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.
Taking a look at the list of ten Met Opera performances being showed at the movies next season, I’m afraid I’m rather disappointed. Anna Netrebko will likely be hopelessly miscast as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, not only are to retransmitting multiple productions they’ve done already, but the shows getting shown again aren’t even their best, and to be honest I have limited interest in seeing a couple of the other operas; Cosi fan tutte in particular I think I’ll care to skip. Though it is amusing to have Robert Alagna doing one of the reruns again. Perhaps their advertisement for seeing these productions is that they’ve got Alagna in them this time(except George Gagnidze did not make the best Scarpia, and now for some inexplicable reason they’ve failed to replace him). One wonders why they didn’t get him for them the first time around, but never mind. Similar is La Cenerentola with its all-star cast, except they have a newbie as Dandini, which is silly of them, since that’s the guy who’s supposed to steal the show, and without a reliable guy there DiDonato is not enough to lure one in, perhaps.
After the Verdi anniversary fest that was this year in opera(the Met wasn’t the only one participating), it seems next year they want to do Russian-themed operas, with three of them being so themed. And being a skating fan, of course I’ll be interested in seeing Prince Igor, and Ildar Abdrazakov is more of a singer to look forward to than Netrebko, thankfully. Though the real cast to look forward to is for this Massenet opera; since I’m skipping the Wagner tomorrow, it’ll be far too long since I’ve seen Jonas Kaufman, and I’ve seen Elina Garanca make bad opera good and good opera better, so whichever Werther happens to be that should be all right. And for holdover Verdi, Falstaff should be interesting as well.
First of all, I must preface this by expressing my very great disapproval of FathomEvents’ new preshow. Bouncing graphics on that large of a screen is bad for the inner ear, it drove my mother out of the movie theater for a full ten minutes, and it meant we didn’t get to see all the normal placards with information about the singers, which is extremely useful for those of us who aren’t experts on the modern opera world(if they must take up our time, do it earlier. You’re sure to have us anyway; you have to get to the theater an hour in advance to get even decent seats). Fortunately this time around I’d seen half the cast already in other broadcasts. (The cinema we were at displayed some incompetence with the lights as well, but that’s another story)