Viewpoint

Viewpoint: The Witching Hour

by F. PAUL DRISCOLL

Viewpoint Witching Hour lg 312
Wicked good: Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz
© MGM/Photofest 2012

When I was about seven or eight years old, my idea of sheer, galloping terror was watching Margaret Hamilton cackle her way through The Wizard of Oz on television, her bony fingers, hatchet-faced profile and spectacular black hat setting forever in my mind what a wicked witch was supposed to look like. The neatest trick about Victor Fleming's movie adaptation of L. Frank Baum's book is that the characters in Dorothy Gale's dreamworld of Oz were visually and spiritually connected to people in her real world, a farm in Kansas: Dorothy's three companions on the yellow brick road were doubles of her aunt and uncle's three friendly farmhands. The scare factor of Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West was upped because she looked like a cartoon extension of Miss Gulch, the skinny spinster who was so mean to Dorothy and her dog. Miss Gulch didn't zip around on a broom and fly over castle walls. She rode a bicycle and entered a house through the front door, just like real people, but she was just as wicked as the Witch of the West. Wasn't she?

Hamilton's definitive performance as the Wicked Witch no longer terrifies me, although I now admire its forceful wit and wild-eyed energy. (Who can resist Hamilton's dying cry of "Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?") I still find Miss Gulch as creepy as ever, though. The inexorable link between the supernatural world and the real world — that realization that Big Evil is alive and well and breathing fire within the house next door — is profoundly disturbing. In Adrian Noble's production of Verdi's Macbeth, which returns to the Met this month, the witches are brilliantly reimagined as a motley herd of ladies in shabby coats, ankle socks and sensible shoes who brandish grim little handbags instead of broomsticks. Noble doesn't neutralize or apologize for Verdi's witches; despite their faux-genteel getups, they are fierce harbingers of doom. Their ordinary appearance makes their interaction with Macbeth — their unsettling knowledge of his future — all the more extraordinary, and all the more evil.

I love opera's spooky moments when they are done with the proper measure of conviction. I wish more new operas were written with an eye toward providing a few musical chills. The notion that Good and Evil coexist as powerful opposing forces, so dear to nineteenth-century opera composers, doesn't seem to have faded much, especially when one considers the success of television series such as True Blood or the Twilight Saga films. Might some enterprising composer consider a vampire opera? Or is it just too difficult to sing with one's mouth full?

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On April 29, when the OPERA NEWS Awards are presented at the Plaza Hotel, one of our honored guests will be Samuel J. Aronson, the winner of this year's OPERA NEWS Award Sweepstakes. Mr. Aronson, a longtime OPERA NEWS reader from Arlington, Virginia, will be flown to New York courtesy of American Airlines, with accommodations supplied by Trump International Hotel & Tower on Central Park. We look forward to welcoming Mr. Aronson to the Awards gala, and we thank all of our readers who entered the Sweepstakes. spacer 

F. PAUL DRISCOLL 

CORRECTION: Tenor Ragnar Ulfung, a longtime member of the Swedish Royal Opera, was born in Norway, not Sweden, as stated in the January issue of OPERA NEWS.


The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3