Thursday, October 08, 2015
Night at the Opera - Live in HD
Wooo! Autumn is my favorite season for many, many reasons. One of those reasons is that the Met's opera season starts up again. This gives me both the Saturday morning radio broadcasts AND the live in cinema program to look forward to. Last night was the encore viewing of the first HD performance of the 2015-16 season, of Verdi's Il Trovatore. (They play the live transmission on Saturday, with an encore the following Wed.) I so love the Met's HD theater showings. Since I can't get to New York, this gives me the opportunity to see their performances right in my own backyard.
This is actually the second time I've seen Il Trovatore in HD from the Met. The first was in the 2011 season (wow, has it really been that long already?)
Il Trovatore was one of my dad's favorite operas, but we didn't actually listen to it that much when I was growing up, other than the famous arias. However, I've always been entranced by the story. It was in my opera book, and I read it over and over. It's a crazy, horrific, awesome, this-could-only-happen-in-opera plot. There was a funny part in one of the intermission interviews last night about how hard it is to explain the plot of Il Trovatore. Nonsense! Il Trovatore isn't hard. Don Carlo, now that one's confusing. Well, the ending anyway. I still haven't actually figured out what really happens at the end of that one. But Il Trovatore is straight-forward enough.
See... here's how easy it is to tell the story to Il Trovatore:
The opera opens with characters telling stories to fill in all the backstory. Cuz it's a humdinger of a backstory and the whole rest of the opera depends on catching up to speed on a bit of history. You see, there was a Count who had two sons. The youngest was paid a surprise night0-time visit by a gypsy, who only wanted to tell his fortune. However, the boy sickened and naturally, the Count freaked out and believed the gypsy put a curse on his son. So, he had her arrested and burned at the stake as a witch. The gypsy's last words were to command her daughter to avenge her death. The daughter (Azucena) kidnaps the Count's youngest son, takes him to where her mother was burned, and throws the boy in the remains of the fire. Only she doesn't. She's so distraught over it all that she throws her own son in the fire instead! Egads! She then disappears into the hills with the Count's youngest son and raises him as her own. The old Count believing his son is still alive, tasks the older son with finding his lost brother.
And that's the past history. Now, when the opera takes place, the youngest son has grown up to be Manrico, gypsy rebel and troubadour, in love with Leonora. The older brother, now the Count himself, is also in love with Leonora (naturally), and the two are bitter, deadly rivals. When both show up at the same time to meet Leonora, they draw swords and try very hard to kill each other (but off-stage, darn it all), and Manrico is badly wounded. Thinking he's dead, Leonora takes Opera Door Number Three for distraught heroines: join a convent. (The first two doors are, of course: 1) go mad, or 2) kill yourself. Both happen with alarming regularity.) Count di Luna says, no way, that ain't happening on my watch, and sets out with his men to kidnap her before she takes her vows. Always a surefire way to get a woman who hates you and who thinks you killed her beloved to fall in love with you. His kidnapping fails when Manrico and his men break in and rescue her. Manrico can't bring himself to kill di Luna, but he doesn't know why he hesitates. ("Why did he hesitate?" Random Tony Curtis quote from The Vikings, which features a similar plot with brothers unknown to each other in love with the same woman.) He and the gypsies take Leonora and split.
The two reunited lovers plan to marry immediately, except poor Azucena gets taken prisoner by di Luna, who realizes she's the one who "killed" his brother, and he intends to burn her at the stake. Manrico finds out and calls all the gypsies to arms in one of the most magnificent rousing arias ever written (di quella pira), and he abandons Leonora and races off to rescue mom. Except he fails and gets captured by di Luna instead. (once again, off-stage, darn it all... all the good action and sword fights and battles happen off-stage in this opera.) Mom and son are scheduled to be executed. In exchange for Manrico's freedom, Leonora swears to marry and love di Luna, who agrees quite enthusiastically to this plan. The minute he turns his back though... she drinks poison. As you do, of course, when you can't marry your beloved and are stuck for the rest of our life with his hated enemy instead. Right? Door number 2 is a very popular door for sopranos in opera.
Manrico berates her for giving herself to di Luna for his sake, but then she dies in his arms, and he forgives her. Di Luna comes in and finds everything's fallen completely to pieces, so he orders Manrico executed on the spot. And as soon as he's been killed, Azucena tells di Luna the terrible truth: "He was your brother!" Di Luna stares at her horrified, and Azucena cries out that at last, her mother is avenged! End opera.
See? That wasn't hard to tell. And now you know the Crazy! Spectacular! plot to Il Trovatore (which means The Troubadour in Italian, for those curious). It's an opera filled with a lot of beautiful music, and some very famous arias and choruses, like the Anvil Chorus. (And more than one chicken song that no one ever can make less chicken-y. Don't ask. Family joke. Doesn't actually detract from the opera.)
So, my sister and I had a great time Wed night. Same production we saw in 2011, most of the cast was even the same, but there was a different tenor and soprano. We both liked this version better, though the other was quite fine too. But where the other one felt a wee bit cheesy, this version didn't have any cheese. It just sucked us into the craziness, made us care about all the characters, and sold us on the story hook, line, and sinker. I got goosebumps at Azucena's last line. Everything just worked. And unfortunately, because they released the first one on DVD, this one probably won't be released, which is too bad, as we both want to watch it again.
This production has a revolving set, so it keeps things moving quite quickly. There's a huge staircase that always freaks my sister out when people go up and down it.
Dolora Zajick sings Azucena and she's the best part of the whole production. Her voice is amazing. And in her portrayal of the character, her mother and son's death has driven her a bit around the bend. She's at turns tormented, loving, sad, and defiant. And really, this story turns entirely on Azucena, and her anguish at what she's done gave this version a quite tragic angle that just made everything else work.
Stefan Kocan has a supporting role as Ferrando, Count di Luna's lieutenant, and he was one of the main reasons my sister and I went to catch this performance. We've had the pleasure of seeing him live twice, in Don Giovanni and Aida, as well as catching him in several other opera broadcasts. He's a singer we're always watching for. Great voice, and he's smoking hot besides. He was looking particularly fine last night. ("The salted pork is par-ti-cularly fine." Pippin, Return of the King. For some reason this post not about movies is making me quote movies.) He sings one of my favorite arias in this opera, the opening of Act 1 where he tells the story of the gypsy.
Anna Netrebko played Leonora, and she's always a pleasure to watch and listen to. The tenor, Yonghoon Lee, was one I've heard in a couple previous Met broadcasts but never seen. He was very solid in the role, with a nice voice.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Count di Luna (which is just one of the best names ever.). He's always solid. His appearance in this broadcast was particularly special, as he was diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumor. Fortunately, treatment appears to have been successful, and this was his first time back on stage. He received a standing ovation when he first walked on stage, and everyone in our movie theater clapped as well. It's always so cool to be in a movie theater and have opera lovers treat the experience as if they were actually at the Met. He was quite adorable in their mid-intermission interview section, when he was thanking people and saying hi to family back home. I wish him many more healthy years of singing! We had the opportunity to hear him in a concert at the LA Opera earlier this year... and we didn't go. Why didn't we go? What were we possibly thinking? Or not thinking? ("Why?" "What for?" "Shut up and watch." Dirty Dozen quote.)
All in all, it was a great way to start the Met HD season, and I'm looking forward to several more operas on their schedule this year.
And here's the famous tenor aria, Di quella pira, sung by Franco Corelli. My sister and I put on various versions of this aria whenever we need to get ourselves roused up. It's very stirring. I'm ready to go rescue somebody, anybody, by the time it's done! (We're even such dorks we have an audio version with just orchestra and chorus, where we can provide the tenor line ourselves, if so inclined. It's great fun. Like opera karaoke, I guess! Although only ever sung at home. Or in the car. Cars are quite good for singing. Yes.)
Okay, and that's the end of this (very long) opera post for today!