“The era of “park and bark” stage direction, when opera was staged as a series of tableaux, is behind us.” (Walter Russell Mead)
While the divas of previous years may have had a greater following, I think Professor Mead is right; opera is entering a golden age. Bel canto is becoming bel canto again; fewer singers confuse bel canto for can belto.
The HD transmissions are awesome. I am going to see La Traviata in a few minutes. All music lovers owe Peter Gelb a great thanks.
Professor, I saw new Met Ring when it was presented Live in HD. The “machine” which is the centerpiece of the production is noisy, unwieldy and very expensive. It detracts from the operas. Also it is the embodiment of the blue model – a jobs program for stagehands.
“No more staring as two rotund, middle aged vocalists try to convince you they are star crossed lovers in their mid teens.”
I once saw about 15 years ago a production of Gaspare Spontini’s “Agnes von Hohenstaufen” at the Rome Opera, with Montserrat Caballe playing the title role, a 14-year-old girl caught in a dynastic love triangle. Ms. Caballe sang beautifully. She looked, however, as if she was nearly 300 pounds and seemed unlikely to be the object of two kings’ passions.
I’ve never seen the Ring staged, though I first heard the tetralogy 35 years ago via the Solti’s recordings, and later viewed Boulez’s Bayreuth DVDs. To call the Ring “the greatest single work of art ever composed” may be hyperbole, but only a very slight one. Those unfamiliar with the Ring may assume its all Ride-of-the-Valkyries-bombast, but that’s not at all the case – Wagner at the height of his powers is at the same level as the ancient Greek dramatists, Shakespeare, Dante, and the great Russian novelists. I know of few scenes more moving than Siegmund’s renunciation of Valhalla, and of no music more exhilarating that Siegfried re-forging the shattered sword Nothung.
On a lighter note, any Wagnerian with a taste for British humor should enjoy Tom Holt’s Expecting Someone Taller, which updates the Ring cycle to modern times. In this account, the Ring falls into the hands of one Malcolm Fisher, a rather shy and nerdy young man. For the first time, the Ring is being worn by a genuinely nice person, so the world starts to be transformed into a genuine utopia – however, Wotan, Alberich and the Rhine Maidens are still around and are determined to get the Ring back at all costs. This is Wagner meets PG Wodehouse.
But it is beginning to look as if the 21st century is going to be a golden age for opera
And there are still great operas being written in the modern era! I attended the Kennedy Center premiere of this piece in 1988, and it’s been staged repeatedly since. The denizens of Nibelung, as fascinating as they are, do not impact the events of Via Meadia’s focus as directly as does this dramatization of
Sino-American Rapprochement by an appropriately presidentially-monickered composer. I especially love seeing the
classic operatic drinking scene in a modern context.
@Gary L: I am also a big fan of Nixon in China. Treasure Island at the Met this year was another terrific addition to the repertoire. I also liked Streetcar Named Desire.
Now you make me envious. I’ve never seen a real live opera. Daddy was an opera lover (grew up in Cincinnati) and used to play it out the window on autumn afternoons while raking leaves.
To the commentator who complained about Caballe:
I’d rather listen to Caballe and stretch my imagination to convince myself she’s an object of desire than watch today’s typical performers, who do look the part, but where one has to stretch their imagination to convince themselves that the performer can actually sing.
The Met meets Andrew LLoyd Webber, with the anticipated result! Like spices, special effects should compliment the action, not overwhelm it.