Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Day at the Opera

Earlier this week, on a snowy morning/afternoon, a generous friend at the Metropolitan Opera invited me to a dress rehearsal of "Adriana Lecouvreur", by Francesco Cilea. It's not an opera that I know at all well, and I didn't have the time to do any homework before going (reading the libretto, the history, etc). Opera is an art form that I think an audience has to work a little bit for; it's unrealistic to just walk into an opera house and hope to appreciate the experience without a little work ahead of time. For one thing, it's in another language (usually) and often based on a myth, story, play or historical event/person that is easily researchable in out electronic age. Yes, there are supertitles these days that translate the dialogue as it's happening, but there's no reason not to at least know the story ahead of time and a bit about the composer and librettist. I would never think to attend the Ring Cycle without some serious reading about it - I remember sitting on my bedroom floor with a library recording and the score or libretto and following along as I learned it prior to attending. I did standing room almost daily at the Met when I was in college in my quest to learn as much as I could about opera. I assumed that I was going to be designing them over the next few years as projects and hopefully beyond - and I did, though not as much as I would have liked...hopefully, I'll get back into opera one day. When I was a child, nothing could get me out of a room faster than an opera on the radio, but when I worked on an opera ("Falstaff" by Verdi) as a costume assistant for a small local opera company in between high school and college, I was hooked.

This dress rehearsal was the final one before the prima (opening) on Friday night. Placido Domingo, Maria Guleghina, and Olga Borodina were the headlining singers. It's Domingo's 40th anniversary with the Met, and this was his debut role, in this very production, which originated at the Old Met in its original location on 39th and Broadway (now a Chase Bank...which has a mural of opera singers on its lower level, or did, the last time I was there). This "Adriana" has been refurbished and actually looks quite fresh. Adriana Lecouvreur was a real person in history - a French actress(1692-1730), though the story is fictional and quite silly. The heroine dies after smelling violets poisoned by her rival, though she is plenty able to sing before she draws her last breath.

Sadly, though, Mr. Domingo, who looked fantastic - dashing and trim at 68(!) - did not sing at this rehearsal, as he was suffering from a cold, they told us. This isn't unusual, as singers often don't sing "out" at dress rehearsals if it's a heavy role, to rest the voice, especially in cold season, though they are in costume and "act". Met subscribers at a certain level attend these rehearsals, so there was much disappointment in the house when it was announced that he would not sing. For me, though, it was a happier development, as the cover singer was Philip Webb, a tenor with whom I have worked in regional opera. He's a good, solid tenor who stood at stage right in a suit at a music stand, and he effortlessly sang Maurizio's music. I enjoyed hearing him again and the audience seemed very appreciative - Mr. Domingo rightfully brought him out for a co-bow during his curtain call. This was Philip's big chance, as the Met is not allowing him, even as cover, a performance during the run - another tenor with greater recognition is being brought in to sing the role during the one performance that Domingo is not scheduled for, but Philip will be back later in the season.

There has been much harsh criticism leveled at this production's vocal quality, but as I am not at all familiar with it or its history, so I'm not being judgmental. I have enjoyed Placido Domingo's performances over the years and was lucky enough to have heard him in his prime when I was a babe in opera-land. I miss the singers of my extreme youth who have retired or passed on...singers today are a different kind of creature, though some are wonderful, if they don't burn out by singing too heavy a repertoire too soon. Hopefully I'll be able to tune into the broadcast so I can finally hear Maestro Domingo in this role. I have seen and heard both ladies in other works over the years to better advantage, but I was happy to experience an opera new to me. What was unusual was that I don't remember hearing much, if any, chorus singing - it's all principals, though there was a chorus onstage as guests here and there.

I took some clandestine pictures that I am happy to share.

I was seated in The Grand Tier, which is a real treat. I have some rather blurry pictures of the famous Swarovski Crystal chandeliers rising before the opera begins:

The opening of the opera - a backstage area with Adriana's dressing table at the Comedie-Francaise.

Adriana's (Guleghina) lover Maurizio appears (Domingo). You can see Philip Webb at far left (stage right - their right) standing next to the music stand. Marco Armiliato conducted - he wore a white shirt that day, and I think, but I can't swear that that's him in the pit, in the front.

After the ballet, a stage full of pretty pastels, here washed out by all of the stage lighting in my photo. Note the height of the theater! The curtain is on its way down at the end of the act.

Looking down into the house at one of the intermissions.

Maria Guleghina takes her final curtain call. She's wearing a nightgown that she died in after smelling those tainted violets!

Placido Domingo brings Philip Webb onstage for well-deserved bravos after the performance.

This production's scenic design dates back to the 1920s (I think) but had been adapted over the years. I love the old-fashioned style of painted flats rather than dimensional scenery, if it's done well. I didn't enjoy the combination of projections and this style of scenery for this latest run, which made for a very unhappy marriage of visual styles. I have no photos of this - trust me - it didn't work!

Worklights light the stage after the rehearsal. You can almost see how deep this stage is - a set that has come up on an elevator waits behind the current scenery and is moved in during intermission.

More of the famous Crystal Chandeliers over the Grand Staircase. These were refurbished last summer - Swarovski donated the necessary crystals for the job. Ouch!

It was snowing outside and this provided a rare white backdrop and some great lighting to photograph the lobby in.

The plaza's fountains are being refurbished so the view outside is less than fantastic.

Avery Fisher Hall is to the left of the Opera House.

"Il Trovatore" Banner with a nice dusting of snow.

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