Monday, October 11, 2010

Opera at the Movies

The Met has been broadcasting live performances into movie houses for a couple of years now but I only got around to giving it a try this past Saturday, when they did Das Rheingold, the first installment in the Ring cycle with which they opened the season a week or two ago. This opera has lots of plot and is short--for Wagner, that is--at 2 1/2 hours or so. They make up for the brevity by having no intermission so it's still a long haul in that respect.

I loved the whole thing. The sound brought Wagner's fantastic music to the theater at a very high quality level. The picture was HD and with the closeups, you got a far better view of everything than would be possible even in a great seat at the Met. The massive 45-ton set came across wonderfully on screen and unlike opening night, it worked each time the slabs were moved.

I also thought the singing was good. The Washington Post's wonderful music critic, Anne Midgette (she used to be at The Times) was apparently at the Met Saturday and said the performance was not half so impressive in the opera house. She reported that several singers were hard to hear and apparently didn't have voices capable of filling the 3,000+ seat house or just couldn't meet the challenge. To me Bryn Terfel was a wonderful Wotan and Eric Owens an unusually strong and compelling Alberich. The rest were not as overwhelming--and I apologize for having qualms about a great singer, Stephanie Blythe, who was Fricka, but who is a huge woman and seems to stand for everything that dramatic opera is moving beyond. Especially on screen, she just is difficult to accept, although the matronly goddess Fricka (Wotan's wife) is probably an acceptable role for someone her size.

As always, it is the music--not even the singing or in this production, the amazing technology--that always is in charge with Wagner. It is absolutely glorious and James Levine, despite his many ailments, got another marvelous performance out of the Met orchestra. They did have a precurtain feature showing how they had the Rhinemaidens "flying" up the slab set to imitate their being in the river, but I thought the orchestral component was the key factor here. Ms. Midgette didn't like the costuming or the acting--both quite traditional and would not have been out of place in the now-retired very literal Otto Schenk production--but I find them at worst unobjectionable if not compelling.

I always learn something from a performance--especially here because the subtitles on the movie screen are exceptionably accessible. Wagner made Loge, the tricker and con artist who is the god of fire, only a demigod so he could set himself apart from the others. His role is key and was well sung. The Freia was appropriately fetching. Although I have no problems whatsoever with Wagner on a philsophical ground, it was at the least distracting that the god Froh looked like the Aryan model for Hitler Youth.

Deborah Voigt, who unlike Miss Blythe, has shed major amounts of avoirdupois, was the precurtain interviewer and I do indeed look forward to seeing her make her debut next spring onscreen as Brunnhilde in Die Walkure. That, of course, is to me and many others the truly greatest segment of the Ring cycle and it is nice even now to be able to look forward to it.

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