In 2015 the Metropolitan Opera premiered a new production of Verdi’s Otello directed by Bartlett Sher. It was broadcast in the Met in HD series and subsequently released on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s a bit hard to judge the production on video because of the video direction. I don’t think there are any big ideas but it’s decorative enough with arrangements and rearrangements of plexiglass wall/rooms and some effective video projections for things like the storm scene. Only Act 4 breaks the mould with a sparse stage with just a bed and a few chairs. I strongly suspect though from the occasional wide angle shot that there was a lot more going on visually than one sees on the video. Costumes are 19th centuryish and quite decorative.
The Met’s abridged version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in English, got an HD broadcast in 2006 and a subsequent DVD release. It’s Julie Taymor’s production and it’s visually spectacular with giant sets, loads of very effective puppets and very good dancers (I wish every opera company used dance as effectively as the Met. Too expensive I guess). It’s more something one might expect to see at Bregenz than at the Four Seasons Centre. Costuming is sometimes a bit weird. The Three Ladies have removable heads and the chorus of priests look like origami angels but it’s never less than interesting visually. There’s nothing about the cuts (it comes in at about an hour and threequarters) that changes the plot in any way that makes it obviously kid friendly beyond being shorter and there’s no attempt to make it anything other than a pretty fairy tale. If one wants a Flute with deep meaning this isn’t it.
For some reason the Metropolitan opera decided, in 2014, to give an HD broadcast to Otto Schenk’s 1993 version of Dvorák’s Rusalka with revival direction by Laurie Feldman. This production must have seriously old fashioned even then and actually looks and feels like it was created fifty years before the opera was written. It’s not just the dark, dreary, over detailed Arthur Rackham like sets and costumes or even the the stock acting and the lame choreography. The biggest problem is that it completely ignores that Rusalka is essentially about sex and its pathologies. Does Schenk think that Rusalka wants to hold hands with the Prince at the cinema or take the Foreign Princess to the ball instead of Rusalka? You would think so from this Disneyfied version. Has the man even heard of Freud (let’s be clear Dvorák had)? The result then is stultifyingly dull and actually just rather silly. I’ve seen panto with more psychological depth.
The Metropolitan Opera has announced its 2017/18 season. It’s quite heavy on warhorses. La Bohème, Tosca and Turandot each get fifteen performances and there’s plenty more standard fare in there. Once again, there’s nothing pre Mozart and the only nods to modernity are a revival of Elektra (six shows) and a new production of Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel (eight shows).
The Exterminating Angel at the Salzburg Festival. Photo: Monika Rittershaus
Rossini’s La Donna del Lago is based on the Walter Scott poem, itself a deliberately romantic view of Scottish history, simplified until not much is left but the rivalry for the heroine’s hand by her three suitors and a completely unexplained war between the king of Scotland and the Clan Alpine. Dramatically it’s thin indeed but it’s Rossini so there is crazy virtuosic music and it’s very hard to cast. One needs two mezzos; one a mistress of Rossinian coloratura, the other more dramatic, and two tenors; both of which can do the crazy high stuff. The supporting roles aren’t easy either. Realistically only a major house could cast this adequately.
I took a quick look at the Metropolitan Opera’s recently announced 2016/17 and while for the most part it’s business as usual there’s maybe one surprise. There are 26 productions; 6 new, 20 revivals for a total of 225 performances. The first thing that struck me was how little Puccini there is. Only two Puccini works (La Bohème and Manon Lescaut) are being performed for a total of 23 shows (10.2%). There’s nothing pre Mozart and only one opera written post WW1; L’Amour de Loin which gets 8 performances (ETA: Apparently Cyrano dates from 1936 though you wouldn’t guess that to hear it. Still only 4 performances so it doesn’t affect the stats much). There are only two other works which could, at a stretch, be called “modern” stylistically; Salome and Jenůfa, but they were written in 1905 and 1903 respectively, and get only 6 performances each. Then there’ Rusalka (1901) and Rosenkavalier (1911) which are 20th century but not by any stretch “modern”. So, even on generous definitions of “modernity”, over 85% of the Met’s output is, essentially, 19th century.
The Met has announced it’s 2016/17 cinema season. There are again ten productions with what seems now to be a settled mix of a smattering of the Met’s new productions and a bunch of war horses that have already been broadcast. For myself, I’ve pretty much had it with watching opera this way. There aren’t that many productions in the program that I have any interest in and the combination of far too common technical problems, cheesey scripted and rehearsed “interviews” and over long intervals make it all rather tedious. For the operas I want to see I’ll wait for the DVD release. Still for those who are still interested, here’s the line up. Continue reading →