The critic Ivanov said of Dostoevskii: he threatens me, but I am not frightened. Oh, put your pen down, I know he didn't. Someone said it about someone, and they were both Russian, and I've googled it six ways to St. Petersburg and I can't for the life of me come up with it. Anyway this isn't that kind of review. I just wanted to win a little preemptive cred by paraphrasing famous people in expressing my failure to get Britten. For, surely, we are all grown-ups and can acknowledge that the things we don't like are not diminished by our disdain. That said, Britten makes me want to throw things.
It's not that I can't find any good in it. You'd have to be passionately wedded to the traditional not to be chilled at the quartet that ends the #th Act. (My new approach: vagueness trumps incorrectness). My god, and the orchestral interludes. These are the very point of 20th Century Music. And yet they're always so deeply encrusted in quarter hours of pallid, restless nattering that it saps the whole thing of any emotional impact, as far as I'm concerned. I am not frightened, and it's ostensibly a pretty frightening tale.
But I went, knowing this already and as productions of things I don't much care for go, it was (musically) a winner. I know, the unrestrained enthusiasm of that sentence is blowing out your laptop. Really, though, I think if you like the work, you'll be very pleased by this. Maybe especially as a broadcast, I'm half sorry to say. But the nice half of what I mean by that is that Anthony Dean Griffey, while occasionally not a fluid physical actor, is vocally very sure of what he's doing. It's a sonic portrayal with no real compromises. Powerful, well-articulated, and from the gut. Now I'd love to hear him sing something I give a fuck about.
Pausing for a moment to note the smaller roles, I am out of luck, because the color pallet of the costume designer ran the gamut from kelp to mud, and it became difficult to know who anyone was. I'm pretty certain Teddy Tahu Rhodes, who I regret to inform you was very fully clothed, let out some luxuriant tones. Honestly I had begun to assume he was a pin-up, but the truth is he's got the goods.
Racette, well, what's not to like these days? Really if the administration has any sense of what's right, they'll give her an opening night one of these next few seasons of Gelbdom to acknowledge her solidity and reliable inspiration, which must be very valuable to have on hand. But again: something's lost when you slap her into a drab and (Embroidery Aria aside) rather thankless role, and in a production like this one...
Oh yes, you knew I was going to wax catty about the production eventually. I foreshadowed it with that crack at the costumes! I think you're going to hear a lot about the production, both the physical and the regie, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say much of what you hear is going to be negative. It's not a disaster, and in fact parts of it are dramatically rather keen, but overall, you'd never know this was the director who managed to make audiences rethink a musical (Sweeney Todd) with one of the most known and beloved original productions of all. The spatial konzept invites endless jokes (advent calendar? Let's Make a Deal? One wit was heard to compared it to Laugh-In) and flattens out what drama there is in this drab music.
And you know what, rather than comment directly on how crowd scenes were staged, I'd like to let Mercury Opera Rochester comment for me, kinetically:
It's not actually like that but it's about that well thought out. For much of the opera they simply stand and look out at the audience as if to say: is there a stage director in the house?
Oddly, though, the scenes in which Grimes tosses the kid around were rather terrifying. I found myself worried for the little lad, and you know how I feel about children, Whitney Houston. (As Rebecca Pigeon says in her fortunately inimitable way in State and Main: I never really saw the point of them.) So again, a mixed bag, although I feel duty-bound to warn you that the final tableau is a jaw-dropping mistake on the order of the Famous Dead Folks Chorale from last season's Orfeo. If I had to guess, I'd call it a loose visual quotation of the Cell Block Tango in the film of Chicago but one is still left to ask why.
[ETA after a few moments' consideration: I'm not kidding about this one. This was not a choice I didn't agree with; it was simply baffling. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on what the hell it could possibly have meant.]
Ok but you know what? You should still go. And only partly so the Met administration won't program solid seasons of Aida thinking nobody likes any diversity in programming. It's true, though: lots of visible velvet in the house. Go fill it, I say. You're bound to like the production more than I did, because you're probably going in with a better attitude. And you really should hear the bloom on Racette's upper register lately, because it's grand. Also Felicity Palmer is not getting any younger.
I knew someone once who wrote his musicology dissertation entitled Britten and Pears: Who was the Top? A Schenkerian Investigation. Well, you can't prove I didn't.