In his fanciful novel about diva worship, Mawrdew Czgowchwz, James McCourt observed of opera-going in New York in the 1950s: “One saw truth, heard it in key perhaps three times in one perfect week. … One relished, one hoarded the grand moments as the hints of a promise that would leave no ‘Next?’ in its Read More
Even when the opera performed is a masterpiece, a truly superb opera performance is exceedingly rare. The Met, one of the world’s most prolific opera houses, manages perhaps once per season to spark the kind of ecstatic, heart-pounding response the form has the potential to deliver. There was Parsifal last year, La traviata a couple of years before that and way back in 2009 From the House of the Dead, great material done justice in production and performance.
So it’s all the more remarkable that Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, an uneven, fragmentary work, should yield a performance that ranks with the highest peaks of Peter Gelb’s incumbency at the Met and for that matter would be the jewel of any opera company in any golden age. Opera audiences are resigned to slogging through dreck; this Igor makes the slog worthwhile. Read More
The nameless heroine of Dvorak’s Rusalka is one of those hybrid creatures that crops up so often in myth and fairy tale, half woman and half fish. The Met’s current quickie revival of this opera is also a half-and-half sort of thing: a charming musical performance welded to a dramatic production so old and stale that, like fish left out too long, it’s starting to smell. Read More
Tenor roles in opera are the hardest to cast, conventional wisdom informs us: The voice type is rare to start with, the training of the instrument is difficult and delicate, and even the best-prepared high male voices have a way of falling apart under stress. Read More
New York’s newest opera festival, PROTOTYPE, a collaboration between Beth Morrison Projects and HERE, crams five local premieres and a galaxy of side events into less than two weeks of early January. Now, in only its second season, the festival can claim its first masterpiece, the chamber opera Paul’s Case. With music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by Mr. Spears and Kathryn Walat, this gem redeems dozens of evenings struggling with listless or unreachably far-out contemporary opera.
It would be tempting to call this show “the best new opera I’ve heard in years,” if it weren’t for the happy coincidence that it premiered the same season as Nico Muhly’s Two Boys. Every bit as poignant as the Muhly work heard last fall at the Met, Paul’s Case in many ways displays an even higher level of technical polish. Read More
History proves that it is not impossible to scale up Die Fledermaus, a soufflé of a show, for a gigantic venue like the Met. One of the undisputed triumphs of Rudolf Bing’s regime with the Met was a version of Die Fledermaus devised in 1950 by Broadway pros Garson Kanin (Born Yesterday) and Howard Dietz (“That’s Entertainment”). They brought to the work a brassy sensibility comparable to that of the contemporary hit Call Me Madam, with touches of topical humor and, above all, the brisk pace that is a hallmark of the Broadway musical. That production was performed 31 times in its first season alone, racking up more than 100 performances before the show was retired in 1967. Read More
When James Levine returned to the Met in September to conduct Così fan tutte, after two seasons sidelined by illness and injuries, critics and fans alike scrutinized the first performance, seeing in it a bellwether for the remainder of his career. And that performance was more than promising. The supple tempos and iridescent sonorities Mr. Levine coaxed from the pit, the immaculate balances of the vocal ensembles and his sure sense of the architecture of each of the two long acts were all indications of a great conductor in top form.
How, then, to explain the perplexing performance last Friday night of Falstaff, Mr. Levine’s first new production since his return? Nothing went wrong exactly, but nothing went quite right either. Conducting this final masterpiece of Verdi—a Levine specialty at the Met since 1972, his second season with the company—the maestro was off his game. Read More
Rudolf Bing, general manager of the Met from 1950 to 1972, once observed that his opera house was “similar to a museum. My function is to present old masterpieces in modern frames.”
Mr. Bing’s curatorial approach was, if not exactly avant-garde in the 1950s, a step forward from the haphazard way opera had been produced before him, at the Met and elsewhere. His style of “framing” featured real theater directors and designers, serious musical preparation and stable casting across a season’s run of a given opera. Read More
Opera isn’t all about the music: On the most basic level, it’s a grotesquely expensive form of entertainment. When people drop a half a grand for a pair of only pretty good seats at the Met, never mind parking and dinner and getting the suit pressed, they want some visual bang for their buck. So opera needs to look expensive: if not necessarily columns and velvet drapes and silk hoop skirts, then at least an eye-popping shiny object.
Two productions currently at the Met—Rigoletto from last season done a la Rat Pack Las Vegas and a 2001 staging of Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow)—really deliver the glitz, so much so that my retinas are only now starting to cool off. But only the older show manages to make the razzle-dazzle meaningful. Read More
Living in an imperfect world, we experience a lot of imperfect art; the vast bulk of the art we see is flawed in one way or another.
Sometimes, the imperfection is fairly trivial. You might wish, for example, that the brass orchestration in the second act of Tristan und Isolde weren’t quite so thick. But this hardly detracts from Tristan’s status as one of the jewels of Western civilization; in context, the “flaw” is inconsequential. Read More