The Met’s broadcast season is now well underway, and I have finally managed to get through one of their operas without getting too strong a headache to write about it afterwards(happening way too much to me at the movies lately; I had one after Skyfall too), but there’s really not much to say about La Clamenza di Tito.
It would take Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue to lure me into a wooden “tent” structure cooled only by fans on a hot DC July weeknight; this is the third show by them I’ve seen at the Fringe. We didn’t see them last year, though, and I think since then they’ve had some personnel change, and maybe gotten a little tired, because I didn’t absolutely love their presentation of the Bronte siblings and their lives the way I had the first two shows I’d seen.
It was still good. They know how to be lively even in the heat, which they even made references to in the show, I enjoyed the music, with the occasional borrowed line or so from the Beatles, and they showed they certainly don’t stick to the usual fare; instead of doing the story of Jane Eyre, as one would expect, they combine a send-up of Wuthering Heights with a circus rendition of Anne Bronte’s life(with a joke they aren’t talking about her books because noone’s read them; when my mom indicated she was the only person the audience who had Anne actually ran over and hugged us for it!), and letting us learn about the existence of her and even of their brother Branwell, whom even I hadn’t heard of before, mostly because he never had anything published. In fact, more than anything else, they draw attention to how sad and short the lives of all four Brontes really were(though that resulted in one joke my parents didn’t get, since they didn’t know the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper”).
But the splitting of the show up into multiple stories I don’t think quite suited the style that way; in the end one was left with way too little of Charlotte, certainly, and a couple of the musical numbers ended up being repetitive of each other. I was left feeling there could have been more from it. Or maybe I was just overheated?
It was arguably a little risky for the Met, broadcasting two tragic operas about two fallen women, both advertised on the star power of their prima donna, only a week apart from each other; they broadcast Jules Massenet’s Manon last weekend and La Traviata this weekend. Though as characters Manon & Violetta are actually pretty different, and the productions were almost opposite in approaches.
The thing one realizes while sitting through Wagner’s six-hour finale extravaganza is that he really is a genius, because to some extent it doesn’t matter just what they do up on the stage, so long as all the performers are good. Not only is the music beautiful, but it also tells the story almost by itself, and not just with the words, but with the notes, the motifs, sometimes just the undertone. You don’t even mind the extensive interludes, no longer necessary because not even a modern set as mechanical as this one actually needs all that time to change, but just listening to them’s worth sitting through all those planks’ silly moving about.
The set actually does some of its fanciest maneuvering in Gotterdamrung, even to the point that occasionally you forget it’s there, which was quite polite of it, mostly during the sequences in the “human world,” which perhaps works as symbolism, sort of. Unfortunately, after also impressing during the scene of Siegfried’s death, the staging in general falls flat during the final sequence of Brunnhilde’s burning the world down, and while Deborah Voigt is quite happy to be too spectacular for the audience to care for the first twenty minutes of it, then she kills herself, and you’re left to enjoy the music, but you have to ask those undulating planks, “Is that all?” It’s supposed to come full circle, of course, because they undulated at the beginning of Das Rheingold, but that just made me think that they were unimpressive then too, though at least both occasions have music so good it’s all okay.
The other big highlight of this particular show, though certainly everyone sung well enough, was in the third act, when after two operas of expending all his energy keeping up with Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris actually gets a chance to exceed our expectations, by not only singing but doing a wrenching acting job during the death of Siegfried; it really is remarkable for how much of this one he really does keep you from disliking Siegfried, seeing as the character’s still an asshole. He’s not quite wide-eyed anymore during his interview, and of course they’re now throwing in calculated things like references to his wife and kid(there have been quite a few gay rumors going around, apparently), but despite the hostess this time being nothing special, for some reason the interviews were much more entertaining than usual, perhaps as they tried to get around the fact that the only character who even half makes sense psychologically is the villainous Hagan(that singer wasn’t interviewed). But hey, we’re used to ignoring that by now, right?
In one way, The Enchanted Island, the Met’s Tempest/Midsummer Night’s Dream mashup with mostly-Handel music set with new English words, is a very faithful throwback to the idea of the 18th-century patische, not only in the recycling of music, complete with a countertenor lead, but also in the adapting of Shakespeare. Patsiches often would essentially be fanfic, retelling/sequelling familiar plots, and they often would be more salacious than the original, which The Enchanted Island also is. Faithful to the original, too, is the gaudy no-expensive-spared costumes and scenery, from the old-style expense of a zillion costumes, some even very much based on over-the-top 18th-century designs(with Ariel especially), to the more modern dazzle of continual video projections in the background, and even the awareness when Placido Domingo shows up to sing Neptune that it’s Placido Domingo showing up to sing Neptune-those in the 18th century would usually go the opera more to see the stars than to see the show.
On the other hand, the concepts and ideas the opera expresses are very modern, from the emphasis on Ariel’s freedom to Neptune being an environmentalist, to the very modern feminist interpretation Joyce DiDonato described giving Sycorax in her interview, and of course the calling out of Prospero at the end as a tyrant, and as an invader taking land that isn’t rightfully his and pushing Sycorax away to the most undesirable part of it while enslaving her son and servant. Ariel and Syrcorax, in fact, end up become the true protagonists of the story; the former in the center of the first act and the latter the center of the second, and the highlight of the opera is Sycorax, now a loving mother, responding to Caliban’s heartbreak at the hands of Helena by singing an appropriately adapted version of an lament from one of Handel’s oratorio’s originally sung by the Virgin Mary. The Met actually drew the music from very obscure sources as much as they could, the only partial exception being the coronation anthem with which Neptune was introduced, which the British might recognize(and in fact cracked my dad up). Since Handel composed beautiful music for a number of operas where the librettos were so bad they remain unstagable today, there were plenty of pieces to fish out and give new life.
The movie theater was packed, and the audience really seemed to love it. I think this one’s going to be a success.
I originally posted this to the class blog set up by my Irish Literature professor for further contributions from students to raise points or make observations about the works we read that there hadn’t been time for in class. Thus keep in mind it was written for an audience who knew the plot of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats, though I couldn’t assume they knew the original story of Medea. Olwen Fouéré played premiered the lead role in Carr’s play; we were required to read an interview of her where she expressed a belief that her character killed her daughter at the end out of love, to spare her an unhappy life.
Yesterday I did my take-home final for Introduction to Irish Literature, and now that I’m going to be working starting Monday, I think my academic career has finally come to an end. I can’t say I enjoyed the final semester of it that much; there was too much I didn’t understand, as I noted in my previous entry, though things actually did get somewhat better the very next week.