Saturday, February 08, 2014

Met HD Rusalka

Mr. and Mrs. Buce share of a vivid memory of their first visit together to the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  It was 1990.  The show was Rusalka, with Renée Fleming.  It was coming on summer. We were way up in the balcony, and it was hot.

The trouble is, this memory has to be wrong in each critical respect.  The Met first sowed Rusalka in 1993.  And Fleming didn't play it there until 1997.  Must have been some other opera, or star, or year or whatever.

Give us this much, though: we have seen Rusalka more than once, more than twice in our long and varied career, and we know that it is Fleming's signature role.  Indeed while she did not play it in full at the Met until 1997, the showpiece aria-"Song to the Moon"--was her breakthrough performance as a competition piece at the Met back an 1988.   It has formed a sort of arc for her career.

Even if we didn't see her before, we did see her again yesterday in the Met HD.  It was a fascinating and rewarding performance.  With this kind of history, it was bound to be a Met crowd-pleaser.  It might even have been Fleming's choice--one gets the impression she has been able to dictate he choices of late. Still, I have to wonder how much she enjoyed it.  She was, granted, in good voice.  And while she's not my favorite Met superstar, I have to say I've always liked and admired her (or at least, ever since I read her fascinating memoir/briefing-book on how to build a career).  She's careful and disciplined and never phones anything in  Stll. when all is said and done, it is still an ingenue role: about a nymph and her sexual awakening.  Fleming is 55.  They had her up a tree--really.  You could see she was worrying about getting  her wig entangled in the branches.  Or worse, simply falling out.  You've got to think she is wondering whether, at this time of life, she should be looking for other uses for her talents.

It was nonetheless, as I say, a rewarding performance--much mores for us than it was 23 years ago (heh!) that first time.  I, at least, have a better sense of Czech culture--the folk tales arising out of the bogs and forests (I think also of the Pripet Marshes, not that far east, and of Carol Burnette, singing of "The Swamps of Home.)  I think I can understand Dvořák better--as an orchestral composer, even if he might not have had quite the knack for opera (I mean, what opera composer would let his Soprano go mute through the second act).  I think I can appreciate the kind of scoring that just couldn't have happened before Wagner (same for Verdi's Falstaff, almost exactly contemporaneous).

I must say I also got something out of those snippets of intermission interview that have become a staple of Met HDs.  I appreciated Piotr Beczala that he's not there to be a star; that he is part of a performance and he wants to make the whole thing work. I was greatly intrigued by Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the conductor, recounting how he tells his orchestra that they are there to perform "three Dvořák symphonies"--which nails both the virtue of the production and its limitation. And you've got to love Dolora Zajick as the witch--a role which, it says here, she also played in the Met's first outing back in 1997. She knows who she is and what she can do. And for what it is worth, turns out that she is only seven years older than the star.

Here's a treeless rendition of the "Song to the Moon" from the Proms in 2010:

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