Tonight I once again visted the Metropolitan Opera to hear Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. His most famous opera, it deals with one of the oldest themes of the opera genre. Multiple incarnations of the Greek myth go back to as early as 1600.
My biggest regret about this opera is that I was dreadfully tired, and ended up sleeping off an on. At 90 minutes, it’s a very short opera. All I can say is that I enjoyed the early classical instrumentation and orchestration, and the singing was on par with the Met’s high standards. The creative set with the maqueraded chorus set on tiers was effective. Sadly, I slept through the climax of the opera when Orfeo looks back at Euridice, sending her back to Hades.
Also noteworthy is that I brought the intern who’s been working with me for the week, David. Not only has he had the misfortune to spend all day with me in the operating rooms all week, but he went to the applicant dinner I hosted on Tuesday evening, and went last minute with me to the Met so that my extra complimentary ticket didn’t go to waste. He’s truly been my protege for the week.
Sandwiched in between 13-hour shifts at the hospital on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, I made it once again to the Metropolitan Opera to hear Tchaikowsky’s The Queen of Spades. This was my first opera to hear by Tchaikowsky. Turns out, of his ~10 operas, only two are performed regularly outside of Russia.
The thing I was most looking forward to was hearing Ben Heppner on stage. I was a little disappointed. Although his artistry was evident in his role of Ghermann, his voice seemed a bit small, at times swallowed by the orchestra. It also had a slight nasal character without the open resonance I’ve heard on a number of his recordings. Yeletsky sang a fine aria in Act II. Maria Guleghina, as one of the leading sopranos, had a powerful voice that filled the hall, but her singing was unrefined, even clunky.
The set was impressive. With seven scenes spanning three acts, the director creatively explored the picture-framed stage with a sloping floor. The first scene featured a Russian street scene with a simple but beautiful backdrop of winter trees against a turquoise blue sky. Lisa’s room was feminine yet impressive with twenty-five foot French doors. Everything in the ball scene in Act II wowed the audience, from the three enormous Corninthian columns to the elaborate costumes of the Russian nobility. There was even a rather confusing appearance by the Empress, Catherine; although it had nothing to do with the plot, it captured the grandeur that only the Met can do when it pulls out all the stops. In contrast, the second scene of Act II was much simpler, having only a chair and an enormous painting of the Countess, which Ghermann revealed by flinging open a series of gigantic sliding doors. The first two scenes of the third act were stark as well, with minimal set, making for a contrast with the elaborate gambling house and huge male chorus in the final scene. Throughout, the director/designer made an effective use of light and dominating shadows.
The music very enjoyable. Tchaikowsky accomplishes a score that’s at once rich and graceful, at times even Beethovenian, like the opening of the second act. He provides a couple impressive piano and cello solos.
In the end, however, the opera failed on the psychological level. Even if personalities aren’t entirely believable in opera (are they ever?), a successful connection requires that the audience care about the characters. This didn’t happen for me. I found the double suicide more tiresome than distressing. The Countess’ character was as one-dimensional as the shepherd’s staff. I can only hope that Tchaikowsky found better librettos for his other operas.
After hearing the work in church today, I’m completely enamored afresh of Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, a piece I’ve played the violin for before, though I have no idea when or where. The melody came back to me like an old friend.
Here’s a good arrangment I found on YouTube. Sit quietly for a minute in a comfortable place, take a few slow deep breaths to recenter yourself, click on the link, and close your eyes for five minutes. You will be a better person for it.
Some of the other YouTube videos had the theoretically pleasing addition of a harp, though the few harps I heard were tuned a distressing quarter-tone flat.
Amazingly, Faure wrote the piece when he was only 19 years old!
Saturday finds me realizing this has been a week comprising mainly two things: work and opera. In a first for me, I made two trips to Lincoln Center this week to enjoy complimentary tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. I’ve come to the realization that if I don’t plan to live in New York City forever, I should take advantage of things the city offers, and one of those things is a world-class opera house. And when the tickets are free–courtesy of my roommate Jordan–that much the better.
Learning to enjoy the opera more has been a side-benefit of living in Manhattan. Having strongly favored orchestral music in the past, playing in the pit in a few operas in college helped me to appreciate the genre a bit more, but it wasn’t until I moved here and made friends with several vocalists that the world began to open up to me. That being said, I hope never to become that sort of freakish opera buff I overheard in Patelson’s the other week. The kind that says things like, “Bartoli is to mezzo as Pavarotti is to tenor. That woman is a machine, but a machine with feeling.” Or, “The Zeffirelli production is creative, but it lacks the raw power and nuance of the staging I saw in the 70s.”
In between the opera, I’ve been working on the Labor and Delivery floor, placing epidurals for labor and doing anesthesia for cesarian sections. This is my third call in a six-day period. When I don’t get home before midnight from the opera, needless to say it’s been a tiring week.
The shows this week included Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Verdi’s La Traviata. Good, solid Italian opera. Given that I have a few remarks for each, and given that I’d like to avoid a monstrously long post, I think I’ll post retroactively on each of those.
The new feature the title of this post alludes to is the tab at the top in which I offer a short review of the various cultural experiences I take in. A bit indulgent and supercilious, I know, but the obsessive-compulsive part of me likes to make lists.
Tonight I got to return to the Metropolitan Opera for the second time in a week. Tonight’s performance was Verdi’s La Traviata.
Nothing much needs to be said other than that Anja Harteros was amazing. Her role anchored the opera, and the major problem was that her brilliant singing nearly always outshone the leading tenor, whose name I cannot remember and will not bother to look up.
Zeljko Lucic played a believable father who sang with decorum and impeccable interpretation, his rich voice finely balancing Harteros’ in their Act II duets. And the final treat was the Baron, sung by John Hancock, whose chocolate baritone voice soared even during group recitatives. This one performance was enough to inspire me to follow these three’s careers.
The exuberant party scene in Act II, complete with stremers, confetti, costumes, Gypsies, and a matador with five bulls.
I got to attend this opera tonight with friends Adam, Sarah, and Wendy. Adam and Sarah had tickets on the side of the Dress Circle (A little booth with a door and individual chairs), while my complimentary tickets were in the orchestra section. We rotated seats during the intermissions, so we all got to enjoy the opera from different perspectives.
This was a wonderful performance by leading soprano Pat Racette. I also especially liked the Consul Sharpless, played by an expressive Dwayne Croft, but the leading tenor was an understudy and not too memorable. The Anthony Minghella production was spare, modern, and at times exquisite. This production opened the 2006-2007 season at the Met. The film director created great effects with a wall of color at the back of the stage, a sloping ebony stage, brilliant costumes, and an expansive mirror hung at a 45-degree angle above the stage, cleverly allowing the opera-goer to simutaneously see the action from the front and above.
This is evidently the most-performed opera in America. Why? The American theme? The music is vintage Puccini, but in my opinion the score doesn’t have nearly as many memorable arias as any Mozart opera or even some Puccini operas.
Butterfly’s son is three years old in the opera. Often the part is played by a six-year old child, but Minghella opted to go with a bunraku puppet with three black-veiled operators. Their skill was apparent, but the whole effect was a bit creepy and made it difficult to emotionally connect with the puppet, er, boy.
My last comment is that I was startled when I heard echoes of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables in the humming chorus. Certainly more than coincidental, this musical similarity plays a similar function in both shows. But let’s be clear: Madama Butterfly was written first.
Butterfly’s opening scene. This dance was reflected magically in the mirror above the stage.
The wedding party ascending at the back of the sloping stage.
Last week I got to visit Central Park with several friends to hear the New York Philharmonic perform on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The orchestra, as is its habit, is playing in a park in each of the five boroughs this summer. Despite a light rain earlier in the day, the weather was absolutely perfect. The temperature, with resolute balance, could not be accused of being either warm or cool. A light breeze swished through the leaves as people gathered a couple hours before the concert, and the growing crowd soaked up the late afternoon sunshine on picnic blankets spread with cheeses, wine, and berries. At least, that was what was on my neighbors’ blanket. I’d had a quick peanut butter sandwich before leaving the apartment, so all I brought was an orange and some water. Who likes cheese and berries anyway?
In the festive atmosphere, the music (a Mendelssohn symphony) seemed more of an afterthought, the icing on the cake of a city-wide picnic on an early summer’s evening. Cocooned Swadled in a perfectly air-conditioned concert hall with tree trunks for columns and a sweeping canopy of deep blue, and bathed in the refreshing after-rain scent, our bare feet burrowed in the soft leafy carpet, we rested in the pulsing green heart of the island-city of Manhattan.
Here’s a view looking north toward the stage. This picture reminds me of last year’s movie, August Rush, which has a pivotal scene of the New York Philharmonic performing in Central Park.
This photo gvies a better sense of the crowds. This was about one-third of the way back. As the time drew closer to eight o’clock, the seated crowd grew so thick that it was difficult to walk between picnic blankets.
This picture is taken from the same spot as the second picture, only it’s looking south toward the back of the “concert hall.” One can easily see the buildings facing the park along Central Park South, nearly a mile and a half away.