Sunday, April 29, 2012

Die Walküre: Stories twice told

I fear writing this much about the Met’s still-unfolding Ring cycle may be having a bad effect on my brain, but I went to Die Walküre on Saturday and here’s what happened. The production is still simple-minded, Bryn Terfel is still the best, Fabio Luisi is still Fabio Luisi, Jonas Kaufmann canceled, and I continue to learn what makes Wagner special by seeing what has been drained out of this production.

Met's Makropulos Case lives on

Elina Makropulos is a woman as old as opera.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Puppetmasters Robert Lepage and Peter Gelb at MIT

Yesterday, director Robert Lepage and Met Opera-meister Peter Gelb conversed before an MIT public about the Met’s Ring. A spy in Boston sent me the following report of an event she described as “a mildly interesting but not terrifically insightful 90 minutes.”

She concluded, “My interpretation of their justification for their Ring is: Wagner wanted spectacle, and we're the only ones who have the means and wherewithal to do it properly, so we're bloody well going to do it, and any abstraction or symbolism would be compromise, and we don't have to compromise, because we can do a perfect realization thanks to technology!”

Friday, April 27, 2012

Das Rheingold at the Met: Verflucht sei dieser Ring

It was the best of Lepage, it was the worst of Lepage. Last night’s Das Rheingold, opening the Met's second Ring cycle, featured a good deal of impressive singing, intermittently exciting conducting, and a production that is the least consistent and yet in some ways also most impressive of his Ring.

Wagner, Das Rheingold. Metropolitan Opera Ring Cycle 2, 4/26/12. Production by Robert Lepage, conducted by Fabio Luisi with Eric Owens (Alberich), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Adam Klein (Loge), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt), Hans-Peter König (Fafner), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Patricia Bardon (Erda).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Der Ring, der nie gelungen: A Leitmotiv guide

the Norns argue about Wagner in the Copenhagen Ring
Robert Lepage says it's the score-toting masses who have doomed his Ring. But a score is a bulky thing to bring along (and also a little useless, because it's dark). What the efficient Wagner fan really needs is a pocket-sized Leitmotiv cheat sheet to consult beforehand. I've always wanted one, so I made one myself. It isn't comprehensive but contains a good number of motives and, if you've never seriously studied the Ring, is more than enough to get you started (provided you can read music).

You can download it as a PDF here (go to File and "Download"). It is designed to be printed two-sided on US letter-sized paper (though it will work OK with A4) and folded in half to form a booklet, which is why the pages appear to be out of order. If you're a Wagner novice, you should also read this introduction to how the motives function, and you can listen to them here. If you're an experienced Wagnerian you'll probably find this handbook too simplistic, but it still has the virtue of easy portability.

Email me if you find any egregious errors (I'm not promising there aren't any), and enjoy. Print it out just to piss Lepage off, though he won't be in the house tomorrow night. And don't say I never gave you anything.

If you want to look for me at or after Rheingold tomorrow, I'll be identifiable in the Family Circle standing section by my tasteful BAYREUTH BAYREUTH BAYREUTH tote bag. Since there's no intermission, we might have to go to Valhalla afterwards. No, I'm serious, one really should go to Valhalla after Rheingold. It's only logical. (The weird 8:30 curtain time precludes much time out for me, though.)

Preview the Leitmotiv guide after the jump.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Der Ring, der nie gelungen: Comparing ticket prices

Shit, how are we going to pay for this thing?
I'm going to be standing for the Met's Ring cycle starting on Thursday. This is due to the ticket prices, which are extremely high. The cheapest seats are in the Family Circle, where a full cycle runs $380 ($95 per opera). For reference, these seats usually top out at $45 per opera and resemble being three blocks away from the stage (though the acoustics are fantastic; I will be standing up there, actually).

I wondered how this compared to other opera houses, so I did some research. It turns out that the Met is indeed really, really expensive. Maybe that's due to the $17 million production costs, as well as the phenomenon of "state subsidies" making things more reasonable elsewhere. Since there are a lot of big time Rings coming up in the anniversary year, I looked up some prices for tickets, noting three sections in each house (front orchestra AKA stalls or Parkett, somewhere in the middle of the price range, and the cheapest non-restricted view seats). The first table puts all the prices into dollars, the second has the same data but in euros. There are links to the production information at the end of this post--the Berlin house is Unter den Linden, and Paris is at the Bastille:

Edited to note: The Paris prices are for the subscription cycles, spread out over a few weeks. There's also one condensed within-a-week cycle, and it costs quite a bit more, with prices between those of Munich and Milan. But it does include lots of booze!

A seat in the Dress Circle at the Met--hardly prime real estate--will cost you more than center orchestra in Paris, Berlin, or Munich. And the most expensive seats at Frankfurt's cycle--conducted by Bayreuth regular Sebastian Weigle with a well-reviewed production by Vera Nemirova, first-class Siegfried Lance Ryan, and up-and-coming Amber Wagner as Sieglinde--will only cost a bit more than the Met's Family Circle. (I didn't even count the Met's "premium" $2,600 seats as the top price, since they are comparatively few in number.)

Fellow blogger Intermezzo recently compared Ring prices between the ROH and Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden, finding the cost in Berlin much less even including a flight from London and a hotel, which gives you an idea of the disparities here. But the Met's even making London look a little bit reasonable.

Keep in mind that these opera houses vary greatly in size: the Met seats 3800, the Schiller Theater (Berlin) only 990, and the rest in varying intervals in between. So that back row in Berlin is a lot closer than the Met's midrange Dress Circle.

The singers, however, are not so different, with lots of repeat offenders between cities. The champion has to be baritone Iain Paterson, who is singing Günther and Fasolt in cycles in New York, Berlin, Milan, Paris, and Munich. You can even seen the same production and conductor in Berlin and Milan--if you're willing to compromise on weather and food go to Berlin, you will save a great deal of money.

Considering the dismal reviews the Met's Ring has been getting (here are mine, and here's Alex Ross's), New Yorkers might be feeling a little ripped off.

All prices are taken from opera house websites for Ring cycles in the 2011/12 (New York, Frankfurt) or 2012/13 (ROH, Berlin, Munich, Milan, Paris) seasons. Currency conversion rates: 1 dollar = .61 GBP = .75 Euro.

Rings in Europe and the US:*
Metropolitan Opera, New York (c. Fabio Luisi and others,** dir. Robert Lepage)
Royal Opera House, London (c. Antonio Pappano, dir. Keith Warner)
Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin (c. Daniel Barenboim, dir. Guy Cassiers)
Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich (c. Kent Nagano, dir. Andreas Kriegenburg)
Teatro alla Scala, Milan (c. Daniel Barenboim, dir. Guy Cassiers)
Opéra National de Paris, Paris (c. Philippe Jordan, dir. Günther Krämer)
Oper Frankfurt (c. Sebastian Weigle, dir. Vera Nemirova)

*I would have included another American company but I could not locate any data for San Francisco's recent cycle and Seattle's 2013 cycle isn't on sale yet. If you have any information, please email me and I would be happy to update.

**James Levine's assistants will be conducting the final two parts of Cycle 3. I hope it isn't insulting their skills to say that I think it is ridiculous the Met doesn't have a single major international conductor handling all four parts of the cycle. When you charge these kinds of prices, your audience can get cranky like this.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A brief pledge drive

As American public TV chanels remind you, bringing you this content is not free! But I promise this is going to be quick, and unlike many of those pledge drives will not involve André Rieu reruns. I work in the “non-profit sector,” writing this blog can be an expensive hobby, and if you appreciate what I do you can show that with your dollars/Euros/pounds/etc. through the temporary PayPal button at the bottom of this post and in the sidebar over to the right. (I don't run ads on this blog, nor do I gain income from it in any other way.) I’m planning a summer vacation that will take me to places such as:

Berlin (Herheim’s Serse at the Komische Oper)
Vienna (Don Carlo with Pape and Stoyanova)
London (Les Troyens)
Munich (the Ring)

And first I have some more Ring in New York (Cycle 2, folks!). If you’re looking forward to reading about all this, consider sending a donation to make my trip a little nicer. You can enter whatever amount you like, nothing is too small (I would have it suggesting $5 or so if the gadget let me). If you don't have a PayPal account, just click on "continue" on the lower left side of the page after you enter the amount. I’ll keep the button over in the sidebar for the next few weeks and then remove it. Thanks and we will now return to our regular programming (Rheingold on Thursday). 

Edited to add: PayPal asks for a "mailing address" but I think I have it set so you do not have to provide one. You also need not provide a name if you do not wish--obviously I have no problems with anonymity! Thank you for your support so far.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Met’s Traviata: She’s fallen and she can’t get up

The Met’s first revival of Willy Decker’s production of La traviata brought us the fragile charms of Natalie Dessay in the title role. Did she conquer the sofa that made Anna Netrebko (in Salzburg) a star?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

News and notes

I’m going dark for the next week because I’m running my own production, of an opera I’ve been describing as “like Parsifal, only chattier.” Here’s some stuff to read in the meantime:
I'll be back soon to cover Traviata and Ring Cycle 2 at the Met (the first two parts, at least).

Monday, April 02, 2012

Manon at the Met marche sur quelques chemins

The Met’s new Anna Netrebko vehicle production of Manon stands out in the desert of the Met as a rare beacon of competence. Laurent Pelly’s production isn’t great--the tone is uneven and it generally fails to cohere--but most of it is smoothly executed and there’s some interesting stuff in there. Above all, it has Anna Netrebko as Manon, and her epic soprano that overwhelms everything around her.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Would you like that Kunstwerk gesamt? (Great Arts Blogger Challenge, Round 2)

supposedly explains Why Tannhäuser Matters
 I’m in the second round of the Spring for Music Great Arts Blogger Challenge. Here’s my second entry. You can vote for me here (Monday, April 2 to Thursday, April 5).

We live in an aggressively visual age; images dominate the popular culture. But which art form has the most to say about contemporary culture, and why?

I’m an unabashed specialist. I go to the movies sometimes and I watch Mad Men like any civilized person but basically I am a “classical” music person. So I don’t want to quantify how much other art forms have to say about contemporary culture. I’m going to talk about what I know, because I think as a blogger that’s the best I have to offer. (By the way, a very formidable woman is writing a book about the contest of the arts, so stay tuned.) It’s an interesting question, though, because the role of images in opera is a unique one.

Met announces new initiatives

Today Peter Gelb announced that the Metropolitan Opera has received a $400 million donation, the largest in its history. The source was apparently the Mega Millions lottery jackpot, won by a New York woman identified only as “Z.” Z., being an opera fanatic, gave a large portion of her winnings to the Met.

“Z.’s generosity will allow us to do things we’ve never dreamed of,” Gelb’s first idea was to hire James Cameron to produce the complete works of Puccini, but Z. wasn’t a fan of this.

“She’s learned from Sybil Harrington, I think,” Gelb added, “and this donation comes with a few stipulations. Considering Z.’s munificence, I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle. Our new initiatives will include a lot of Baroque opera and some European directors who will be new to our audience members. We think Met subscribers will find their work really, um, interesting. Most of the board has already resigned in outrage, so we don’t have them to worry about anymore. Also we might be picking up on the Bayerische Staatsoper’s boo-ban. Seems only prudent.”

In the past, the Met has struggled to recruit European directors, who prefer the more artistically open atmosphere of European houses. “Some pointed out that their apartments in Berlin are way bigger than any Manhattan place, but as soon as we promised Calixto Bieito he could sacrifice a goat onstage he signed up to direct Elisir d’amore this fall--Z. doesn’t like Bartlett Sher, so we fired him.”

He added that the Ring will be restaged by Stefan Herheim using only sets discarded from the old Otto Schenk and prematurely elderly Robert LePage productions--“not that we couldn’t afford new ones, we could, she says it’s some kind of symbolic something”--but Herheim is worried about finding foggers powerful enough to fill the entire Met with haze. “He also suggested that we could flood the downstairs lobby where all the photos of old-timey singers and productions are so people can ‘swim in the Rhine’ during intermissions to realize that they are drowning in the nostalgia for dead opera singers, this has something to with amniotic fluid. I thought we could charge admission to do this at other times, so I said OK! We’re putting part of The Machine on the stairs to function as diving boards. For the HD broadcast we’re thinking about going 3-D!”

A new temporary full-sized theater will be build on the stage of the Met to accommodate Baroque operas. A rough replica of the design of the seventeenth-century Teatro San Cassiano in Venice, it will open with a production of Cavalli’s Il Giasone. “We don’t expect many people want to see it, but there aren’t too many seats, so whatever,” Gelb said. “It’s like putting on a three-performance run of Dialogues of the Carmelites, and we do that all the time. Makes us look kind of arty. Besides, Herheim wants to use this mini-theater in his Ring too.”

The house has also bought out all of Placido Domingo’s conducting contracts and replaced him with Z.’s old friend M., though “pick a stranger off the street, they could probably do better,” was also suggested. Ekaterina Siurina will be singing Adina in the Bieito Elisir, because “Z. thinks Netrebko, though sassy, is past that role vocally,” and Netrebko will be starring instead in a new production of The Queen of Spades with Jonas Kaufmann instead, “that obviously being the best idea, and Z. thought thematizing gambling would be cute considering how she got the money.”

Z. also specified that yellow is her least favorite color and no productions were to use it as a major element of their design. She would also like a wide selection of German and Belgian beer at galas, as well as cupcakes.

The rest of Z.’s Mega Millions winnings are apparently going to curing cancer (slightly less expensive than opera) and a lot of European real estate. “She says that when I’m next in Berlin to go to the Komische Oper I have to come see her new place in Prenzlauer Berg, because it’s awesome and still has a tunnel in the basement that goes over to the Deutsche Oper.”

Further details will be announced next April 1.