(CLARIFICATION: The first paragraph is changed, in response to the Canadian Opera Company’s objection that I had unjustifiably described the logs as showing signs of dry rot and termite damage.)
While at the Four Seasons Centre yesterday to do an interview, I was allowed a sneak peek at the construction site in the backstage wings, where, after rehearsal hours, crews are assembling a real Ming-era Chinese temple for the Canadian Opera Company’s upcoming production of Handel’s Semele.
This is an unusual production, masterminded by Linda Wong Davies, of the KT Wong Foundation. Aiming to bridge the traditional cultures of China and Europe, the project paired Chiense visual artist Zhang Huan with Handel, with interesting results at the production’s fall 2009 premiere at the Théâtre de a Monnaie, in Brussels.
There’s lots more to write about the production later. The COC is also preparing a time-lapse video of the construction of the temple, which the company will post on their website after the construction is complete.
But one question is nagging me now: Why do we need to have a real, ancient temple inside a modern opera house?
If we can suspend disbelief when confronted with performance narrative, why do we need a real-world object — rather than a cheaper, lighter, no-need-to-insure-it balsawood and styrofoam replica — planted in the middle of everything?
It’s like having real elephants on stage for Aida; we seem to have a real need to mix fiction with palpable (and smellable) fact, and I feel strange that I don’t understand this.