Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Starr, very properly curled up on the throw that seems to have been made for her.  She's still alert, lively and great fun but she is getting to be an old lady cat -- 15 this year.

Fog this morning began a cold, clammy day.  I set a fire going in the living room wood stove after lunch.  I had to do a lot of writing on the computer and physical inactivity made me cool down.  There's something about wood stove heat that's deeply warming, a heat that envelops the body almost as if embracing it. 

I saw the first installment of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Wagner's Ring of the Niebelung last Saturday.  It's in the hands of Robert LePage and the Cirque du Soleil.  The foundation of the production is "The Machine," a 45 ton monster that required the MET to install several heavy steel I-beams under the stage last summer to support it.  It will be the basis for all four Ring operas.

The Machine's visible components are 24 "planks" on a central shaft that can rotate individually or work in concert with each other.  The shaft rises and lowers.  The number of variations seems infinite, particularly as projections, not still images, but moving images that are changeable, responding to the movement of the performers.  Singers  -- or their body doubles -- scramble up, down and over The Machine's surfaces, the more radical ascents and descents assisted by a cable hooked onto a harness concealed in the costume. 

The production has been criticized as having no particular interpretation, political viewpoint, or for being anything more than a dull walk-through of the traditional moves that date back generations.  That was also the criticism of the MET's previous RING whose sets and costumes were romantically realist storybook stuff, and that's true.  In fact not only was it true, the previous Ring production featured some very sloppy and undramatic direction. 

I saw one major careless bit of directing in this new Das Rheingold, in the scene above where the Goddess Freia is supposed to be covered completely in gold as ransom for her.  Nothing of her is to be visible, but the piling of the gold left her entire head and upper shoulders visible, making a mockery of the dramatic situation and the text of the opera.  But that was it, the rest was completely competent if not inspired and, when combined with the arresting visuals, was far preferable to the previous production.

The final tableau, the Gods entering the newly constructed palace/citadel of Valhalla, was almost breathtaking.  The production is technically complicated -- I imaging the technical rehearsals must have gone on for days -- and on some occasions, word has leaked out that some shift or other effect of The Machine has failed.  The performance on the Wednesday prior to mine was delayed almost a half hour due to set-up problems.  But at my performance everything went perfectly and the overall effect was overwhelming.

Wagner called for magic transformations and his music describes wonders taking place; I have seen almost a dozen Rings in whole or various parts, and these were beyond question the most magical transformations I have ever encountered on any stage.  The Machine creaks every now and then and the gripper soles on the singers' shoes tended to squeak audibly at times.  But at its best, and there was a fair amount of "best," it was breathtaking.

The singing was on a pretty high level.  It is becoming obvious that the heroic baritone roles in Wagner are not right for Bryn Terfel.  He sounded underpowered much of the time, all his low notes fading into inaudibility, but he was the only remotely weak link in a very accomplished cast authoritatively conducted by Fabio Luisi.  


Das Rheingold was the radio broadcast matinee.  I had dinner with my younger daughter and her fiance at the Shun Lee Café near Lincoln Center, a casual, very good Dim Sum dinner, and then went back to the MET for a very different opera, Rossini's delightful romp Le Comte Ory.  

There's not much plot to Ory.  On paper it's a kind of one joke tale of a randy philandering nobleman 
who tries to get himself and his buds into the castle where all the local wives have set up housekeeping while their husbands are away at the Crusades.  Eventually they breach the castle's defenses by disguising themselves a nuns on a pilgrimage caught in a severe storm and begging for shelter.   

Rossini's witty, inventive score keeps things from descending to the frat house level, but boys will be boys.  Director Bartlett Sher acknowledged the frank sexuality of the plot situations while also inventing with his cast some very smooth and funny bits of business.

The high point of the evening, was the bed scene for three, left to right: Countess Adele, owner of the Castle; Isolier, a young page to Count Ory who has the hots for Adele who, in turn, is very interested in having a young lover (Isolier, incidentally, is played by a woman); and finally, the count himself.  During an intricate comic trio, the three of them intertwined, crawled all over each other, and engaged in general mayhem without missing a note.

Rossini requires virtuoso singers and the MET delivered Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Florez, Joyce di Donato and Susanne Resmark, all in top form.  Pure joy!

Old Lady? At 15. Oh my, I don't stand a chance.
Given all they've invested in re the set foe Lepage, I guess it will be up to its tricks in the next three instalments. But never judge a Ring by its Rheingold - that requires all the stateoftheart technology, perhaps. Then you hit the human stuff. Walkure is where the judging can begin. I always found it sad that Lyubimov was taken off a projected Covent Garden Ring after a far from appalling Rheingold.

Icestorm, my word. Here we sizzle in 20 degrees - a friend says it's the effect of the hamsin from Africa.

Obeisances to la reine Starr. That IS old in cat years.
David--I see Walkure on the 24th of this month. Siegfried and Gotterdammerung ("That's part four" -- Anna Russell) come next season.
We very much enjoyed the Rossini opera! We toofound the three way in the bed scene hilarious.

I have to have to see Die Walkure; I am making David get a makeup ticket, for I will be away in Hawaii
I almost canceled Hawaii to see it.
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