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.
Surprisingly perhaps I started out liking this 1986 recording of Lohengrin from the Metropolitan Opera quite a lot. It’s a very traditional, literal and 70s/80s dark production but the orchestra and chorus are great, the P-regie seems pretty well thought out and the singing in the opening scenes is great. Unfortunately it really rather goes downhill once Elsa, Lohengrin and Ortrud make their appearances.
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.
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.
There are an awful lot of opera DVDs about. It sometimes seems like there’s a new Tosca or Traviata out every week, often for no apparent reason. It’s perhaps surprising then that some works don’t make it to DVD. One particularly egregious case would seem to be John Adams’ Nixon in China. It’s a good piece and has had plenty of productions both in North America and elsewhere. A couple of years ago I saw it twice in 24 hours; on a Friday evening at COC followed by the HD broadcast from the Met the following afternoon and I’ve been listening to an audio recording of the COC version on my walk to and from work. But there’s no DVD! I guess that the Met probably planned to release the HD recording but James Maddalena, the Nixon in the recording, was so obviously ill I was actually surprised that he continued after the interval and I guess that scuppered that. Continue reading
Giordano’s Fedora is a sort of apotheosis of the 19th century Italian opera. It’s a melodramatic love story in an aristocratic Russian setting. There is murder and suicide and plots and a dead mother and brother. The music is dramatic, even bombastic, when the mood suits but finds time to give showpiece arias for the principals. There is not an idea in libretto or score that give anyone an uncomfortable thought. The Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 production by Beppe di Tomasi builds on this by playing it dead straight and setting it in a series of suitably opulent settings complete with extravagant frocks. The cherry on the already rather rich cake is casting Placido Domingo as Loris Ipanoff and Mirella Freni as Fedora Romazoff. I imagine it’s many people’s idea of the perfect night at the opera In it’s way it’s the polar opposite of, say, Bieito’s Wozzeck. Continue reading
The 1982 Metropolitan Opera recording of Mozart’s Idomeneo will likely please those who like their Mozart on the well done side. The story telling is straightforward (though there are some design quirks), the orchestra is big, the tempi are not too sprightly and the vocal talent is starry if not especially Mozartian. To reinforce this James Levine has made a number of cuts and interpolations from different early performances to structure things a bit more like a grand opera and less like a tragédie lyrique. Continue reading