Friday, May 17, 2013

Metropolitan Opera – Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. May 11, 2013.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Balcony (Seat A108, $122.50)

Conductor – Fabio Luisi; First Norn – Ronnita Miller, Second Norn – Michaela Martens, Third Norn – Heidi Melton, Brunnhilde – Deborah Voigt, Siegfried – Lars Cleveman, Gunther – Iain Paterson, Hagen – Hans-Peter Konig, Gutrune – Wendy Bryn Harmer, Waltraute – Karen Cargill, Alberich – Richard Paul Fink, Woglinde – Disella Larusdottir, Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano, Flosshilde – Renee Tatum.

Story.  See previous post.

This concludes the third Ring cycle for me.  Overall it has been a great experience, musically and emotionally.  The story makes more sense, the music makes more sense, and there is something full circle about how the story begins at the Rhine and ends at the same place.  The immolation and the destruction of Valhalla form a sad coda to the entire saga.  I continue to have problems with the 24-plank set, perhaps seeing it a third time would make more sense?  I tend to doubt it.  Of course many of my first impressions about the Ring change as I get to explore the operas further.

The last Gotterdammerung I saw had Katarina Dalayman singing the role of Brunnhilde.  I must say there is quite a bit of distinction between her and Voigt.  Voigt certainly sang with a lot more authority, although I am not sure her acting skills go beyond raising her two arms.  She did get on Grane the horse to go into the fire while Dalayman went in leading Grane by the reins.  And I thought there was more smoke coming off the pyre, and more breakage during the Valhalla destruction scene, compared with the last one I saw.  But these are minor comparisons in light of the overall experience.

To put things in perspective, Seattle Opera is putting on the Ring cycle again in August, and there is not a great desire on my part to go see it.

This opera also concludes the Met season during which I saw 14 performances.  It was overall a good season, even taking into account difficult ones like Parsifal.

I drove to Somerville, MA after the concert.  The Westside Highway was congested, but 11th Ave had okay traffic, even with its many stop lights.  I got in around 10 pm.

Note added May 18, 2013.  Today I read this New York Times not-so-effusive article on the possible future of "the machine" and the next Met production of the ring.  Indeed the first intermission lasted about 15 minutes longer because they had to fix a glitch in the system.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Metropolitan Opera – Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites. May 9, 2013.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Balcony (Seat C109, $97.50).

Conductor – Louis Langree; The Chevalier de la Force – Paul Appleby, The Marquis – David Pittsinger, Blanche – Isabel Leonard, Thierry (a valet) – Eduardo Valdes, Madame de Croissy (the Prioress) – Felicity Palmer, Sister Constance – Erin Morley, Mother Marie – Elizabeth Bishop, Javelinot (a physician) – Paul Corona, Madame Lidoine (the new Prioress) – Patricia Racette, The Chaplain – Mark Schowalter.

Story.  Blanche de la Force joins the nunnery as a novice because she lives in fear.  While in the nunnery she gets to know another novice Sister Constance.  The Prioress Madame de Croissy dies at the age of 59; she breaks down near her moment of death, which doesn’t help Blanche’s problem with fear.  The nuns get caught up in the French Revolution.  When they cast a secret ballot to see if they have a unanimous vow of martyrdom, Blanche is the only one who casts a negative vote.  She soon changes her mind and joins in the vow.  When the nuns are condemned as enemies of the Revolution, Blanche is in hiding.  However, when the nuns go to the guillotine Blanche joins them.

I knew very little about the story before I showed up for this opera.  I was just too caught up with the Ring to worry about it.  I did remember the basic outline: the Carmelite nuns were forced to give up their property during the French Revolution, but instead of acquiescing to the demand they went to the guillotine instead.  The “story” I wrote above was a summary of what I actually saw, the two major surprises: a lot of the opera was just devoted to everyday life inside a convent, while the nuns seemed to be engaged in deep philosophical discussions, I lacked the insight to understand the significance of what they were talking about.  The second surprise was this issue about the property was brought up only briefly, in the opera the nuns were condemned for being enemies of the state and not supporting the revolution.

I am trying to do this writeup tonight (Friday, a day after the opera) since I will be seeing Gotterdammerung tomorrow and don’t want to leave this hanging.  I will go back and read up on the Playbill later; I hope it will provide more insight into the opera.  If it does, I will make additional entries to this blog.

I know little about Poulenc.  Having more than 10 hours of Wagner the previous days, Poulenc certainly sounded very different.  Different doesn’t mean better, or easier to understand, though.  One thing I can say for sure, leitmotifs were not used.  He started this opera in 1953.

Stage setting is on the traditional side.  The beginning was dramatic enough, when the curtain was raised we saw a large cross on the ground, and the nuns (about 14 of them) were prostrate with their arms spread out.  As the music progressed, they all got up and left the scene.  Various backdrops and props were moved in and out for the different scenes such as the home of the de la Forcves, the convent, the chapel, a prison, and, for the last scene of Place de la Revolution where the executions took place.  The executions were carried out one by way (I lost count, perhaps 15 or so in total.)  The music was such that they didn’t feel monotonous, although the shock value did wear off as the numbers went up.  For those curious as to what happened: the nuns would walk through a curtain and you would hear the “swish” sound of a guillotine coming down.

Another noteworthy scene is the death of the Prioress.  She evidently died a rather painful death, and – despite the view of the novices – young.  She was calm and went about blessing various people around her.  However, she eventually lost her cool and began screaming and protesting why she was to die.  One is led to wonder whether she lost her faith also.

If you also take into account the unfairness of why the nuns got executed, you may reasonably ask is Poulenc trying to raise the question of “does God care?” without actually asking the question.

Since I am playing analyst (which I hate in others), I can also comment that one can also understand the opera at two levels.  On the grand level there is this chaos and mayhem associated with the French Revolution, with many innocent people caught up for no good reason.  On a personal level one can also talk about how Blanche’s fate is tied up in this, with her transforming from a fearful person to one who willingly goes to her death.

I wonder how much of this I will read in the Playbill.  Or do the commentators have additional insights.

Anne couldn’t make this because of her baby-sitting duties, so I asked Chung Shu to go along.  We had a simple meal at Europan before the opera.

The New York Times review is all positive.  It also contains a few interesting facts.  The Prioress (who dies) is sung by Felicity Palmer who is 69 years old.  Also, Elizabeth Bishop substituted for Stephanie Blythe as Fricka in Das Rheingold: no wonder her name is so familiar.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Metropolitan Opera – Wagner’s Siegfried. May 8, 2013.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Balcony (Seat A106, $122.50).

Conductor – Fabio Luisi; Mime – Robert Brubaker, Siegfried – Lars Cleveman, The Wanderer – Greer Grimsley, Alberich – Richard Paul Fink, Fafner – Hans-Peter Konig, The Forest Bird – Lisette Oropesa, Erda – Meredith Arwady, Brunnhilde – Deborah Voight.

Story.  See previous post.

There is now little doubt, Wagner grows on you.  At least the Ring does.  My recollection of my previous two encounters with Siegfried was that it was just this side of tolerable, with Siegfried not being a particular sympathetic character.

My impression today was completely different.  I found I was quite invested in the welfare of this character, and was quite engaged with his growing up process, from a young kid who didn’t know better than bringing a bear home, to someone who exulted in falling in love with Brunnhilde.

Three male voices were all that was heard in the Act I: Mime, Siegfried, and the Wanderer (Wotan.)  While there was not much melody in the singing, there was quite a bit of drama, with a dash of comedy thrown in.  Siegfried was particularly impressive, and I especially like the “anvil song” during which he filed down Nothung and remade it.

Having seen this production last year, I knew where to look for Brunnhilde when the mountaintop scene first appeared.  At the end of Walkure, Brunnhilde was lying upside down, this time she turned around and was in a more comfortable position.  Even knowing where to look, and with the use of binoculars, she was still a bit difficult to pick out.

I did learn a few additional things.  One is that in Die Walkure the Nothung broke when hit by the spear.  The “new” Nothung, made by Siegfried from melting down the broken sword, broke Wotan’s spear.  The other is that the dragon’s blood allowed Siegfried to understand the forest bird.  Third is that Wotan’s limitation was becoming more and more apparent.  Finally, Wagner at one point was convinced that this would be his most popular work.  On that point I am quite sure Wagner got it wrong.

While I still have problem telling what a particular leitmotif represents, by now a lot of them are quite familiar.

In any case, there is still a lot to be learned.  This cycle will end on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Metropolitan Opera – Wagner’s Die Walkure. May 6, 2013.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Family Circle (Seat G208, $57.50).

Conductor – Fabio Luisi; Siegmund – Simon O’Neill, Sieglinde – Martina Serafin, Hunding – Hans-Peter Konig, Wotan – Greer Grimsley, Brunnhilde – Deborah Voight, Fricka – Stephanie Blythe, Gerhilde – Deborah Mayer, Helmwige – Molly Fillmore, Waltraute – Jennifer Johnson Cano, Schwertleite – Mary Phillips, Ortlinde – Wendy Bryn Harmer, Sigrune – Eve Gigliotti, Grimgerde – Mary Ann McCormick, Rossweisse – Rebecca Ringle.

Story.  See previous post.

Today I drove in, and it was certainly more leisurely as traffic was light during non-rush hours.

As I was hoping, I did get into the performance.  First, the singing was uniformly good.  While the beginning half of Act I was a bit slow for my taste, the three principal singers all did a great job.  I also found myself emotionally invested in many parts of the story, and how inexorably the plot developed.   There were quite a few of these scenes, such as the one where Brunnhilde and Siegmund "talked" while Sieglinde was asleep.  Also, the story made more sense to me this fourth time around.

Today’s seat was a row up and a little bit to the side of my seat on Saturday.  Perhaps because of that, or because the cast is different, the music sounded much clearer.  Even Wotan, whose performance in Das Rheingold I panned a bit, did quite okay.  And Stephanie Blythe returned from her illness and sang brilliantly as Fricka.

As I was going through my files, I noticed that Grimsley also sang the role of Wotan at the first Ring cycle I attended, in Seattle.  I think he even dressed in a similar fashion.  One noticeable difference is the eye-patch was worn on his left eye today, and on his right during the Seattle run.  (I know this because I kept a copy of the Seattle program with Wotan’s pictures in it.)

At the Act 2 curtain call Blythe walked out with a cane in her hand.  She had a lot of trouble walking.  I wish her well.

In the past I found Siegfried to be a bit on the mundane side.  Will Wednesday’s performance also change my view?

I found this interesting video on Youtube:  The Ring in 2.5 Minutes.  Some think it is sacrilegious to do something like that.  I thought it is very helpful for the uninitiated.  It actually has a very good synopsis of the plot, and includes many of the leitmotifs.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Metropolitan Opera – Wagner’s Das Rheingold. May 4, 2013.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Family Circle (Seat F108, $57.50).

Conductor – Fabio Luisi; Woglinde – Disella Larusdottir, Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano, Flosshilde – Renee Tatum, Alberich – Richard Paul Fink, Fricka – Elizabeth Bishop, Wotan – Greer Grimsley, Freia – Wendy Bryn Harmer, Fasolt – Franz-Joseph Selig, Fafner – Hans-Peter Konig, Froh – Richard Cox, Donner –Dwayne Croft, Loge – Stefan Margita, Mime – Robert Brubaker, Erda – Meredith Arwady.

Story.  See previous post.

I am “home alone” for a couple of weeks, so when I saw that reasonable priced seats were still available for the Ring cycles, I bought the tickets to the four performances that will constitute the last of the Met three cycles this season.  (The entire order with seats in Family Circle and Balcony came to less than $400.)  As part of our subscription I will also be going to “Dialogues des Carmiletes” this Thursday, making it five operas in eight days.  It is going to be interesting to see how this will work out.

I saw a complete Ring cycle in Seattle during the summer of 2009, after which I wondered if I would ever do it again.  When the new Met production came out, I also managed to see all four operas, although not in one sitting, nor the same order.  My overall reaction was generally much more positive.

The insert in the Playbill said Stephanie Blythe was ill and would be replaced by Elizabeth Bishop.  Blythe is one of the names I recognize, and she usually does very well, so I was somewhat disappointed.  At the end I think Bishop filled that role very well.  The Met’s website shows Blythe as Fricka for this evening’s Die Walkure.

My plan for this series of blogs is to simply to record “new” findings about the operas; we will see if I succeed.  Of course these findings have been around for a long time, it is just that I can only absorb so much new information at one sitting.

My awareness that the operas were written in reverse order was only partially correct.  Per the Playbill, only the lyrics (poems as Wagner called them) were written that way, the music was composed in the order the stories unfold.

Thanks to the Playbill, I also got to appreciate how the entire opera begins with an E-flat major chord.  The good news is now I am also beginning to recognize more of the leitmotifs.  To my disappointment, the acoustics for my seat half-way up the Family Circle wasn’t as good as I expected; oftentimes the singers were overwhelmed by the orchestra.  Nonetheless, most of them did well.  An exception would be Grimsley in the role of Wotan: his voice was on the weak side.

My recollection of the (now not so) new set was that it was put to some use in the first opera but became more and more of a projection screen in subsequence episodes.  My reaction this evening was even in this opera it was not used that much.  Thus the longer term verdict from me is getting to be less positive.

We shall see how things go, starting with this evening’s Die Walkure.  As I type this (Monday May 6) I am actually quite looking forward to them.

Since I was by myself, I took the train in.  When people were about to go into the auditorium, they were told that there would be no intermissions for this 2 ½ hour opera.  So a lot of them turned around to hit the washroom.  Perhaps because of that, the opera started about 10 minutes late, and didn’t end until 10:45 pm.  I was in a middle seat and didn’t want to run out during curtain call, so I didn’t get to the subway until about 10:55 pm.  Good thing the train came in about two minutes, so I managed to catch the 11:07 pm train back to NJ instead of having to wait another hour.  (For the record, the subway ride took 6 minutes; my walk up from NY Penn earlier that evening took 45 minutes because of the crowds.)  I was all sweaty from the running, though.  I plan to drive in tonight.