I saw the opening night of this season’s La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera, and while the New York Times gave it a wonderful review, I do take exception to one thing. While the sets and production were wonderful (there was even an ovation for the set itself (without people or music) at the beginning of Act III; a more amazing set is rare at the Met), the animals, lead singers, score, and libretto were all strong, as was the orchestra.
That is the problem. The orchestra (or perhaps the conductor, Frédéric Chaslin) was too strong and twangy at times, drowning out the singers themselves.
La Boheme is known for its wonderful music and singing, yet that does not mean it was always easy to listen to as the orchestra did not work together and then in conjunction with the singers. I noticed this, as did some of the people around me. I wonder why the Times reviewer missed it? Perhaps a lesson here is that the power of the reviewer comes from a specific worldview (or at least section of seating) that may not represent the perspective of everybody.
An important lesson for those of us involved in education and research.
Their take was a bit different than mine. I found the high amount of video and technology interesting and avant-garde, though still in need of more rehearsal while it was even a bit gratuitous at times. The horse riders had distracting lighting that did not appear to really ride on the virtual steeds, the walking and falling up and down the beams to the top of the stage and then lowered again on wires was distracting, and one of the moving curtains was distractingly stuck mid-open at the end.
I am glad to see the MET pushing the boundaries of classic opera, as I think this will make a traditional art form more accessible and allow audiences to see it in a new way. I think anything that helps make art and culture more approachable is beneficial, especially when trying to reach a new audiences.
What struck me most about the review is not that Juan Diego Florez hit all 9 high C’s, and not even that he did so twice, after having done the first solo encore at the Met in 14 years. What struck me at all is that there was a ban on this at all.
What? The Met has been too highbrow to allow for anything different? It is a wonder, then, that Peter Gelb (the General Manager of the Met Opera) was quoted in the Times as stating that opera should be “as entertaining and exciting for the audience as it can be.”
Isn’t that what music and opera and art and culture is all about? Give the people what they want? If culture is too highbrow for people, and old and outdated restrictions prevent audience desire from being realized, then the art itself will get scaled back and dismissed as something archaic and out of touch with consumer (yes, consumer) desire. That is what was happening with opera itself before Gelb took the reigns. Nice to see sense come back into the genre. High culture is wonderful, but it still costs money and needs support.
Go Florez, go!