martes, abril 09, 2013

The Met opens to the world

             I have had a sporadic but intense relationship with New York´s Metropolitan Opera, and I have no doubt that it was and is the most important opera house in the world. No, I´m not forgetting the Vienna Opera, the Milan Scala or London´s Covent Garden. The Met has had consistently  impressive casts and stagings,  and productivity has always been high. The two Mets, the Opera and the Museum, have always been irresistible magnets for me and for an enormous amount of people, from the USA and from all over. They represent the best of New York´s art and help to make it an indispensable city for the cultured people.

            In my young years I went often to the old Met Opera, "The Golden Horseshoe", so beautiful and with warm acoustics; I was studying in Wahington and went for Christmas and Easter holidays.  After I returned to BA came the decision to build a new Opera at the Lincoln Center (in fact, two operas plus a concert hall); the Met was now bigger and had better sightlines, for the horseshoe opened up, and the acoustics were a success (not so the Avery Fisher Hall). It may be a little kitschy, but it is functional and has worked well for several decades. My visits there were quite satisfactory though not frequent; curiously I was in New York at the time of a labor conflict and got to hear a "non-inauguration concert" at an open-air auditorium next door to the Met.

            For decades the Met´s destiny was  in the talented hands of Joseph Volpe as General Manager and James Levine as Music Director. But Mr. Volpe retired, Peter Gelb took over (I think about three years ago) and Levine fell ill, so the Principal Conductor was for a time Valery Gergiev and lately the helm passed to Fabio Luisi. Although Levine has made a slow recovery from spine troubles and will lead three operas next season, his reign is over. And so is Mr. Volpe´s.

            The Volpe/Levine era was blessed by a healthy respect for good tradition and the Met had great productions uncontaminated with the gross experiments that  infected Europe and have ruined the art of opera (and it has spread to Buenos Aires). But unfortunately Mr. Gelb has decided to follow the trend, and now sanctions horrors like a "Rigoletto" transplanted to Las Vegas. Casts aren´t quite as resplendent mainly because there is a shortage of truly great stars worldwide, but all that count are there, and you will suffer the same phenomenon if you go to Paris or Vienna. The few outstanding ones are fiercely fought for by the managers.

            If Mr. Gelb has drastically lowered the visual aesthetics of the house, the musical side remains pretty good within the limitations of the current artistic situation. And he has lately originated a new way of extending the Met´s influence: indeed, it now opens to the world, presenting its productions in  videos in theatres and cinemas of multitudinous cities of the USA and the world, simultaneous with the live performances. The system  arrived in BA two years ago, and selected operas were shown at the Teatro El Nacional by the Fundación Beethoven. After some initial performances that needed some adjustments, now the system appears to be working quite well, if the recent Wagner "Parsifal" is typical of the offered quality. I haven´t written before on the subject for the Herald, and I must say I was deeply moved and left the theatre elated, after almost six hours counting the long intervals partly occupied by interviews to the artists.

            I was attracted for several reasons: a) I deeply love this opera, which I first met through the magnificent records with Windgassen and Mödl, conducted by Knappertsbusch,  in 1951. This "sacred festival" contains Wagner´s loftiest ideas. b) Unfortunately the Colón last staged it as far back as 1986, and my hopes of a revival in this Wagner year were vain. So I felt the need to experience it again. c) I wanted to see and hear how filmed opera worked.

            I chose well: the cast was magnificent, conductor Daniele Gatti was a revelation, the sound was quite good; I have reservations about François Girard´s production, but it has its positive aspects. Three artists were marvelous; I expected much from René Pape´s Gurnemanz and Jonas Kaufmann´s Parsifal, and with excellent reason: for me they are the best bass and tenor nowadays. Not only the moving vocal quality and perfect musicality but their strong dramatic presence were ideal. I was surprised, however, by Peter Mattei´s intense and anguished Amfortas, the best I´ve heard since George London. Katarina Dalayman was a redoubtable Kundry, maybe Wagner´s richest female role, and Evgeny Nikitin was a dark and expressive Klingsor (the magician). The Met Orchestra remains the very best, and Gatti showed himself a mature and noble conductor.

            Girard at least respected partially Wagner´s purpose, and some scenes had the proper weight and solemnity. However, to this opera may be applied the phrase from the TV series "Merlin": "in a land of myth and at a time of magic". I want a deep Medieval Monsalvat for the Grail knights, who should have proper garb, not white shirts and modern black coats as here. Such moments as the Flower Girls trying to seduce Parsifal or the Good Friday Enchantment need light and beauty, not oppressive darkness. And the bed, as well as Parsifal´s naked torso, cheapened the piece. Even so, such was the power of the singers, the choir and the conductor that the flaws were compensated.

            I give an enthusiastic thumbs up to this initiative which certainly enriches our music lovers´ knowledge.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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