Tag Archives: Metropolitan Opera

Orfeo ed Euridice

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Queen of Spades

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.

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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.

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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.

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Larry From The South

Mulberry Street

November 28, 2008

Greyhound Corporate Headquarters

350 N Saint Paul St # 300

Dallas, TX 75201

~

Dear Sir or Madam,

~

If ever there was a time for a strongly worded letter to the management, it was not when the traffic on the turnpike crawled more like a sloth, or even like a well-trained poodle, than a racing dog.  For holiday congestion is reasonably beyond the control of the most respectable transportation institutions.

And the driver’s unscheduled stops by the side of the road, either for directions or a discreet moment of relief behind a tree, are surely understandable to the traveler from Manhattan, who has already braved sidewalk crowds and the spaghetti-bowl of a subway system and the labyrinthine Port Authority Bus Terminal, which is like the Metropolitan Opera House in some ways–not because of the gracefully aging architecture, the lofty arias, not even the red velvet and crystal, but because both can hold a goodly number of saintly souls whose virtue of patience is outshone only by their inner sanctum of tranquility.

And who could not slip into another’s shoes when the bus driver, a certain Larry Pendleton, driving bus 6200 and being “from the South,” announced he missed the exit and would have to circle back over the bridge–could we help him not miss the exit next time?

Indeed, it would be a thin-lipped crowd–a cranky coterie–which, being so close to Ben Franklin’s town–spitting distance some might say–would not relish the opportunity to take in the lights of Center City for a second time from high on the bridge.

And if a person can claim to have lived a full life without ever being lost on the streets of Camden at night, then please step forward.

For it was there, after asking his passengers for directions, that Larry From The South marched down the aisle to my very row and presented my seatmate with the kind invitation of being deposited on the dark sidewalk of Camden if she were to make one more remark that some consider less than polite.

And it was then that I learned, in such a short time, the sundry Spanish expressions that add a splash of color to circumstances such as these.

So I offer exuberant praise and thanks, dear Sir or Madam, for enriching my travels this Thanksgiving.  I continue to have nothing but the highest regard for the service your company provides.  And this journey remains lodged in my memory, as a bullet becomes lodged in the rib, as a reminder of the excellence one can expect on the Greyhound bus route from Manhattan to Philadelphia, for only twenty-four dollars, round-trip.

~

Thankfully yours,

Jonathan

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A new Mulberry feature

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.

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La Traviata

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.

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Anja Harteros

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.

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The exuberant party scene in Act II, complete with stremers, confetti, costumes, Gypsies, and a matador with five bulls.

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Madama Butterfly

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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.

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Butterfly’s opening scene.   This dance was reflected magically in the mirror above the stage.

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The wedding party ascending at the back of the sloping stage.

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Ban Ki-moon likes my tie

My roommate Jordan recently sang the German national anthem for the German Consulate’s party at Central Park’s boathouse.  I think it may have been for  German Unity Day, October 3.

As a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program (and, like Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, and Ben Heppner, a winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions), Jordan seems to get more singing engagements around town than I, with my two years’ experience in church choir during high school.

In any case, Jordan nearly left the apartment that evening wearing a brown tie with a navy suit.  Doing the only compassionate and reasonable thing, I stopped him.  He seemed to be under the impression his suit was brown, and after a confirmatory call to his girlfriend, realized I was, indeed, correct.

While Jordan searched for an appropriate tie, I realized that most of his ties were brown, so I pulled out a few of mine to show him.  There was the conservative red-and-navy striped tie, the rather loud orange tie with light blue stripes, and the demure blue tie.  He selected the last one.

The singing went well.  Jordan’s fairly comfortable with German, so while waiting for food afterward, he struck up a conversation with some German girls.  They seemed friendly, even flirtatious, perhaps not realizing Jordan’s girlfriend was waiting back at the table.  One of them told Jordan she’d written a song with the English title, “Why I like German boys.”  Jordan, thinking the conversation was taking an odd turn, smiled politely until they asked what part of Germany he was from.  “I’m not from Germany.  I’m American.”  The girls were surprised.

Only later did Jordan realize that the girl’s telling him about the song, “Why I like German boys,” was a rather robust failure of an attempt to flirt.  Not only did she not realize he has a girlfriend, the song’s title only confused him rather than clued him in to her interest.

The highlight of the evening for me (who wasn’t there) came when Ban Ki-moon himself complimented Jordan on his singing.  My tie came within inches of the Secretary-General of the United Nations!  I think Ban Ki-moon really wanted to compliment the tie too, but was too shy.

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