The demise of New York's beloved City Opera seemed sudden and bizarre—and so painful to opera lovers in the City, that many lost sight of what a long process it was. The board's bad decisions went back around a decade. The company's deficits climbed, and its endowment was repeatedly raided. There was time to change things, and the warning signals were unmistakable. The late Gérard Mortier's innovative spirit and visibility may have been an asset, but he was hardly famed for his thrift. In the end they couldn't afford even to get him started. When the NYCO couldn't meet the budget they had agreed to offer him, he backed out. His replacement, George Steel, had similar artistic inclinations.
What a splendid idea to revive Gluck's final masterpiece, Iphigénie en Tauride, on two great stages at opposite ends of the continent. Gluck, the great reformer, has been too long little more than a chapter — or, worse — a section of a chapter in music history books, and recent attempts to bring his works to life on 21st century stages are for the most part commendable, whether they succeed or not, although I did sense a touch of cynicism in the excruciatingly fashionable Orphée of Mark Morris and Isaac Mizrahi — and a fashion statement (or ad) is not what we want in these unmitigatedly dignified works.
Streaks of gold. Among Verdi operas that connoisseurs treasure but not the general public, Simon Boccanegra stands high. In the modern era there have been perhaps two worthy recordings and very occasional stagings. Yet suddenly Boccanegra is everywhere, thanks to the decision by Placido Domingo to take on a baritone role. Last night at the Proms he scored a spectacular success, with popping flashbulbs and shouting worthy of the World Cup. Verdi was a confirmed atheist, but if his shade survives, it must have been astonished – the reception was far wilder than the one accorded to Die Meistersinger the night before.
Dressing up in a monkey suit is a time-honored profession in Hollywood. Many is the young actor or layabout who has earned a few dollars by dressing up as a gorilla — or Batman or Chewbacca — and going out into the streets with pamphlets to spread the good news about some new deli or used car lot or strip show. For a while, gorilla suits were popular in the studios as well. (That’s a whole genre that’s almost entirely forgotten today.) I reflected on this, as, on the eve of Das Rheingold, I drove along Sunset Boulevard, observing the crowds of tourists in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, along with a group of people dressed up as comic book heroes who were available to pose with the visitors. I wondered if any of them thought about the impoverishment of the imagination that these comic book figures have brought to the movies. Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, and Bette Davis all created characters in their own way, even if they remained recognizable as themselves in their parts. We know what to expect from Batman and Darth Vader simply by their costume, their design, or merely the outline of their shadow on a fictitious pavement. Characterization and acting are superfluous, even though some of these characters have human vehicles, who are dutifully provided with origins, relationships, and dilemmas, by screenwriters who know that they can only sink so low.
Metropolitan Opera House
March 25, April 11, 18, 25
April 27, 28, 30, May 2
Der Ring des Nibelungen
by Richard Wagner
libretto Richard Wagner
(Cast listed in order of vocal appearance)
Das Rheingold (March 25, April 27)
Woglinde – …