Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Opera All Over

This turned on to be my week for opera. Saturday afternoon we once again
went to The Met at the movies and saw the live transmission of Die
in wonderful HD, sound, and close-ups. It was a marvelous
performance and even the Met's crazy, pricey new set (the 40-ton monster) was
better than in Rheingold last year. Eva-Marie Westbrook in her Met
debut was a charming Sieglinde and Jonas Kauffman a stalwart Siegmund. Once
again Bryn Terfel brought off his portrayal of Wotan well. I think I enjoy the Walkure Brunnhilde the most and the slimmed-down Deborah Voigt gave it
plenty of personality. Everyone's voice was brilliant--and I even found
Stephanie Blythe, a very very large woman in the old Wagnerian tradition, fit in
as Fricka. I think I forgot how exhilarating the whole opera is, so that when
Act III begins with the famed Ride and by the time it ends with the glorious
Fire Music, you are already won over and in fine spirits.

An added
fillip comes with the immediate interviews right as the leads come off-stage,
done in this instance by none other than Placido Domingo. It humanizes the
performers. And then there were the previews of the 11 operas the Met will
broadcast to the theatres next season. What could be better than to end it with
Nathalie Dessay (if memory serves me right) bursting into the Sempre
from Traviata?

We actually got to the theatre late
and had to sit up front. But the seats were very comfortable and leaned back
quite far, so they turned out to be excellent. Even though we were late, the Met
was later. The computer controlling the 40-ton monster set went on the blink and
it was not until about a half hour later that the performance began.

Last night (Tuesday) Eileen and I took in the rarely-performed Iphigenie en Tauride, revived this season at both Washington Opera,
where we saw it, and the Met, for none other than Senor Domingo. This Gluck
opera once was a mainstay of the repertory but it has disappeared for many
years--the Met revived it a few seasons ago after a lapse since 1912. Gluck was
regarded as something of a change agent in opera, moving away from the trilling
of the early periods. He was a German composer working in Paris, so of course
there is a ballet (a requirement set by the Paris Opera in the 1800s) which is
more ludicrous than most of them. Mostly, however, the opera is very very
static. You do enjoy Patricia Racette's wonderful singing in the title role as
the priestess who was the sister of Orestes and Electra in the good old House of
Atreus. (Unhappy families can be unhappy in wildly bloody ways!) And it was
delightful when Domingo materialized as Oreste and just began singing in that
luscious tenor he still maintains at a good level at his advanced age. I think
the piece plays better as a Greek drama--it's not a tragedy, incidentally. A
friend with whom I spoke today told me she had seenit near Sparta at a
rediscovered ancient theatre and that it was wonderful in that original form and

The opera was popular 100 years ago at time the delightfully
mordant Saki referred to it in one of his most classic stories, The
Reticence of Lady Anne
"The bullfinch lazily filled in the interval with an air from Iphigenie en Tauride.
Egbert recognized it immediately because it was the only air the bullfinch
whistled and he had come to them with the reputation for whistling it. Both Egbert and Lady Anne would have preferred something from The Yeoman of the Guard, which was their favourite opera. In matters artistic they had a similarity of taste. They leaned towards the
honest and explicit in art, a picture, for instance, that told its own story, with generous assistance from the title. A riderless warhorse, for example, with harness in obvious disarray, staggering into a courtyard full of pale swooning women, and marginally noted, "Bad News," suggested
to their minds a distinct interpretation of some military catastrophe. They could see what it was meant to convey, and explain it to friends of duller intelligence."

P.S. Saturday night was a slight detour from the lyric stage to 1940s Hollywood as represented by the Berlin and Vienna emigres who wrote songs for the movies and the opera composer Erich Korngold who wrote the score for Errol Flynn's famous rendition of Robin Hood. I had not
heard about Friedrich Hollander, who wrote all kinds of wonderful songs but then there also were wonderful songs like "The Saga of Jenny" from the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin Lady in the Dark, a fascinating musical play put together by the master showman Moss Hart. And what better to end the evening than a rousing run of "The Boys in the Backroom" by a singer mpersonating Marlene Dietrich?

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