Sunday, November 23, 2008

A day with music

I SPENT  much of Saturday  isolating myself from post-election politics and the annual hysteria surrounding yet another Ohio State-Michigan football game.  First stop for our musical odyssey with Nancy was the Regal Theater in Montrose for a wide-screen live telecast from the Met of Berlioz's "Damnation de Faust ".  The work was originally written for a concert performance, morphed into an opera  and has now been staged with overwhelming special effects in mind.  Even those modernists who may hold that opera is intolerably dumb would have sat transfixed for nearly three hours for the montage of artificial images that accompanied the three principal  singers on the  mood-stricken Faust's descent into to hell.  It doubtless is a harbinger of what we may expect in opera as time goes on in the hands of those who take great joy in renovating  the works that have done pretty well for themselves for more than  a century without silhouetted  figures projected on screens, motion-activated birds in flight and human torsos swirling in  turbulent sea water.  

By now, you may have guessed that I didn't leave the theatre in a pleasant mood - as I have on the previous occasions of Met telecasts. The past offerings placed me in the audience at Lincoln  Center  and backstage during the intermissions for  the interviews with the leading singers amid the commotion of stage crews arranging new sets.  In Faust, the sci-fi elements were staged on a laddered five-tier grid in which surrealistic action was projected with computers, infrared cameras and shadowy motion-activated figures as the  singers  pressed forward (thankfully, with great voices) in what is largely a static text.  (All three - Marcello Giordani, Susan Graham and John Relyea - confessed during the intermission interviews that as they faced the audience in their roles they had no idea what was going on behind them.)  Nor did I.

The advance notices (warnings?) of  the production in the New York Times said it offered an "unprecedented  level of technological stagecraft to the house."  Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager responsible for bringing a series of the Met productions  to theaters everywhere,  said the latest  entry was a "kind of hallucination."

I'm sure I will be out of step with those scientific progressives who will change grand opera into something else.  Science over art?  Artful science?  I'm ready for it with my DVDs of the traditional versions.  

Non-traditionalists can stop reading here.  A happier experience was in store at the Akron Symphony Saturday night. Mozart arrived on a cold flurried night with a nimble performance of the composer's "Concerto for Two Pianos"  by two young collaborators, Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky.  Weiss, a Lyndhurst, Oh., native, has been enjoying a lot of positive attention from critics for his inspired playing. Likewise,   Polonsky, who came to America in  1990 from Moscow, has a long list of  accomplishments. Together they made a strong impression  in the cheerful and melodic Mozart piece.  OK, Mozart!  I happen to be one of his big fans.  If that is treason against the modernists, make the most of it.  



PJJinOregon said...

So the Met hit a flat note, but Mozart evened the score and provided a sharp uplift.Experienced reporters prefer a regular beat while the Wii generation mutes Enlightenment cadences and prefers Romantic rhapsodies. An open mind is the key. Even the pope has learned to like the Beatles. There may be hope for you yet.

Grumpy Abe said...

My guess is that Berlioz would have found his way out of the theatre at intermission. What key are you in?

Anonymous said...


Couldn't agree more. We got a DVD of Solti conducting the Chicago, circa 1989, from the library. Watched it in prep for Regal/Montrose affair.It was excellent. Got so fed up with the floating bodies at R/M and the mindless Busby Berkley junk we left at the first interval.

Anonymous said...

I attended the performance live in New York and I think you're dead wrong here, Grumpy Abe. It was easily the best integration of video into a live performance that I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot), and many of the effects were quite magical. Which means I think you're grousing about the wrong technology. The problem wasn't the special effects; the real issue was that you were watching an electronic transmission instead of a live performance. So when the videos were in use, you were effectively watching TV on TV. Sounds crappy, doesn't it? I recommend that you try seeing the Berlioz production live before condemning it. Won't do it? Then you can go to...