Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Another Night at the Opera

Last year I coaxed Kyle into joining me for Wagner's Ring Cycle broadcast "Live from the Met in HD."  My passion for Wagner assured that I would love it.  But 16 hours of Wagner, one of the least accessible composers for the novice, was literally baptism by fire. One of the icon parts of the 4 opera grand twisted tale base somewhat on Teutonic mythology is Brunnhilde being surround by a ring of fire and subsequently rescued.  Kyle, like most folks, new Elmer Fudd's take on The Ride of Valkyries, "Killed a Wabbit."  That was all he knew.

He loved it and has attended many of these broadcast since.  Tonight we saw Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman. Drawn from the stories of E.T.A. Hoffman, the opera weaves together 3 stories of failed love into a fourth.  The Met's production put a more surreal spin on this "opera fantastique."  It was another sucessful night at the opera!

Olympia, Hoffman's first love, is a mechanical doll.  His first love is quite literally shattered.

The first act. set in the dollmaker's shop, pure fun.  Packed with body parts, including jars of eyeballs in a gelatinous mess, the staging is extremely creative.  The second act, in jarring contrast, is a somber winter scene. Offenbach's top 40 hit "Barcarolle" dominates Act III along with most scantilly clad women I have ever seen on an opera stage.

For anyone afraid of the "opera experience" I heartily recommend it.  The singing is subtitled (even when it's sung in English) and intermission(s) features backstage interviews and a peak at the grandeur that is a the Met. Sets, costumes and the crew that works with the mechanically impressive stage that dwarfs the house (where the audience is seated).

These productions eventually make their way to PBS, but rarely with the intermission features.  Intermissions also give you 10 to 15 minutes to stretch your legs.  It's the next best thing to being there.

Think that opera is trite or boring? Coming soon is Bela Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. Below is a synopsis. Make's 50 Shades of Grey sound tame.  It's on a double bill with Tchaikovsky Iolanta.  Care to join me?
Bluebeard's Castle synopsis:
Place: A huge, dark hall in a castle, with seven locked doors.
Time: Not defined.
Judith and Bluebeard arrive at his castle, which is all dark. Bluebeard asks Judith if she wants to stay and even offers her an opportunity to leave, but she decides to stay. Judith insists that all the doors be opened, to allow light to enter into the forbidding interior, insisting further that her demands are based on her love for Bluebeard. Bluebeard refuses, saying that they are private places not to be explored by others, and asking Judith to love him but ask no questions. Judith persists, and eventually prevails over his resistance.

The first door opens to reveal a torture chamber, stained with blood. Repelled, but then intrigued, Judith pushes on. Behind the second door is a storehouse of weapons, and behind the third a storehouse of riches. Bluebeard urges her on. Behind the fourth door is a secret garden of great beauty; behind the fifth, a window onto Bluebeard's vast kingdom. All is now sunlit, but blood has stained the riches, watered the garden, and grim clouds throw blood-red shadows over Bluebeard's kingdom.

Bluebeard pleads with her to stop: the castle is as bright as it can get, and will not get any brighter, but Judith refuses to be stopped after coming this far, and opens the penultimate sixth door, as a shadow passes over the castle. This is the first room that has not been somehow stained with blood; a silent silvery lake is all that lies within, "a lake of tears". Bluebeard begs Judith to simply love him, and ask no more questions. The last door must be shut forever. But she persists, asking him about his former wives, and then accusing him of having murdered them, suggesting that their blood was the blood everywhere, that their tears were those that filled the lake, and that their bodies lie behind the last door. At this, Bluebeard hands over the last key.

Behind the door are Bluebeard's three former wives, but still alive, dressed in crowns and jewellery. They emerge silently, and Bluebeard, overcome with emotion, prostrates himself before them and praises each in turn, finally turning to Judith and beginning to praise her as his fourth wife. She is horrified, begs him to stop, but it is too late. He dresses her in the jewellery they wear, which she finds exceedingly heavy. Her head drooping under the weight, she follows the other wives along a beam of moonlight through the seventh door. It closes behind her, and Bluebeard is left alone as all fades to total darkness.