Yesterday, my opera going season came to a close, and I thought I’d take you on a tour of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve seen over the last seven months.
In October I visited the England of Henry The Eighth and witnessed the demise of one of his wives with Anna Netrebko in Donizetti’s ANNA BOLENA. And yes, they all lost their heads in the end.
Two weeks later I was in mid-18th century Sevilla with the world’s greatest lover DON GIOVANNI courtesy of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
A week later I was in the middle of German mythology with dwarves, dragons, magic birds and Wagner’s SIEGFRIED.
And in case you’ve ever wondered what a real hero looks like … this is Siegfried as played by tenor Jay Hunter Morris who stepped into the role a week before opening night.
He’s a really likable guy from Paris, Texas that the opera world fell in love with overnight. The opera, which is only six hours long, is the third part of Wagner’s monumental RING CYCLE. I saw part one Das Rheingold
and part two Die Walküre last season.
In December it was George Frideric Handel’s Rodelinda which was my first and hopefully last venture into Baroque Opera, Handel and counter-tenors. In case you don’t know, a counter-tenor is a grown man who sings in falsetto to perform the roles originally written for castrati who were created by emasculation while they were still boy sopranos to preserve their pure innocent voices to sing for the glory of God. Today we only have to worry about pedophile priests.
A week later, it was back to real opera with Charles Gounod’s version of the Faust legend. This production updates the opera to the early 20th century and the atomic age. The same end results, so don’t sell your soul to the devil. Great singing from Jonas Kaufmann/Faust and Rene Pape/The Devil.
After a break for the holidays I returned to my Saturday afternoon operas with The Enchanted Island in late January. Despite my earlier vow never to attend another Baroque opera I gave in to see this hybrid creation of the Met, pastiche that combined the characters from Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Tempest singing music written by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and other Baroque composers. In spite of the presence of two, count them two, counter-tenors the afternoon was different to say the least.
In February we returned to reality … at least in operatic terms with the fourth and final opera of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen - Götterdämmerung or The Twilight Of The Gods. This is the opera that starts with the Norns weaving and reading the history of all that has gone before in the previous three operas …
And ends with the death of our hero Siegfried and the destruction of Valhalla and the world, as the gold stolen from the Rhinemaidens in the first opera is finally returned to them to some of the most stupendous music ever written. It was a totally moving experience, and I doubt if there was a dry eye in the packed theater that afternoon.
It was something like one of those MGM swashbucklers of the 50s.
Finally yesterday the season came to an end with one of the most popular operas ever written … Verdi’s La Traviata. Even if you have never seen an opera, you know the music and the plot of this opera. It was based on the play La dame aux Camélias adapted from a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. It became Camille in sixteen versions on Broadway alone and eight different motion pictures. It is the story of Violetta, a Parisian courtesan suffering from TB who gives up all for a true love that can never be.
The current production by Willy Decker is set in a non-specific era to show the timelessness of the story. Natalie Dessay, one of today’s top operatic actresses played Violetta. A great cast and a great production to close out my 2011/12 opera year.
The Met Live In HD is a series of live performances from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City transmitted in high-definition via satellite to various motion picture theaters, schools and museums in the United States and around the world. This year alone I saw eleven different live opera performances. This is amazing considering that in my entire life I had only seen two live opera performances in a theater. One was at the Met in NYC. The other was at the St. Louis Muny Opera … an outdoor theater. Other than that my opera viewing was limited to watching a PBS broadcast once or twice a year. That’s why I’m an avid supporter of the Met’s Live in HD program, and why I encourage you to give it a try.
Or more current flights of fantasy.
Note, all photos are from the archives of the Metropolitan Opera except the Esquire Theater which I took.
I’ve often commented about my Saturday trips to see the Metropolitan Opera, and several people have asked if these are films of Met productions. Actually, they are part of a series of live opera performances transmitted in high-definition video via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to select venues (motion picture theaters and cultural centers) across the United States and around the world where the HD signal is fed into the projectors that fill the big screen … complete with surround sound. And in the average season the number of people attending these performances is greater than the number of people who attend the entire season at the opera house. Many of the productions are later rerun as part of the PBS Great Performances series.
I started going to the Saturday matinée productions during the 2007/08 season at the auditorium of the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Unfortunately, prior to the start of the 2010/11 season the Art Museum started a long-planned expansion program and the auditorium was closed for construction work. So my opera location moved several blocks west … from historic Beaux Arts museum to classic Art Deco movie house.
The new location was the Esquire Theater which just happens to be two months younger than me. It is one of Saint Louis’ surviving second-run that was originally built with a large main auditorium with balcony. In recent years the balcony was enclosed to form two smaller theaters.
An addition was built in the late 80s creating three additional theatres … one large and two smaller. The large theater is used for showing the Met broadcasts. The decor reflects the design of the original main auditorium.
The theater seats about 750 in three seating sections. The curved screen almost fills the full width of the theater. Image shown is the pre-program projection test. While the A/V capabilities exceed that of the art museum, the movie theater lacks the atmosphere and sense of participation the museum auditorium provided.