ustinov: everybody’s talkin’

…Peter Ustinov’s first three plays were produced while he was in military service during World War Two. House of Regents, a story of Russian exiles, reached the stage largely because James Agate, the waspish but influential critic of the Sunday Times, had seen it in manuscript and warmly praised it. The second play was a Chekhovian effort, Blow Your Own trumpet, written in three days. Ustinov was later to say that Chekhov plays “are very selfish- everybody talks and nobody listens.”

—“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” — Peter Ustinov—Read More:

Agate turned mercilessly on Ustinov when this drama opened and wrote that the author had “every quality of a first-class playwright except one: he cannot think of a story.” But Ustinov’s third play, The Banbury Nose, a third-generation play in reverse, starting in the present and working back in time, brought about yet another Agate reversal. Agate wrote: “he is the greatest master of stagecraft now writing in this country.” Ustinov was the twenty-three.

In the years that followed, Ustinov wrote such disparate plays as The Tragedy of Good Intentions, about the Crusades, The Empty Chair, about the French Revolution, The IndifferentShepherd, about a pastor, and one about the South American liberator Simon Bolivar, which never reached London. He remained equally unruffled by failure and unswayed by success. In 1953, when his play No Sign of the Dove, an allegory about Noah and the Ark, was blasted by critics and booed by audiences, Ustinov replied: “The sound of booing, when directed against you personally, is particularly unmusical, but it does clear the mind as no amount of adulation can…I shall write as I think..even if I have to boo the gallery from the stage.” The play tottered through eleven performances…( to be continued)…

—Peter Ustinov, Roy Kinnear, and Peter Ustinov, “The Last Remake of Beau Geste” (1977)
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(see link at end)…Ustinov: I think it is not to treat it as a comedy and not to treat it, certainly, as a tragedy. For some reason, Don Giovanni is treated, now, as a tragedy, with the terrible scene when he’s drawn to Hell. I don’t think that it is tragic for a person to have slept with 300 women in one town. It may be athletic, but it’s certainly not a tragic occurrence. It’s called a dramma giocoso. There is the little morality at the end, which people like Klemperer always took out in order to end on a “strong,” and I think that’s absolutely and utterly against the intentions of Mozart.

Duffie: It begins in D minor and should end in D minor without into the last little G major section?

Ustinov: That’s what they think, but I think it should end with the little morality of people now not knowing where to begin again after the end of the opera. That’s a very essential point, and I did something which I was criticized by some in the press. At the end there, when Don Ottavio appears – too late, as usual – with (it says so in the text) con due ufficiale, two officers from Madrid with a warrant – at last, which took years in coming – for the arrest of Don Giovanni. Now there’s nothing for them to do, so while the cast is singing the last bit, I had the two officers, who were dressed rather like Guardi de Civil of the period, measuring the hole down which Don Giovanni disappeared, notating it in a small book for the archives.

Duffie: Very bureaucratic!

Ustinov: Very bureaucratic, and I think it’s absolutely justified; I think it is a very, very interesting slice of life. Mozart was a genius and Da Ponte was a genius for just striking a ground which is both pathetic and comic at the same time. Figaro, which I did recently in the Mozarteum in Salzburg, is exactly that kind of thing, which is terribly touching. The Count is a very vulnerable character, after all, and at the end he’s humiliated by having to apologize. I think this is wonderfully human. People have put a French Revolutionary context on it, and I think that’s all perfectly justified, but it should never interfere with the actual human reactions of the people themselves. Read More:<


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