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A day at the Met

New York
The Metropolitan Opera
02/21/2004 -  

Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, Le Rossignol, Oedipus Rex
Olga Trifonova (Le Rossignol), Barry Banks (Le Pêcheur), Stephanie Blythe (Jocaste), Clifton Forbis (Oedipus), Barry Banks (A Shepherd), Evgenij Nikitin (Creon, The Messager), Phillip Ens (Tiresiais), Philip Bosco
John Dexter (director)
Metropolitan Opera, Valery Gergiev (conductor)

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades
Adrianne Pieczonka (lisa), Elena Zaremba (Pauline), Felicity Palmer (The Countess), Plácido Domingo (Hermann), Nikolai Putilin (Tomsky), Vladimir Chernov (Yeletsky)
Elijah Moshinsky (director)
Metropolitan Opera, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)

It is always a surprise for a Parisian to go to such a wide hall as the Met and … to be able to hear well orchestra and singers. The Bastille Opera is perhaps as wide a place and yet orchestral sound is anaemic if you sit on the stalls and hardly slightly better if you are upstairs. Could not we take example of such halls in Paris and have a hall with similar qualities ?

On this occasion for the Saturday matinee, the orchestra was conducted by Valery Gergiev, principal guest conductor of the Met in addition to his duties at the Kirov and in Rotterdam, and a rumoured candidate to the succession of James Levine, were the American conductor to reduce his activities due to his health. Gergiev has developed a strong relation with the orchestra who was keen to display its best abilities for him. The savagery of the Rite, the Ravelian delicacy of the Nightingale and the grandeur of the Oedipus Rex came wonderfully under the Russian conductor. The chorus, seated across the whole stage, the brass and the woodwinds were just at their very best, particularly the clarinets taking significant risk to meet the challenges of Gergiev’s tempi in the Oedipus. Individual contributions from the soloists were also of distinction, from the Nightingale of Olga Trifonova with glittering silvery high notes or the authority of Clifton Forbis as Oedipus.

The Met commissioned a new choreography to Doug Varone. I am not a ballet aficionado but felt unconvinced by what looked like a clumsy result, unmusical and undramatic. On the other hand, the staging of the Nightingale and Oedipus Rex were a revival of an 83 production made by John Dexter with a much more satisfying choreography made by Frederick Ashton and superb evocative costumes and set by David Hockney. It was a solid and grand production, rather austere and with some nice individual touches here and there. The production was void of any idiosyncrasies but lacked genuine individuality, leaving to the music the role of carrying a sense of drama. In this respect, Gergiev filled the gap but had it been with a lesser conductor, then the performance might have left an uneasy feeling. We were worlds away from the intellectually provoking 1994 Salzburg Stravinksy Nagano-Sellars production which presented Oedipus Rex along with Symphony of Psalms showing men struggling with angry Gods and soothed by them in the second part.

The evening performance of Pique Dame was unfortunately an example of such limitation. Elijah Moshinsky’s production tells the Opera tale, all the tale but nothing more. The great ball of act 2 is so impressive in its attention to costume details and set lavishness generates applauds from the audience: Hollywood is not far away… However, the dramatic limitation of the performance is all too clear. Vladimir Jurowski has build a great reputation as an Operatic conductor, having appeared in Glyndebourne where he holds the title of music director, or in Paris or New York. Upon hearing him this evening, this seemed unjustified. Maybe he had an off-night, or he could not get the rehearsal time he wanted but the results were sloppy. Intonation was average and there were too much imprecision between the chorus and the orchestra. Unlike Gergiev, his beat is unclear and his gestures very limited. He is not in the intimate Glyndebourne and he needs to better adapt his style so as to impose his conceptions on such a big stage. As a result, Pique Dame was relegated among average second class works instead of being a worthy cousin of the best Verdis as it was the case when … Gergiev conducted it in Paris last year.

It is still special to hear Placido Domingo on stage. The Spanish tenor is “officially” 63. His act 1 aria could be transposed down and he may be very careful over his voice to ensure that he remains fully effective at the Lisa – Hermann duet of act 3 which is a clear highlight of the work. He remains a very musical and skilled actor with a very effective and involved stage presence. The Canadian Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka was making her Met debuts as Lisa. She has already sung roles like Elisabetta in Don Carlos in Salzburg last Summer and is scheduled to sing there no less a role as Die Marschallin. This is not surprising, her liquid dramatic Soprano is a delight. Her phrasing is superb and she has wonderful and secure high notes. The audience reacted to her with enthusiasm. Chernov and Putilin also show their ages although their command of their parts is still very high.

A great day in many ways at the Met. Two quality productions indeed that highlight the qualities but also the limitations of the options of America’s most prestigious Opera.

Antoine Leboyer



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