|At the opera
||[Nov. 20., 2015|12:39 pm]
I feel remiss for not writing full reviews for the couple of recent opera performances I saw. I was under the weather both times, but I wish I could've been sicker for The merry widow than for Wozzeck rather than the other way around, since obviously a serious drama about the exploitation of the proletariat requires just a bit more concentration than a romcom.
First the Lehár. I'm amazed I didn't fall asleep during the first half. Not because it was exceptionally boring but because I almost always do during the first act of a romantic opera. In fact it was only moderately boring. Fleming still has a good voice, if nothing as enchanting as it was during her peak, but I don't recall her being so wooden as an actress. There seemed to be no modulation in her speaking voice at all. You'd think it would sound totally changed after that moment in Act 2 where she realises Danilo loves her after all but you would be wrong.
Fortunately Hampson takes up all that slack and then some. He's a bit long in the tooth, too, but that works rather well given how the plot is all about second chances. Frankly, any non-musical scene without either him or local talent Jeff Dumas--who absolutely kills as Njegus, the comic relief--is a waste of time. I ranted to Nuphy about how pedestrian the direction was, reminiscent of a high-school production. The scene where Fleming sings "Vilja", for instance, is completely static. Sure, the focus should be on the singer, but you've got the entire chorus on stage. You can't think of any stage business to give them that would reflect or comment on the action in some way? Get back to theatre school. Or, you know, stop cutting corners, Lyric, and hire a director and a choreographer instead of making the latter do both jobs.
Susan Stroman has a background in Broadway musicals and it really pays off during the big numbers. The opening scene at Maxim's, for instance, is a show-stopper, and not just on account of the grisettes. The set change is simultaneous with the dancing, so while the ladies are pirouetting walls are swooping in and out and decoration is dropping from the ceiling. And such decoration! Maxim's was gorgeous, and the other sets were much enhanced by detailed lighted cityscapes of Paris in the background.
Speaking of Paris, our performance took place the day after the assault, so we were all asked to stand for a performance of the "Marseillaise". I reacted about how you'd expect I'd react if asked to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" the day after the Boston Massacre, which is to say with resignation and discomfort. It just reinforced for me how thoroughly and successfully the situation is being exploited by rightist elements but at home and abroad.
One more reason why it would've been infinitely preferable to have had Wozzeck then rather than a week earlier. It's possible you could miss the anti-military and anti-nationalist message of Berg's masterpiece, but you'd have to be pretty thick indeed. Unfortunately its impact was blunted someone by Davis' rushed conducting, which flattened the high points of the score. Tomasz Konieczny is perfectly cast as the title character and, as good as he and Denoke were, they would've been even more shattering with better musical direction.
I didn't see where Nuphy was coming from with his criticisms that the sets weren't realistic enough. Yes, there's some stylisation (notably in the square which marks the centre of the settlement), but there are also ingeniously detailed contraptions in most every scene reinforcing the theme of mechanicisation of society and stark lighting emphasising the bleakness of existence for those bearing all the burden of industrialisation while accruing few of the benefits.
I thought it was particularly good how the handled the many scene changes--fourteen of them in the space of 90 minutes! Instead of scrims, they used low rods hung with heavy curtains which could nonetheless be pulled back with alacrity by invisible runners. I found it added to the edginess inherent in the music and plot; Nuphy just found it annoying.