Saturday, November 12, 2016

My Trip to the Met - October 2016 - Guillaume Tell!

The reason for the trip was Guillaume Tell.  This is Rossini’s very last opera and it is simply brilliant. I hope that the Met will continue to cycle productions of this opera into their rotation. This is a work that should be performed regularly.  Of course the vocal requirements alone are enough to limit productions. The tenor role of Arnold is incredibly high and then there are all the dancers and 3, count them, 3 separate men’s choruses for the rousing finale of act 2 – not counting the villagers and the soldiers!  In fact the chorus writing is simply amazing in this opera.  And the Met chorus takes top honors for this performance.  If it was the orchestra who shone brightest in “Tristan” it was the chorus in “Tell!”  This takes nothing away from the cast – all of whom are outstanding.  I loved the principals – Gerald Finley as Tell, Jennai Brunner as Jemmy, Maria Zifchak as Hedwige (Tell’s wife), Bryan Hymel as Arnold, Marina Rebekah as Mathilde (Gessler’s sister) and then John Relyea as Gessler and Sean Pannikar as the Austrian Captain Rudolphe.  And then there is the supporting cast – all excellent!  Musically this was a very captivating and moving experience.  It will always be for me one of my most memorable Met experiences.

The production has received, for the most part, a fair amount of negative reviews.  One friend called it “garbage” (without having seen it, I hasten to add), another friend called it “drab” and other writers have complained about this and that.  I will just come out and say that in many ways I prefer the highly controversial ROH production (see below for my review of that) but on the whole I liked the production and felt that it was effective. There was an impressionism about this production that I felt really worked and was quite effective.  That doesn’t mean that I liked everything.  But on the whole I appreciated how the director used the set to create a closed world created by the injustice and tyranny of oppression. At the very end when freedom comes the set opens up and we have bright warm lightening just in time for the finale ensemble which may well be the most beautiful music Rossini ever composed.  I thought the boat/bow structure worked well.  I did not quite get the point of what looked like oversized florescent light bulbs that appeared for act 3.  Nor did I quite understand the upside down livestock hanging from the top of the stage. And frankly I found the costuming rather, well, drab.  A little color might have been a nice touch and would not have ruined the concept.  Especially at the end of act 2 when all the Cantons come together to pledge their commitment to each other and the task of pushing the oppressor out of Switzerland. The 3 different Cantons were distinguished by some kind of a carved figure, but sitting in the house it was too far away to be able to see it.  A little color would have been nice.

But on the whole, I loved this production and I love this opera.  I listened to everyone of the live Sirius broadcasts and I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to become familiar with this great work!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Trip to the Met - Tristan und Isolde Continued

    I had the opportunity to see this production a second time, but this time live at the Met.  Frankly musically there is simply no contest between live and HD.  In HD one is constantly subject to the whims of the sound mixing and the sound reproduction system of the movie house.  It is all right and better than nothing.  But being in the house one is completely surrounded and engulfed by the music. And for this opera in particular it is so effective.  The voices souring and orchestra swelling it was magical.  In particular, the three major principals were amazing and the orchestra was wonderful. The off stage English horn was thrilling for me as were Brangane's interjections in act 2 and Isolde's "Liebestod" in act 3.  If you read below I stated that I found the production profound and moving and I consider it to be very faithful to the inner philosophical narrative of the libretto.  My experience of seeing the opera live did not change this impression, in fact, it strengthened it.  But some elements "read" much differently.  The fact that HD can use close ups really does change things.  For example the beginning of act 3 with the boy - young Tristan - something about the distance made this stage action seem more dreamlike and mystical.  In HD it was just too present.  The same with all the obsession with the lighter and the flame, at a distance it is not as present and I felt it all worked much better.  Act 3 in particular I felt was much more successful in the house simply because it just felt more like a hallucination because of the distance.  Also being able to see the projections at all times in the background made a difference to me as well.
     I came away with a couple new interpretations.  For example, who was the uniformed guy who embraced the child and appeared from time to time.  It simply cannot be Tristan's father who died before his birth.  I noticed that this figured was a reflection of Marke and so I believe it was Marke, who in the legend becomes a surrogate father to Tristan. The obsession with the flame and the fire is still a bit ambiguous for me, but I think is designed to demonstrate that Tristan was exceptionally troubled.  The murder of the prisoner in act 1 become much more enigmatic for me after seeing the opera live. The titles during this scene explicitly talk about the death of Morold, so if (as Stuart Skelton stated in an interview) this is the murder of a different person, then this is a misfire by the director.  Having the murder happen during this discussion of the death or murder of Morold makes a link despite whether this is what the director wants.
     I want to make a comment about the hospital bed which is a part of act 3.  I have been surprised that so many have been so negative about this little detail.  This objection makes no sense to me at all.  In the story Tristan is wounded at the end of act 2.  He returns to Karaol, his home castle in order to recuperate. Why does everyone assume that a man who is wounded would automatically be laying on the ground in front of the castle?  Why not recuperate in a bed? I think the objection is just silly.  It makes all the sense in the world and I think it works dramatically very, very well.
     Ultimately "Tristan" is about the music.  Some complained that Tristan and Isolde had no physical relationship at all in this production.  But it is not only this production, this is pretty common.  The fact the source material is all pretty clear that this love was not physically expressed, which lead to this sense of intense despairing desire. In the Wagner there is no sex on stage, because all the sex is in the orchestra and the music.  It is a very erotic score, a gorgeous and magnificent score - that is where the sex is and it is very explicit!  I loved seeing this opera in the house.