The Turin newspaper La Stampa published this graph showing the productivity of Italian opera houses vs houses from all over the world, for the 2009-10 season. The first column of numbers indicates how many operas were staged this season, the second is how many were new productions, and the third is how many performances were staged in the full season. Great news for the Met here in New York, but grim news for Italian opera houses. (Click the image to expand).
Friday, May 14, 2010
Alban Berg's Lulu was the last production to be mounted by the Met this season. What a dramatic way to go out! Before my review, there is a little bit of news to start...
Lulu was originally scheduled to be conducted by Met Music Director James Levine, one of if not the foremost conductor of Second Viennese School music. Recurring health problems resulting in surgery forced him to cancel, much to the worry of New York City opera fans. On the flip side, shortly after that announcement, Fabio Luisi took over Mr. Levine's remaining performances of the season, Lulu included. Two weeks ago, he was appointed as the Met's Principal Guest Conductor.
The most remarkable thing about Wednesday night was Mr. Luisi's concentrated and nuanced performance of such a dense work, which proved he is indeed on the same bar as Mr. Levine. Throughout the four hour evening, there was never a moment of lagging energy. Every detail of the score was handled with care and nothing seemed overlooked. There are a few chords at the end of the opera when Jack the Ripper kills Lulu, and the effect was more chilling than any horror movie I've seen. (Granted this was the first time I had heard the entire work, so there was no anticipation). That was just one of many memorable moments. What struck me most was the music's ability to portray such a wide rage of emotions, and to switch gears with almost no notice. From horror to romance, it was all there, even if in condensed form.
Lulu is still a relatively new opera and it's musical ideas are plentiful, almost an amalgam of music history. The work was an exponent of the newly-developed 12-tone technique, which to the naked ear it seems atonal. There are heavy influences of Wagner's grandiosity, and there are even a few samplings of jazz or cabaret music, (probably heard by Berg in Germany's Weimar Republic of the 1920s). The opera only premiered in it's complete version in 1979, years after the composer's death in 1935. Berg died while writing the opera and until 1979 the unfinished version of two acts was performed. However, he left sketches as to how the remaining third act should be orchestrated, but his widow restricted access to them, insisting that Lulu should be left the way it was when Berg died. She finally died in 1976 (no offense). It was then announced that the publisher had granted a secret commission to the Viennese composer Friedrich Cerha to complete the work. The result is a seamless, unified musical experience. The music is as vivid at the end as it is during the first two acts. George Perle summed it up nicely...
"It is in the nature of things that one cannot anticipate the insights, judgments, and second thoughts of genius, so we can never know to what extent and in what respect Berg's own orchestration might have differed from Cerha's. But nowhere does one have the impression that a hand other than the composer's has had to take over the instrumental realization of the unscored portions of the third act."
In addition to the rock solid conductor, the cast was no less impressive. Marlis Petersen, Anne Sofie von Utter, Gary Lehman, and James Morris showed the difference between good singers and those who are emotionally committed. They were riding the wave created by the Poseidon of the evening.
Mr. Luisi's musicality and energy were reminiscent of Mr. Levine's best performances. And though I did not catch it, his Tosca a few weeks ago drew praise from both audiences and critics alike, (a rare occurrence in New York). All of this is more remarkable given that he only made his company debut in 2005. Whatever the future holds for Mr. Levine, and I wish him a speedy recovery, Mr. Luisi's three year contract with the company takes some of the anxiety away about the Met.
After quite an eventful season, the Met went out struttin'. See you in the fall for some Wagner...
Monday, May 3, 2010
This newly released trailer offers some glimpses of the Met's new Wagner Ring Cycle. It is being directed by Robert Lepage, who previously directed Berlioz's Faust at the Met. The first two segments, Das Rheingold and Die Walkure, are premiering next season, and the last two, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, will premier during the 2011-12 season. I'm so freekin' excited!