I fear the Met may not be broadcasting its best this year. Granted, I’ve only seen two of their broadcasts so far this year(although this was partly because we had severe doubts about at least two more), but both were of pretty mediocre productions that displayed the Met’s reoccurring difficulty with going outside the box. The results were actually somewhat different, but this was largely because of the quality of the two operas themselves.
For Il Nozze di Figaro, the Met actually did make an attempt at doing something different, by setting the story in the 1930s, to try to make the story a portrait of the aristocratic way of life that when it was fading. They also had a creative rotating set that actually was fun to watch during the overture. But ultimately, they didn’t really do anything more with the setting than that, and that portrait of a fading world never really manifested. Meanwhile, the staging didn’t get all of the comedy out of the opera that could’ve been gotten, and there’s even an argument that Ildar Abdrazakov was miscast as Figaro; I’ve seen him get far more out dramatic roles, and that seemed to suit him better than comedy does. Nor were any of the other performances that memorable, though everyone sung it competently enough.
Fortunately, Il Nozze di Figaro, when sung competently enough, anyway, is such a well-done work of genius it’s pretty darn hard to make it bad, and this production certainly was not up to doing that. So while there may be better Figaros in world, this one in a movie theater made for entertaining enough an afternoon.
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg is a different matter. When Wagner wrote an opera about the composing of music and how sometimes the rules should be broken so music can develop, it’s easy to figure he was making a statement about his own rules-breaking works while doing so. But Meistersinger inadvertently ends up demonstrating why sometimes rules are there for reason; at six hours in length, and not enough in it to begin to justify that length, it comes across as piece of self-indulgence that could’ve done with an outside editor to cut most of the sequences in half, which would’ve made them far better(that the final opera, though a beautiful piece of music, was essentially an author rant, did not help matters). Or perhaps it would be smart of an opera company to do the cuts themselves, since it’s not like they don’t cut long operas all the time, though people seem reluctant to do that with Wagner, and the Met did not.
That wasn’t the only wrong choice they made. They did a straightforward production with no unusual innovations, which would’ve been all right if the opera could carry itself, but when this one could not, it just made everything drag all the worse. The staging even got in the way at at least one point; one could see the elements of a screamingly funny farce at the end of the second act, but the way the Met did it, the climatic hullabaloo fell painfully flat. Trying to get anything out of the muddle was a task beyond most the cast. Michael Volle, who sang the stealth protagonist Hans Sachs, was an exception though. The best act was actually the third one, where he had his best music, and was able to take over the opera properly, while the weakest where the first, where his presence was minimal. Paul Appleby as his apprentice actually looked at one point like he might be able to hold the latter down, but he still couldn’t quite rescue it. I was left wishing I’d stayed home and watched the Grand Prix Finale.
Really, the most lively thing in the broadcast yesterday, with the possible exception of Volle occasionally, was the rehearsal they showed for The Merry Widow. Hoping that one’s better than these two.