For both of the past two weekends, mom and I have gone to Wolf Trap for some classical music. The first weekend, we went to the Barnes to watch the obscure 18th century comic opera L’Opera Seria, which was about a company trying to put on a serious opera that parodied much of the conventions of the genre. Then this last Saturday night, we went to the Filene Center to see the National Symphony Orchestra play a concert, which followed a symphony from Sergei Prokofiev and a suite by Maurice Ravel with the main event: Stravinsky’s The Firebird, accompanied by a show by the South African Handspring Puppet Company telling through puppetry and dance the history of their country over the last twenty years.
Although my three-day vacation in New York was initially decided on so I could spare myself three of the 9 work days during which part of the metro route I take to work was shut down due to track work, I then decided my full day in New York would be Wednesday, so I could see a #Ham4Ham show, especially after I realized I’d be there for the final week before Lin-Manuel Miranda would leave the show. By the time I was there, Leslie Odom, Jr and Phillipa Soo were also confirmed as off to hopefully reap some benefits from their newfound fame, although I also became aware of how early I’d need to get there, and started to wonder if it was worth it to stand in the heat for hours for a five-minute show. But it was what I came to the city for, so Wednesday morning after breakfast off I went to the Richard Rogers.
I suppose the events of Sunday were best commented on by Lin-Manuel Miranda:
In many ways the massacre in Orlando was a reflection of many of America’s evils, inspired by racism and homophobia, allowed by terrible gun laws, and done by yet another violent young man driven by angry, narrow, intolerant beliefs, and even the group he did in the name of exists because of our actions. Perhaps is fitting that the answer to such ugliness was expressed by a man responsible for one of the best works of art that’s come out of America in recent years, and one that is very much American, mixing our historical lore with the modern music styles developed here, one an exercise in diversity from the son of Puerto Rican immigrants.
We are finally getting some information about Cursed Child! It’s bits and pieces getting released along with the promotional photographs, such as that Ron and Hermione are still married, which is deeply relieving; I think we’ve all had enough of fictional breakups since last December.
Although it does seem settled that the play starts just after the epilogue, since they’re talking about 19 Years Later and also Albus and Scorpius are in what the article about the latter and his father describes as pre-Sorting Hogwarts robes. That raises the question as to whether there will be a twist in what houses they end up in, especially since Rose’s robes hint she might be a Hufflepuff, although given what the article says about her, that would make for a very interesting kind of Hufflepuff. Also, Scorpius might genuinely be a nicer kid than his father was, if Rowling is saying the girls will like him. Unless she’s trolling us.
Then again, if she didn’t certain fans to still crush on Draco, maybe he shouldn’t have been so handsome!
Here on tumblr for easy reblogging as I update it. So far there’s only one program available, but I’m sure there’ll be more in the future. I’m kind of hoping Elladj Balde does one. I’m sure at least one ice dance team will this season.
Yesterday mom and I went to our final opera broadcast of the season: that of Gaetano Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, the completion of the Met’s staging and broadcasting of all three of his “Tudor Queen” operas four an a half years after they first aired Anna Bolena in 2011. It was a season of the familiar on the Met’s screen; they had already had Roberto Alagna and Kristine Opalais singing opposite each other in two of the broadcasted operas, and now they had Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien for the second time this season singing two points of a love triangle and seeming to be more in love with each other than with the woman involved! Although despite the title the real star was Sondra Radvanovsky singing Queen Elizabeth I. Throw in Elina Garanca, and some of the most beautiful music Donizetti’s ever written, and one’s in for an afternoon of true beauty-if, that is, you are lucky enough to be a theater where the sound is working.
Unfortunately, my mother and I were not. Instead we were in one that had continual problems with both the image and sound; they both would sometimes go smoothly for a while, then start freezing and stammering, then there would a loud burst of static and sometimes after that things would get better, but not always, and they wouldn’t stay better. During those minutes where everything was working, we could greatly admire the singing, the acting, and the drama especially during the second act, where it had better emotional effect, but then would come that stammering again and we’d be knocked out of it. The climax was intense enough that even with the sound still struggling it was easier to stay engaged with it, and yet one is still aware of how it could have been far better still, had Radvanovsky been the wall of grief and song she’s supposed to be. Also the finale wasn’t quite over when whoever was in charge of the lights thought it was and raised them!
At the intermission, as I read the Wikipedia article on the actual Robert Devereux and noted how ridiculously unlike the opera the true history was(but it’s opera; one should expect that), we also got a list of next year’s operas. Mom wants to see quite a few of them, even some of the reruns of operas we’ve seen already. I’d be for seeing some of them too, but given that apparently the sound issues were even worse when she attended the rerun of Madam Butterfly, perhaps we should look into any other cinemas doing the broadcast, and if there are any that aren’t too far away.
Giacomo Puccini’s opera on the famous fallen woman of French literature is the less famous adaptation of the tale, but when the Met broadcasted it yesterday, they talked about how it was his first hit. Indeed, you can hear in it some general skill in writing music, although for this one he didn’t manage any super-memorable themes like his later operas contained. He also simplified the story far more than Jules Massenet did in his more famous version, and took it out of its original time period, which left director Richard Eyre free to set it in another time period all together, and he went with occupied France, as being a France and a time period in which the plot more or less worked: when powerful people could do what they wanted and everyone else ignored terrible things around them in exchange for being able to live their lives if they were lucky.
Puccini’s version of Manon and her lover are also somewhat simpler than Massenet’s, though whether or not that’s a bad thing depends almost on how you look at it: on one hand, things are shallower, but on the other, their actions make a bit more sense psychologically, especially in the first half of the opera. The best way to deal with it, perhaps, is to get the best vocal talent available to infuse into the characters all the feeling they can. The Met, thankfully, lucked out when, having lost their original leading man, they managed to get Roberto Alagna to sing instead; he may be a little older than he was when movie theater audiences first saw him, but he can still do passion with the best of them. Plus the younger Kristine Opolais proved able to hold her own with him. The most effective part of the opera was the end, when all the fancy sets and costumes were removed, and they didn’t even attempt to explain where in the world the two characters were, just had them suffer and die and let us be sad over it.
Alagna and Opolais are going to be singing more Puccini to each other on the Met stage and screen as well; they’re also starring in the upcoming Madama Butterfly. Unfortunately I’m going to be in Boston during that one.
Les Pecheurs de Perles, a lesser-known composition about a pearl fishing village in Ceylon by Georges Bizet(of Carmen fame), before now was last done at the Met about a century ago, using a corrupted libretto(Bizet’s more authentic manuscripts weren’t found and used until very recently), and then forgotten about for a long time. Not without some good cause, since the story is a mix of melodrama and 19th-century Orientalism, a depiction of people from the far east who will ritually murder people. But then soprano Diana Damreau wanted to sing it, and convinced the Met to put it on so she could-while wearing a very light tanface, which was at best a questionable thing to do, and actually turned out to be the most problematic detail of the show that was broadcast Saturday.
One can understand why she wanted to sing it, though. The music is absolutely gorgeous, from the opening chords(accompanied Saturday by a spectacular aerial show that showed people diving for pearls), to the lovely duets between the three main characters. But while Damreau was good, she was rather outsung by both her male co-stars. Matthew Polenzani and Marius Kwiecien were helped there by having the standout number from the score, which they played unafraid of the homoeroticism, but Polenzani almost stole the first act with his passionate solo aria there, and Kwiecien emerged as the true lead of the opera in the third with both his singing and his moving acting, making the melodramatic end truly heartbreaking.
Meanwhile, director Penny Woolcock was smart enough to take the opera out of exotic Ceylon and instead put it in modern-day Sri Lanka(the program claimed it was just an unspecified eastern location, but the billboard in the first act and the map of the country on the wall in the third belied that), putting the chorus in a mix of traditional and modern clothes, creating hovels with electric lights, and removing in the third act to a modern office with a laptop and vintage TV. This put the story of villagers afraid of storms and the rising sea into a whole new context, one where we are aware these are people whose home and very lives are threatened by climate change. When they put their hopes on Damraeu’s priestess character to stop the storms, one has to figure the most recent years have been bad enough to make them desperate, and when they prepare at the end to kill her and Polenzani, one is quick to realize they’re scapegoating them for more than just the most recent weather, but for everything they in reality can’t do anything about, but are unwilling to accept their helplessness in the face of. Once, the ritualistic murdering seemed ridiculous to the modern mind. Now, in the era of ISIS and similar, it feels all too plausible.
Whether or not most of the people involved in this production realized that is an interesting question, although I’d like to think Woolcock did. But either way, it makes this opera resonate in a way that perhaps it never has before. This is one production that might stay on for a while.
So they’re doing a new Harry Potter play, and they’ve cast a black actress as Hermione. By itself, that’s nice to see, but not necessarily something that means anything off the stage, any more than a white actress playing her in the films necessarily meant anything. Maybe especially so because, what with it being a play, eventually it will be produced and performed in other places, with other actors in the roles.
Back when I was studying music as an undergrad, I first learned that as well as The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, the two Pierre Beaumarchais plays that were adapted into famous operas, there was a third, The Guilty Mother, that in 1991 was adapted into an opera called The Ghost of Versailles. Naturally I was deeply curious to see said opera, and so was happy to go to the Wolf Trap Barnes yesterday, where they were putting it on for their young artists to sing in. In the lecture beforehand they talked about its history, including that it was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and that it isn’t performed very often, something they chalked up to the initial production being a lot of trouble to put on; they were using a version first orchestrated in 2009 to demand less musicians and such.
What perhaps I should have realized was that such an opera, done to suit the Met, especially in 1991, was not necessarily going to be a very good one.