Saturday, April 10, 2010

Magic Flute & Armida - Two Operas in 24 Hours!

Two adventures to write about - the short version: Both operas were FABULOUS!!

And now to the nitty-gritty details.

Thursday evening was Magic Flute!!! Wow wow and WOW! Ann and I made our way to Lincoln Center and got the requisite photos in front of the fountain and the poster.


Posing with a larger-than-life Papageno:

You can't really tell from the photo but I had my hair in a bun, of all things. I had forgotten my sparkly barrette and it was hot, so I temporarily twisted it up, then decided to leave it. It came out later but I had it up for most of the evening.

The weather was so nice, we canceled our reservation at the Fancy Restaurant and grabbed a take-out dinner from a nearby deli. We had a picnic supper on a low wall with a view of both the front of the Met and the fountain. So here is the photo of my dinner - pesto pasta with chicken. It was quite yummy.

And the front of the Met with the Armida advertisement:

Eventually we made our way in to the Grand Tier Rear. View from the seats:

The music... ahhhh it's just beautiful. To hear it at the Met is like a dream come true. The sound in the Grand Tier is great. Matthew Polenzani was Tamino. His voice is like silk. Just gorgeous. Pamina's voice was so beautiful - beyond words. I fell in love with her as soon as she sang. And Nathan Gunn as Papageno. WOW. He is truly the Best Papageno Ever. He gets the comedy, the music, the timing, all of it. I've seen him in several different roles now and this was by far the best performance of his I've ever seen. The fact that I love the character of Papageno (who doesn't?) doesn't hurt. But he was WOW and there was no problem hearing him (as prior critics have complained) and he was just fab. And oh-so-adorable, especially when his hat was off. The duet he sang with Pamina - yes, I know I seem to cry easily at operas, but that duet did bring tears to my eyes - the beauty of the music, the singing and the words. I just can't help it. I am my mother's daughter. Luckily I was wearing waterproof mascara.

Queen of the Night, Sarastro and everyone - everyone blended together so beautifully. It was a package and it was great. The scenery - holy cow!!! Seeing Julie Taymor's production live, the entire stage, was amazing. It added so much magic to the Magic Flute. The puppetry - WOW!!! The scenery - amazing!! There was one scene with these giant puppet statue people with flaming heads. I mean, giant, like, 30 feet tall. They flanked the door to the temple I think before Tamino and Pamina entered for their trials. Their arms moved and did I mention that their heads were flame? I think it was done with orange cloth and a fan. It looked like real fire!!

What a difference to see the entire stage at once rather than the sections they show in the English TV version. The staging is meant to be seen all at once.

Everyone walked out of there smiling.

Very few tattles to tell:

A couple times there were these crashing sounds from the stage as if things were falling over... oops! Didn't see anything out of place.

Queen of the Night's sails clicked at one point as they were coming down during the aria. If that makes no sense, look here and here. (same production but in English) The costuming was a bit different, just a little. I could swear she was in bright red the whole time instead of the blue. And then audience applauded in the MIDDLE of her 2nd aria, after the first set of amazingly perfect runs up to that high f.

Also, after they unlocked Papageno's mouth, his tumblings caused the pipes to get tangled in the bamboo. Yeah I see that makes no sense either when you read it. Scroll up to the photo or look here. That English version has a section cut ... and the whole time they were singing that cut section, he was trying to untangle the string of the pipes from the piece that pokes up from his left shoulder. All without breaking character and while continuing to sing.

When Papageno ran up the circles (look in about the middle here) he fell and crashed HARD. It looked OUCH painful. His hat flew off. He didn't miss a beat but I bet he's sporting some new bruises.

The woman one seat over from me was worrying a cellophane wrapper during the entire first scene. I'm sure she didn't realize it - Finally I asked her to stop and she did.

And the best part - my own tattle - that morning I had checked the Met website and saw that a section of the front row in front of us in the Grand Tier was unsold. The seats were indeed empty so we moved down during intermission. Great view from the front row of the Grand Tier! Plus you get this little shelf to put your program down, put your feet up (!!!) or whatever.

After the performance Ann and I went back to our hotel and polished off a pint of Ben and Jerry's. I think it's a pattern - we go together to see NG and then eat ice cream in the hotel room. Didn't we do that last year after Rape of Lucretia? And speaking of Lucretia, Tamara Mumford, who was Lucretia, was one of the Three Ladies.

The next day, less than 24 hours later, I jammed myself into an over-packed Path train and went back into the city. I had 40 minutes to make my way to the Met for Armida. Decisions... figure out what subway to take, or hop in a cab? I decided that since my time was short, I was hot and uncomfortable from the crowded train AND I was schlepping my backpack with my overnight stuff that I should treat myself to the cab ride. I'm so glad I did! I opened the window, sat back and relaxed. It was exactly what I needed to relax and enjoy the day. I even thanked the cab driver for the relaxing ride. He said I was the third person that shift to thank him. I think it made his day!

I wove in and out of the various groups of schoolchildren and picked up my ticket at the box office. Look!!

Do you see? Orchestra Row E!! Like, right smack in the middle of the fifth row!! HOLY COW! I sat with John's talented and beautiful wife and adorable daughter. And then during intermission before Act 3, when John's wife and daughter were away from the seats, this other woman joined the row and immediately asked, "Are you friends with Renee? We're all friends with Renee. This entire section." Um... ok. "No, I'm friends with John Osborn." She replied, "Who's that?" I told her he was one of the tenors - the guy in the first act. She brushed that off with, "Oh, I got here late. Better late than never!" and she laughed. Um... ok. She was tall and expensive looking - long, gorgeous hair, designer head-to-toe, your typical NYC upper east side wife who was late probably because she was either out planning for a charity, having a private pilates session or possibly both. I complimented her earrings and she said that the woman in charge of the children's chorus made them. Turns out her that her teenage daughter, who was there for the entire performance, is in the children's chorus. She was very nice but also amusingly stereotypical. But enough about her.

I was next to a herd of photographers.

The constant clicking didn't bother me at all - I found it interesting - whenever the action changed, whenever the characters moved or interacted, there'd be a flurry of shutter clicks. Combined they must have taken over a thousand photos. I, personally, took about 10. Here's one looking straight up at the ceiling:

And a view of the curtain from my seat:

And the performance itself:

I had never heard of this opera before so I was going in fresh. So what I could figure out from the sort of mushy plot was, Armida is a sorceress out to prevent the army from their goal of capturing Zion. She's a soprano and there are 6 tenors!! The performance opened with a dancer suspended from a ribbon and spinning down to the stage. It was beautiful. She looked about 10 but I learned later that she's actually 25. She was Armida's niece and she represented love. Armida also had a sprite or spirit who represented vengeance. Onto the plot - the army is burying their guy-in-charge when Armida shows up and pretends to be a princess in distress. She begs the general (John Osborn) to give her ten soldiers to help her regain her kingdom. She charms the army and everyone falls for it except for the general himself, but he goes against his instinct and agrees to help her because everyone else wants to. The men then promote Rinaldo (Lawrence Brownlee) as their new captain. Of course Rinaldo and Armida have met before when she saved him, they fell in love and then he had to leave. Somehow her uncle holds some sort of grudge against him. The mean spirit or sprite "infects" the soldiers and then this other guy who thought that he himself should have been chosen to lead gets all huffy and acts like a big bad loser. He's busy badmouthing Rinaldo, who overhears and fights the dude for his own honor. Of course he kills him, then the general comes back and is all mad, and then I'm not quite sure what happens except that Rinaldo is charmed by Armida and they run off.

Act two is a reenactment of the story in ballet, presented to Rinaldo and Armida as entertainment. These demons come out and create a beautiful palace and garden, then these nymphs come out and in the ballet they all seduce the dancer Rinaldo. I have never been so close to professional ballet dancers. These men jump 5 feet into the air and land silently. They are all muscle. It was amazing. The women were great too. The demons and the nymphs included the chorus as well as dancers. The demons were in these wacky costumes with horns and tails. I took one blurry photo of them during the curtain call, using one hand and no flash, so it's hard to see, but you get the idea:

That guy to the left wearing what looks like knee pads had a very form-fitting costume. As in, I think everyone in the room was looking at his ... manliness. It was outlined in great detail. Had to avert my eyes to keep from staring. I'm sure I wasn't the only one. He was I think the main demon or devil from the underworld. The dancers interacted with him a lot - they carried him around, and he climbed on them to sing, so his outlined bits were displayed prominently. Not like me to go on and on about some guy's privates but there they were, pretty much in everyone's face!!

So anyway during the dance there's a part where they tempt Rinaldo with fruit, and then the nymph dancers are teasing the dancer Rinaldo and playing a sort of monkey-in-the-middle with him, throwing the fruit back and forth over him while he tries in vain to catch it. At some point the dancer is replaced with the real Rinaldo. There is a gorgeous love-duet in there somewhere. You see the little girl in red in that blurry photo? That's the 25 year old dancer. Anyway back to the opera...

Scene three, two of the soldiers (and the final two tenors) find their way into the enchanted forest and find Rinaldo. They help him realize that he has been charmed by magic and lead him back to battle, bravery, courage and so on. Armida tries in vain to keep him there with her. Then the demon/vengeance spirit and the love spirit battle (via ballet of course) around her and the bad spirit wins. Armida vows that she will seek vengeance and the curtain drops.

The music was full of Rossini's coloratura runs and vocal gymnastics. It was really really pretty.

John Osborn was absolutely awesome. Rossini coloratura is his friend. It seems to come effortlessly for him. The singing, the acting, etc - he was the character and the music flowed out of him.

Lawrence Brownlee has the most unbelievable voice. Except of course I was there so I do believe it. Like John, the coloratura just flows out. It was like beauty flowing out over the audience.

One of the other tenors stood out for me too, it was one of the two soldiers who saved Rinaldo in Act 3, but I don't remember who it was. It was hard to keep track of who was who.

Renee Fleming was Armida. She is so beautiful. She didn't really sing out in the first two acts. Her voice was very pretty but I was like, what's the big deal? Until the third act, when she SANG. And then I was like, Oh, I get it now. At first I was star-struck that I was seeing her, but she was such a good actor that I got totally into it and forgot it was her. If that makes sense. I guess that's the point!

After the performance I wanted to hang out but even more I wanted to get back to my boys - over 24 hours away from them and my arms ached to hug Alex! All the moms out there will understand what I mean!! So I trekked down to Penn Station (remind me NEVER to do that in my little boots again, ever!!) and hopped on the express train to get home to my boys.

Today I listened to the Saturday Afternoon Broadcast of Magic Flute. It was great to hear it all again so soon after seeing it. At one point I put on the English version video and tried to match it up for Alex to see and hear. It worked pretty well for some parts, like when the three ladies find Tamino, but then I had to pause the video for the cut parts and was too much trouble and he got bored with it so I turned off the video.

Now my little spot on the shelf where I keep all my tickets is empty. It looks so sad, all empty. But I'm sure it won't be empty for long.


Anonymous said...

it says "rehearsal" on your Armida ticket, it opens on Monday

Susan said...

Yep, it was the final dress rehearsal, which is full costume and orchestra. They stopped a couple times to redo things, and as I wrote, Renee Fleming didn't sing out fully, but for the most part it was the same as a real performance.
Note that the price of that ticket is $0.00. That's my favorite part!! :)

Raisa said...

I absolutely love your hair in both pictures: very elegant and looks a million bucks. Simple and chic - brava!
Sounds like you had an awesome time - great report.

Susan said...

Thank you Raisa!

Haimes said...

Wonderful post. We live in Boston and have come in to the MET 13 times this year. We will see Armida on May 1st.

Have seen the Julie Taymor production of der Zauberflaut and enjoyed it. We also saw Salzburg production with Damrau, Pape et al which is a little more abstract, but nevertheless very enjoyable.

We loved Hoffmann, but did not enjoy Hamlet. La Boheme although overplayed was excellent with Beczala and Netrebko.

Glad to hear opera is enjoyed by many.

Susan said...

Thank you Haimes. You will love Armida - the scenery and the costumes make it a real fairy-tale. And look for my friend John in the first act!

Your Blue Friend said...

Nice review. I saw Zauberflote two days after you at the Saturday matinee and was as blown away by it as much as I think you were. I am so glad that I forgot to bring opera glasses this time because I probably would have missed so much that was going on all over the stage (I did bring the opera glasses, however, to the evening performance of La traviata that same day). I think that this Flute was the most enjoyable production of any opera that I have ever seen.