Catching Up with the Idiots at the Opera

I promised myself I’d review every opera I saw, and as usual I’ve disappointed myself. I’m not so arrogant to imagine that thousands of followers are waiting for my reports. I’m no Operateen.. I am the only one who misses me.  I’m going to play catch up here and briefly mention three I’ve seen this season that I haven’t written about previously.

First up, La Boheme. It was a Zefferelli production with beautiful sets and a spirited (mostly) age appropriate cast. No bells and whistles although the street scene was pretty something. It’s easy to see why this opera has been so influential and is so loved. It would make a great date night or a great first opera experience. I so should have written about it and advised any crazed young romantic without a lot of cash, not to run out on a restaurant bill (as they do) but to get rush tickets for only $20 per because is there anything more romantic than dying of consumption in a garrett? Guess what kids? It’s not too late! The same production (different singers) will be back in 2014.

Second, The Enchanted Island, featuring Placido Domingo, and Daniel De Niese. Why wasn’t this packed? Did I mention Placido Domingo? All the singers including David Daniels, who seemed a bit fatigued when we saw him last year in Giulio Cesare, were completely on their game and having a great time. Granted it’s a pastiche, not a classic (yet), but it worked. The arias were lovely and the libretto was coherent. De Niese may have been mugging just a bit – but she’s fabulous. Domingo’s English language phrasing was a tad odd, but he’s Placido. Andriana (Rising Star) Chuchman was in it. Luca Pisaroni owned it as Caliban. Susan Graham killed as Sycorax. As Ferdinand, Anthony Roth Costanzo redeemed himself in our eyes after his participation in the world’s worst production ever of Die Fledermaus – which will be covered in the next paragraph.

Third, The Fledermaus. It’s over and done with. It would give me PTSD to revisit the night. Probably, it’s not our type of opera to begin with. It’s actually an operetta, and the music, while catchy, is all very waltzy and repetitive. But under the right circumstances, I could imagine it being fun. This was truly horrid. Worse still it was in English and very talky so we couldn’t just tune out and listen to the music. Apparently, back in 1962 Garsin Kanin directed a revival and worked on the translation. Howard Dietz did the lyrics. It was a big hit and included Jack Gilford in the non-singing role of Frosch. So, someone had the bright idea of freshening things up with a new translation and new libretto with lyrics by Jeremy Sams and dialogue by Douglas Carter Beane. Sams is capable of better work. He also wrote the libretto for The Enchanted Island. Beane most recently wrote The Nance, which I missed, but probably shouldn’t have. Maybe they were both drunk when they cooked this up. It’s filled with “Broadway” and “opera” “inside” shopworn jokes that manage to both pander and offend the audience. For some reason, they also decided to make the Eisensteins, the couple at the center of the story, Jewish and set the story on New Year’s Eve 1899. The Jewishness is displayed by the occassional Yiddishism which sounded clunky, and only served as a reminder that light though this might be, these people would be lucky to be dead by the 1930s.  Their extreme enjoyment of a pig’s head, their arrogance, lust and deceptiveness, insensitivity to the help etc. turns them into poster children for anti-semitism.

And that’s not even the worst of it. The non-singing role of Frosch went on for what seemed like hours, as did other non-singing bits. It was as almost as though the writers didn’t want the music to get in the way of their rivetting tale. The story which is not hard to follow included very long repetitive explanations of what happened in case we couldn’t keep up.

I don’t think the cast was even trying. Susanna Philips skipped the hard parts by which I mean the high notes. The aforementioned Anthony Roth Costanzo spoke in a comic-Russian accent, and screached his way through his songs. And poor Danny Burstein (who is usually brilliant) as Frosch, just mugged, mugged and mugged. When this kind of thing happens to otherwise talented performers, I blame the director.

Why were we there? We’re idiots and it was part of our season tickets. What did we learn? No, more season tickets, ever! While we did stay till the end, something the better-half still hasn’t forgiven me for – it was the first time we’ve ever skipped out during the applause. And there was applause, which we found bewildering.

Now that I’m caught up, please feel free to leave a comment or two about your favorite Met Opera this season, or to disagree with me — but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I am after all, an idiot.

(Psst, Marion also writes fiction. You can help feed her growing family of cats by perhaps downloading a novella or something.)