Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

More (of the same)

April 29, 2007

Cast of Suor Angelica
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera 2007

I’ve been a bit neglectful in posting lately in part due to Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge but I'm back on the saddle this week. Saturday wrapped up my "East Coast" opera season with the Met’s HD broadcast of Il Trittico. Considering Jack O'Brien's mightily uninspired new staging of Puccini’s disjointed masterpiece(s), I was surprised how entertaining an afternoon it was. This was due largely to the impeccable vocal and acting talents of the casts including a wonderful Stephanie Blythe who made hay of the rather small and thankless parts she was left with in all three works. Of the leads, I was most taken with Barbara Frittoli whose Suor Angelica struck me as supremely tragic and brought tears to my eyes. Il Tabarro's grouping of Salvatore Licitra, Joan Pons, and Maria Guleghina worked well and I was surprised how authentically frightening Licitra looked playing dead as Michele's cloak is pulled back to reveal Luigi's dead body to Giorgetta. Massimo Giordano's Schicchi was sly and funny without too much mugging and the rest of the cast provided excellent support.

Suor Angleica was definitely the strongest link in this chain of unrelated operatic events with its blend of mysticism and tragedy. The final tableau of the dying Angelica prostrate as light returns to the courtyard accompanied by the ghost of her dead son was a real winner. Unfortunately, the bookends around this piece, while not awful, were certainly nothing special. Outside of a balcony set that drops from the ceiling as Buoso Donati's bedroom descends into the stage floor, there was little to look at in these static and boring sets. Probably most shocking though is how much the Met allegedly spent on something that is so large and detailed but ultimately bland and far from engaging. During the screening, much was made of how large and elaborate this staging was - even outsizing the legendary Zeffirelli Turandot production that followed Il Trittico on the Met stage Saturday evening. But to what end? Frankly, the Met could have probably spent half of what they did on these simultaneously fussy and bland sets and had a more minimal and direct staging with twice the visual impact. Here, less truly would have been more.

Speaking of making money....There has been a lot of whining in some quarters about how the Met's new General Manager Peter Gelb is only interested in the bottom line and how artistic values (particularly musical and vocal ones) are being sacrificed for a pretty face and the turning of a quick dollar. After having seen eight of the 06/07 seasons productions, not including the HD broadcast of It Trittico, I'd say that what little tinkering he has been able to do so far has been very good and if there are any concerns about what Mr. Gelb has done, it should be the fact that it doesn't go far enough. Well, at least not yet. Granted, he had little to do with the original planning of the season, ending in the next two weeks, but he is definitely headed in the right direction - bringing in fresh faces both on stage and off, offering more adventurous programming, and more aggressively marketing the company's product to the rest of the nation and the world. He is opening the house up and trying to breath some life into things by actually reminding everyone that no matter how important the music is, opera is still in large part theater. Good for you, Mr. Gelb. Keep up the good work and here's my vote of confidence - for next year I've become a Patron.

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