Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Oh The Humanity

May 19, 2010

Renée Fleming and cast in Armida
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera 2010

Poor Mary Zimmerman. The theater director just can’t seem to catch a break at the Metropolitan Opera where her third production for the house, Rossini’s Armida just closed out the 09/10 season there last Saturday. Railing on her work has become a favorite pastime for all sorts of folks on the internets, though to be honest, her productions have been much better than she’s given credit for. It hasn’t helped of course that the three works she’s been asked to direct have included two extremely weak operas to begin with, Armida and last season’s La Sonnambula. (The other was Lucia di Lammermoor) Armida is the weakest of her productions for the Met and seems to have a distinct shortage of the vision thing. Given the slings and arrows she may have suffered after La Sonnambula she may have elected to scale back to something a little more digestible to a local audience weened on decades of musty old “magic”. (Of course this was all before Luc Bondy's production of Tosca for the Met in September 09 raised the bar for histrionic consternation at the house.)

Armida takes place exclusively in a semicircular rotunda with a few strategically placed turquoise palm trees or giant tropical birds once in awhile to distinguish one scene from the next. There are occasional fits of whimsy, like a ladybug that crawls along the top of the rotunda walls in Act III, but they tend to be more cloying than charming. The plot is mostly nonsense that sounds more 18th than 19th century and concerns a sorceress who feels the conflicting tug of desires for revenge against a group of paladins and her love for their leader. Things develop on an ad hoc basis from there, but perhaps the biggest stumbling bloc in this revival was the decision to leave the large second act ballet intact dragging the light fare of the rest of the show into an evening of over four hours with very little pay off.

This was a star vehicle of course. But oddly enough it turned out to be less of one for Renée Fleming, for whom it was mounted, and more of one for Lawrence Brownlee, an increasingly important player in the Met's tenor ranks. He sang beautifully and out maneuvered Fleming vocally a number of times calling to mind favorable comparisons to people like Juan Diego Florez. Oh sure there are situations in other works where he couldn't hold a candle to her, but bel canto is still not Fleming's strong suit.

Despite this disappointment at the end of the year though, I still felt that this was a very satisfying Met Opera season. I know it is increasingly fashionable on the East Coast to get all Chicken Little on Peter Gelb and his leadership. Everybody wants to take a pot shot from the keen financial analysts at Vanity Fair to overeager commentators around every corner upset when they aren't enthralled by each and every new production to reach the Met stage. Even Alex Ross got in the act in the Spring by expressing less confidence in Gelb's management after his disappointment in the lack of accessible humanistic content in the company's newest productions. (This seems a particular preoccupation of East Coast critics.) What's a general manager to do? Stick by your guns that's what. Things are better artistically at the Met Opera now than they have been for quite awhile and Gelb is largely to thank for that. The new productions are no more or less "successful" than they were a decade ago and there is now at least some semblance of awareness of music and theater history of the last half-century. Things may not be to everyone's taste - they never will. But it's delusional to think the company is in worse shape now than it has been after years if not decades of artistic stagnation. I for one will be back on several occasions next year.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter