Thursday, June 30, 2011

Met Opera Radio

Well, here I am on vacation. And for vacation I chose to attend a Gilbert and Sullivan Festival - which has on the whole been great. But I will come to that later. I rented a car in Baltimore - a bright red Mini Cooper. It is a pretty sporty car. I like it, even though since the rental company removed the owner's manual I can't figure out how it really works. But it does include Sirius Satellite radio - which is cool, because they have a Met Opera Radio station. All Met opera - all day and all night. For the most part the programming is to alternate between full length broadcasts of recordings of Saturday afternoon performances with aria excerpts. So far I have listened to most of "Romeo and Juliette" from a 1974 broadcast, and parts of broadcasts of "Don Giovanni," "Parsifal," "Death in Venice,"Eugene Onegin," and "Aida." The "Aida" was particularly thrilling. It was a broadcast from 1994 I think and the cast included Juan Pons as Amonosro, Paul Plishka as Ramphis and Dolora Zajik as Amneris. I think she is the greatest Amneris ever and she was absolutely fantastic in this performance. The other two leads I did not recognize - but they were fantastic.
I got to listen to "Romeo et Juliette" by Gounod on my way from Delaware to Gettysburg and this 1974 broadcast had a cast of singers that I did not recognize for the most part - except for Charles Anthony who sang Tybalt and Franco Corelli who was Romeo. Corelli sounded as wonderful as ever - even though his French was weak, and I loved hearing Charles Anthony in a this great role. The soprano, from Canada, was also stunning. But I want to comment on the orchestra and chorus. Now I am a great fan of the Met orchestra and chorus. I think they are perhaps one of the greatest orchestra and opera choruses in the world. But, this recording reminded me that it was not always so. I was amazed at how sloppy both the orchestra and chorus were in this performance. The prologue was really a mess - singers making wrong entrances - nothing blending. And the orchestra was sloppy and in places the woodwinds were out of tune. Wow - I could not believe it. But this I think is pre-Levine. It is not the same orchestra and chorus as it is today. They have come a long way, thanks to James Levine. I think that one of the greatest contributions to opera by Levine has been to focus on excellence across the board. It is not enough to have great principals when the rest of the production is weak. Instead the outstanding principals are joined by an outstanding orchestra, outstanding chorus and so on and it makes a difference. So much gratitude to James Levine.