The Metropolitan Opera House at night, as the audience files out of Madama Butterfly
I have just returned from New York, a trip that was based around celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday. During the 8-day stay, we took in five operas at the Metropolitan Opera House and, since I didn’t take a laptop with me, one post-trip round-up will capture thoughts on them all.
Overall, it was great to ‘live’ a different operatic experience for a week: everything about the Met is gargantuan, including (to be blunt) its own sense of self and the resulting hyperbole. In contrast, those fellow audience members with whom we chatted were reassuringly down-to-earth, and we had some great discussions, comparing notes on singers and performances across the Atlantic. And yet, from the security guards, to the rather prickly (and not particularly well-informed) backstage tour guide, to the social conventions around the front of house, it is all just slightly starchy when compared, dare I say it, to Covent Garden: more emphasis on a ‘sense of occasion’ than a night in the theatre, perhaps. Maybe it’s the shades of all those Rockerfellers, Astors and Vanederbilts etched into the marble foyer. (more…)
If Friday’s trip to Così Fan Tutte at Covent Garden didn’t resurrect the unalloyed pleasure that I remember from its last outing, the production by Jonathan Miller was not the cause. I thought that it was the sort of fresh and interesting visualisation that this rather curious opera needs in order to have its impact. Looking back over various write-ups of the première in 1995, it seems that it was greeted with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for the three-day week; reviews of this outing seem to have been a little more generous. Whether it has bedded in, or times have moved on, is a matter for discussion. It would seem, though, that the production has changed and developed at each outing (I think the latest addition was the iPhone, doubtless when next we see it there will be an iPad to marvel at).
Set in neutral tones, with initial costumes famously by Armani and subsequently adapted, it presents a sealed world in which, as the programme note by Nicholas Till observes, it “is curiously unspecific in its definition of social detail”. This lack of specificity forms a usefully ‘diffuse’ container for the narrative, which softens such obvious concerns as, for example, exactly what relationship Despina has to her employers, or whether it is believable that they are supposedly Starbucks-swigging fashion designers and yet have never before been parted from their lovers. Crucially, the idea that two best friends’ lovers could go off, get changed (albeit with some clever costuming), and come back on as unrecognisable becomes – well, if not exactly plausible, then not so far outside of the bounds of this particular world that we can relax into enjoying it.
I remember the ‘business’ being in a little sharper focus last time than it was this time, an observation that I also apply to singing and conducting. The mobile phone gags, the UN uniforms and Despina’s doctor/notary get-up were all good and fine, but I seem to recall a brighter, more full-on take from the previous cast. As a denizen of the Lower Slips Left, I also don’t remember as much happening so far down stage left as was the case here… The one thing that I would have liked to have seen was a little more variation in lighting to try and assist the ups-and-downs in the emotional temperature. The whole thing was a little full-on bright and became a little flat to look at as a result, but it’s a minor carp.