Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dispiriting, to say the least

Can't bring myself to write a typical M.D' 90-page gab about the Met's...well-intentioned Orfeo. It just felt like bad decision after bad decision, to the extent that the overwhelming wrongness drowned out a couple of moments of bright, shiny joy, notably in the dance at the end of the opera. Yes, I think we all enjoyed seeing dance with a pulse on the old stage, but as for the rest, I will be lazy and borrow from Twain on Fenimore-Cooper: out of a possible 115 musico-theatrical offenses, it committed 114.

Chief among these was the decision to put Levine at the helm for music he is very, very, very ill-suited to. Repeating an intensifier--that's lousy writing. That's all I can muster. Orfeo can go in a couple of directions: bloodless early music/HIP approach, happy medium of pathos with some lightness, or Brahmsian dirge, which is what Levine served up. Gluck, and we may as well face it, runs the risk of being dull, and as if driven by a lacklustre sort of sadism, Levine underlined this in almost every phrase. Long pauses between scenes and immediately after the orchestral prelude were awkward. Please bear in mind my general esteem for this dedicated and accomplished conductor when I tell you how hard he sucks ass in Gluck.

Next in line was probably the casting of the very fine artist who is David Daniels. I get the feeling a countertenor in the Met has to spend all his energy being heard, and on top of that, as has been pointed out here and there, the role is low for him. And yes, I know I've been conditioned to a contralto sound in the role by my blithering Podles idolatry, but there just does have to be some chest there and Daniels is sparing with it these days. I was playfully chided by someone who knows a hell of a lot more about music than I do, for wanting a very narrow thing from my protagonist. "You're a Wagnerian!" she said, and indeed, I want my Orfeo to weep and wail. Despite my objection to Levine's heavy reading, in the singing I want something on a grand scale. It may well go over the top, but it has to aspire to the mythic and the Greek.* I don't think these needs are necessarily contradictory; think of Maureen Forrester with Mackerras: there is restraint and there is grief. Daniels' approach was one of eloquent simplicity that I suspect I could live with in a different production in a different house. Here it was a cypher. "Che faro?" was just a question.

Anyway, the rest...Kovalevska was fine. I hear she's pretty from those in the care. I wished like hell they were doing the Berlioz with its lovely scene for Eurydice, not to speak of the sparklers and batons aria for the big O. Heidi Grant Murphy sounded really very lovely--I liked her better in this than in anything I've heard her in, despite some wacky stylistic choices toward the end of Amore's aria that seemed maybe to spring from Levine's death march through the score. But (he said in a high pitched, testy voice) she sounded really very lovely in a pink Izod shirt with plushie angel wings. I hear Mark Morris is a warm and thoughtful human being, so I'd feel awful knowing that if I ran into him and had to slug him. [Okay, that sounds like I've turned into one of those humorless opera queens. Substitute "and had to be politely ironic and raise my eyebrows at him."] If you don't get why this kind of cutesy ootsy humor makes me livid, I'm not going to be able to explain. Pretend you really love this opera and take it a little bit seriously for a minute, and you might get there.

What else...uh...chorus of dead famous people (no, seriously. keep an eye out for Abe Lincoln. He's the one with the hat, the beard, and the vanished dignity), ostentatious and pointless use of Met's stage resources, overuse of murky lighting. Folks, I'm sorry. I hated this.

ETA: Everyone else appears to have loved it. Ah well, a stick in the mud I remain.

*Ok, for the hell of it, Orpheus was perhaps Bulgarian. I think it's stated somewhere that he was from the Rhodope mountains in Trakia aka Thrace.


Anonymous said...

Now I wish I weren't seeing this only at the last performance, because, well, you know...personal investment of sorts blah blah scholarly interest blah blah...


Mark said...

Thrakia, I think.

JSU said...

Well, you may have it backwards. Orpheus was probably one of the original Thracians who arrived *before* the folks we think of as "the Greeks", not the Bulgars who arrived after (and from further NE).

Will said...

It may be just that I was at the top of the acoustically extremely friendly Family Circle, but I was impressed with the unforced size of David Daniels's voice last Saturday. I've heard him in many venues in both opera and recital and I've never heard him warmer or fuller of voice.

I'm one of those who loved the production (and I really disliked a lot of Morris's "Dido and Aeneas") for its easy grace and inclusion of dance throughout. The historical figures bothered me not at all--are celebrities, world leaders and major religious figures barred from the afterlife? And is Orfeo himself not a major celebrity?