Bartlett Sher’s concept for his production of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a theatre within a theatre setting with scruffy bewigged footmen types operating old fashioned stage machinery. Throw in costume design that seems to cross the slutty middle ages with My Little Pony and one gets a production that would probably appeal to the average seven year old girl. Fortunately the singing and acting is really rather fine with splendid vocal contributions from Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau well backed up by the likes of Stéphane Degout and Susanne Resmark and it’s Maurizio Benini and the Met orchestra so no problems there either. To be honest they are hamming it up for all its worth but that doesn’t seem unreasonable in this very silly piece. The second act trio which features some mind boggling gender bending with the three principals swapping partners faster than Liz Taylor swapped husbands is hilarious.
Yesterday’s Met Live in HD broadcast of Parsifal was one of the best I’ve seen. The production is highly effective, the starry cast lived up to the hype and the video direction was sensitive and true to the staging. Any reservations I have about the experience are due to the work itself but that may be matter for another day. It certainly reinforced my belief, consolidated by seeing Tristan und Isolde twice recently that these big Wagner operas are high risk, high reward. When they come off they are incredible. When they don’t it’s six hours of one’s life gone missing.
Apparently Peter Gelb made a statement yesterday that the “Live in HD” broadcasts were “cannibalising” the in-house audience at the Met. I’d love to see the data on which that statement was based. I’d also love to see what data the Met has on how other companies are being impacted. My guess is that, if the statement about the Met audience is true, it will show other companies suffering too. So much for attracting a new audience for live opera.
I’m not sure I’d want to go down in opera history as the guy who killed the live audience with a second rate ersatz product…
ETA: Do not Google “cannibal cartoons”. It’s a bit like watching Puccini.
The Metropolitan Opera has announced the line up of HD broadcasts for 2013/14. My first observation is that there are only ten versus twelve last year (and even more some years if I recall correctly). Is the gloss coming off this initiative?
Frankly, too, it looks pretty dull unless one’s taste is for starry casts in unchallenging productions. My comments follow each listing.
Today’s MetHD broadcast of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some really good performances. Joyce DiDonato in particular gave what may well have been a truly great performance and I would have loved to have seen it live. David McVicar’s production was much better than his Anna Bolena; visually interesting and with some strong dramatic ideas. However the good was pretty seriously undermined by another really awful piece of video directing by Gary Halvorson. I guessed it was him after about ten minutes. The incessant use of the nose cam and the incredibly irritating low level tracking shots were a dead give away. It was a big disappointment since the last two shows I saw, La Clemenza di Tito and Les Troyens, were filmed by Barbara Willis-Sweete and had given me some faint hope that the Met was capable of self analysis and improvement in this area. Hope that was, alas, sadly dashed today.
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is opera on a grand scale. Only a really big company like the Met could possibly afford to stage it. Yesterday’s performance used a chorus of 110, a larger orchestra, at least twelve soloists and a bunch of dancers. It also lasted 5 1/2 hours including the intervals. Was it worth it? For the most part I’d say yes.
I despair. I really do. Yesterday’s MetHD broadcast of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera had so much going for it. The singing was brilliant and David Alden’s production seemed to have plenty of interesting ideas. I say “seemed” because we only got the briefest of brief glimpses of it in between the succession of close ups served up by video director Matthew Diamond. On the odd occasions we got to see more than a head or a body it was usually from a weird angle. It’s particularly irritating because the two elements of the production that seemed to be most important were the ones most ruthlessly undermined. Alden’s movement of chorus, supers and dancers and the contrast between what they do and what the principals do seems to be important but who knows? Similarly his use of contrasting spaces, especially in Act 3, is obviously important but when the viewer gets only a couple of seconds to establish the context before the camera moves in and loses it the effect is fatally weakened.
Today’s MetHD broadcast was Mozart’s last, and arguably best, opera La Clemenza di Tito. J-P Ponnelle’s production has been around for a while and offers nothing to offend traditionalists. There’s not a baked potato, muscle suit or child sacrifice in sight. The set, maybe more Italian Renaissance than Imperial Rome is elegant, undistracting and very singer friendly. The costumes are a rather eclectic mix of late 17th century and Republican Rome with a bit of Lady Capulet thrown in but only the black number with the big panniers that Vitellia gets in Act 2 would excite much comment. Direction then focuses rather on the characters and their relationships.
Thomas Adès’ The Tempest has had something like eight runs since its premiere at Covent Garden in 2004. It recently opened at the Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Robert Lepage which was broadcast as part of the Met in HD series this afternoon. It’s an interesting work musically. Some of the vocal writing is reminiscent of Britten. It all tends to a high tessitura for the voice type concerned and goes to extremes in that direction for the soprano part of Ariel where parts are so high that clear articulation of the words is impossible. Writing for voice and orchestra ranges from dissonant to extremely lyrical (the act 2 duet between Miranda and Ferdinand). Key and time signature changes are legion and many of the intervals for the singers are extreme. It must be extremely difficult to perform but it’s rather lovely to listen to.
A couple of weeks ago we recorded another Big COC Podcast. It’s now available on the COC website and from iTunes. This time the panel was myself, Wayne Gooding from Opera Canada magazine and Gianmarco Segato and Gianna Wichelow from the COC.
Topics covered included Robert Everett-Green’s Globe and Mail article on Il Trovatore and the persecution of the Roma, upcoming opera productions across Canada (mostly Verdi!), an interview with Marilyn Gronsdal on her Montreal remounting of Christopher Alden’s production of Der Fliegende Holländer; seen at the COC in 2010, and that hardy perennial, HD cinema transmissions of opera with especial emphasis on the Met.