, I was disappointed in the score, which is generally the heart and soul of an operatic production. The atonality, the conflict within the score and the overall lack of direction left me feeling that the opera was fighting with itself. It was as though the music didn’t know what it was supposed to be, let alone where it was going. Scenes that were supposed to be heart wrenching fell flat due to the conflict within the score. There were two scenes in the first act that had clear direction and an emotive content that provoked sympathy. The rest of the showing was an exercise in futility.
After the intermission, I noticed that the seating was much more sparse than it had been when the show started. I was sorely tempted to leave about half way through the second act and kept waiting for it to end. Some of the other operas were slow, but this was the first that I actively disliked. I find it amusing that Speight Jenkins has an article up on the opera site entitled “What Was I Thinking?” I find that this now has a whole new, unintended, meaning for me.