16 February 2007

Kitschy witches, sad clowns

One advantage of talking about performances several months after they happen is that you can see what has stuck with you and what has slipped away, so it’s pretty dispiriting to report that I have very little to say about the Opera’s opening Ballo, and even more dispiriting to report that the final performance, which I saw, was apparently much improved over opening night. (I tend to figure that audiences for the season openers deserve what they get, anyway. They should really just have a runway show while some CDs are playing) It would be a little unfair to judge Voigt’s Amelia since she had been sick enough to cancel a performance just a few days before. She was fine, but nowhere near the radiant Ariadne she sang a few seasons ago. The staging was stodgy and conventional. Over at The Standing Room M. C- had a witty write-up, which I would link to if my computer weren’t so slow and I weren’t so lazy, but if you go searching for it you’ll enjoy his other postings. I have to share his amazement that the peasants gathered around Ulrica had banners ready for waving in case a random petitioner turned out to be the King. That shows a certain party-ready Swedish extravagance for which the films of Ingmar Bergman had not prepared me. I prefer the Boston setting anyway, since I feel the spirit of Hawthorne hovering like a haunted Fate above the thwarted passions. The evening wasn’t disastrous, but it wasn’t particularly memorable, despite the hearty applause at the end. The woman next to me flailed her arms about and shouted “bravo!” for all the ladies and “brava!” for all the men. Perhaps she was confused by the excellent Oscar of Anna Christy.

The next foray into Verdi was their much-revived Rigoletto, with the di Chirico-style sets. (I once heard someone condemn this production because “it doesn’t look like fifteenth-century Mantua” – seriously.) I love Rigoletto but I can see that others who don’t love it as much as I do might be getting a little tired of it. The narrow repertory is less of a problem in New York, where the Met and City Opera and assorted other groups do about five times as many performances as any other American city, but when there are only nine or ten a season you get tired of seeing the same five over and over. But I suppose that’s our reality for the time being, so I’ll just be grateful at getting Rigoletto and not Traviata or Boheme. This time around I liked Paolo Gavanelli better than I had last time, but I still found him a little underpowered at the end of the first half and overly broad in his acting. But I really liked Mary Dunleavy’s Gilda – I had seen her in the Philly Pearl Fishers where she was a bit overshadowed by Nathan Gunn’s Zurga. It’s interesting to see what gets varied in these revivals – the opening party/orgy scene was triumphant proof of how powerful repression can be; this time around there were no bare breasts or disheveled gropings but an air of contempt and menace amid all the black, bird-like costumes that set you up for everything that happened at that court. But I’m still a little puzzled by the Opera’s approach to Verdi – he’s amazingly dramatic, and they do his works over and over, but they just end up not quite making it all the way.

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