**Warning: This post is full of spoilers and may contain traces of milk, peanuts, egg, and/or crustacean shellfish. If you’re going to get cranky about it, quiet plz tia tia.
Yesterday’s Open House at the NYC Metropolitan Opera House was a huge success. Doors opened at 9:00am and guests were invited to sample different booths, à la 6th grade science fair, including lighting technicians, costumiers (lace makers), set models, Ms. Cecilia Brauer on armonica, and a half-dozen more.
At 11:00am began the trifecta of rehearsals for Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Act I ran for roughly 44 minutes, and was introduced by Peter Gelb, who made a dedication of the performance to Beverly Sills. He called the rehearsal a “working performance”, and asked that the audience refrain from leaving their seats at the end of the acts until the house lights went up, in case Jimmy had to retool any of the passages. Levine took to the podium in a relaxed casual set, black cotton pants and an ample black polo shirt. The orchestra also wore t-shirts and jeans, kicks and corduroys.
The overture started, and a white screen that filled the entire diameter of the stage illuminated, with a solitary black branch reaching down from the upper left-hand corner. A covered by a rolling, bluish fog, which symbolized the patch of woods of the Ravenswood estate near the castle. The white screen rose, to reveal yet another layer of scenery: a black, thick, stage-sized screen, with a gigantic door cut-out, that allowed just a window of the background scenery to be seen. The rocks remained, leading to a big hill, where appeared Normanno and the rest of his searchers. There were two gigantic, live dogs, scouring the hills with the retainers! Sweeet! Doggies! The black felty cutout screen was totally boring, and seemed unfinished.
Levine and the orchestra was in great form, but now returning from the strains of Filarmonica della Scala after a year and a half of indoctrination, Levine and the MET Orchestra have a trademark patina, a very comforting and expected sound, which is not completely adept at interpreting bel canto as I would have hoped. Maestro Levine covered the orchestra tremendously with gorgeous color and depth, as always, a perfect match in the opera hall. Bright and brisk, but lacking something quintessentially bel canto. Levine stated [afterwards at the Q&A] that he had never done before a full opera version of Lucia, and we were duly honored to be part of the performance.
Scene II began as the retainers clear-out, and snow began to fall from the sky, visible through the gigantic window cut-out. Miraculously, the black felty screen finally rose, revealing a breathtaking scene: Twilight in the park, the crumbled fountain of the Siren, and a great hill covered in spiny trees. Purple, stormy winter skies and dead foliage scattered over the rocks. Just when you are recovering from the gorgeous atmospheric splendor, Dessay appeared in a full Victorian black coat and ruffled floor-length skirt. Very goth, very pure. During “Regnava nel silenzio”, the spirit of the young girl who was murdered by her jealous lover became personified as a zombie ghost in a full white gown and platinum hair, and drifted towards Lucia, caressed her, and then disappeared into the fountain of the Siren. RINGU!!!!!!!! omg I almost ran out of the theatre crying. *four people died from watching that videotape!*
And that was the end of Act I. There was a 45 minute break between each act, with the first one serving-up lunch bags for sustenance. The lunch bags contained one (1) apple, Macintosh, byotches; one (1) bottled water, Evian; two (2) cookies, chocolate and white chocolate; three (3) sandwiches, hammykins, creamykins, and lunchykins; one (1) complimentary all-access 2007-08 Met Opera season pass. What’s that? You didn’t get a complimentary season pass in your lunch-bag? Looks like your mom’s not a Jif® mom. oh well sucks 4u!
Act II ran for 44 minutes, and began with another white silkscreen, this time tangled with a veritable forest, much like the promo textile pieces hanging on the MET façade these days. The curtain rose onto Enrico’s apartment, a huge hall in minty-limey green, two floor-to-ceiling windows on the left, and two smaller doors on the right. Set designer Daniel Ostling explained that he had come across this similar color frequently on his visits to Scotland. The only props were massive mounds of furniture covered in drop clothes, and an uncovered desk upstage on the left. Dessay was in a beautiful indoor cotton dress, adherent to the Victorian style with a green bow tied around her waist.
Dessay’s interplay with Mariusz Kwiecien’s Enrico was captivating, and at times powerful (except when he grabbed Dessay’s hand to sign the marriage contract, which backfired Zimmerman’s not-comedic direction, perplexed the singers, but somehow managed to titillate the NYC crowds). Kwiecien said at the Q&A that he loves to play the bad guy on the stage, because it is such a departure from his real-life good-guy persona.
The audience witnessed during this scene the lighting technicians tinkering with the lights, one of the first reminders that this was indeed a “working performance”. After the stellar duets between Dessay and Kwiecien, servants came into the room and prepared the great apartment by stripping it clean of all the dust clothes and window coverings. They revealed two giant chandeliers (these are sooo from Act II, Scene II of Zeff’s La Traviata, that I fittingly expected matadors and gypsies to storm the hall and start dancing), candelabras, and giant palms. Scene II’s wedding guests arrived, and Mara Blumenfeld’s excellent costume prowess was demonstrated. She chose to use lustrous silks, all in grey and white. The entire chorus was outfitted in subtlety grand ball dresses, in grays with white polka dots, stripes, and solids, very Dior Fall 2007 couture.
Marcello Giordani’s Edgardo was immense, displaying a gigantic scope of singing and unflagging color. He last made his Open House appearance last year as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and admitted that the last time he sang Lucia was eight years ago. Arrived Dessay in a magenta dress (which, IMO was too high on magenta and blue…a true red would have been more visually stunning. But curiously enough, Mara Blumenfeld explained that during the Victorian era, red was an acceptable and popular color for wedding gowns. Also, the marriage and signing of the marriage contract were usually two different ceremonies in the Victorian times, which is why she chose to dress Dessay in a different gown for the scene). John Relyea's Raimondo looked the hawtness dressed in his sassy party pants.
The sextet was pretty insane, and Michaela Marten’s Alisa proved a solid, strong voice, at a few passages even singing over Dessay (but my suspicions are that Dessay was saving her voice to be in top form for Monday’s la prima). Dessay was like a little puppet, so petit and graceful, and so willing to be manipulated by all those around her. The aberration to the scene was an olde tyme photographer who arranged a marriage portrait among the guests while the singers were getting their sing on. From a historical p.o.v, the attention to detail was nicely accurate, and it helped pushed the narrative, but I’m not sure it was necessary. And that was the end of Act II.
Act III, at 62 minutes, began with wild ejaculations for Jimmy as he walked back out to the podium. Again we saw the trademark white screen with branch silhouettes in black, but this time there were six. As the orchestra began to introduce the banquet hall inside the castle, lightening flashed across the screen. The screen raised and revealed another one of those full-stage, black felty cut-outs, with a tiny window up top, and a small set of stairs in the center. This was the ruins of Wolf’s Craig Castle, and pretty freaking lame. Edgardo sat at a desk again, and lightning flashes were projected onto the black felt. omg so boring. This scene barely registers in my memory because it was so nondescript.
Finally, the black structure raised to usher-in Scene II, the scene of the festivities, which was not the most impressive scenery, but we are regardless happy for a bit of color. A long hallway landing, railed, and running horizontal to the top of the stage, was lowered. Connected to that, and spiraling downward to the stage floor, was a large staircase, at least 7-people wide. The chorus appeared again, all in sumptuous silvers, while Lucia in her white wedding dress ran across the top runway, the oblivious guests below. Costume designer Mara explained that the dress was inspired by Charles Frederick Worth’s 19th century fashion house.
Raimondo announced Lucia’s sickness, as she ran around the upper landing, making stabbing motions at her veil, and then dropping the bloody prop from the top banister, as it floated down to the chorus below and cleaved the masses. Dessay ran wildly down the stairs, and here began the ethereal glass H-armonica. Dessay was wearing to-the-elbow white gloves, which were marked on the fingers in blood, also staining her bodice, and the hem of her dress. She laughed like a madwoman (but not cackling) and tumbled down the last two steps, falling to the floor in a dead faint.
Her voice was clear, and all the ornamentation she allowed greatly enhanced the dramatic action. She looked like a little doll in her dress, fluttering around stage like a wiry puppet. She draped herself over the prompter box as the chorus huddled around her, and peeled off her white gloves, a woman deranged. She retreated to the stairs and manically laughed again as she tried to annihilate the veil with her hands. Superb. She was as light as air, nervously twitching and spastically emoting as a woman in trauma. At the end of the mad scene, she received tante brave as she held a pose draped still over the arms of two men. She was amazing. Well deserved cheers. She wasn’t the rage of Callas but more the madness of a desperate woman. When Zimmerman was questioned in the Q&A, she replied that she wanted to make her Lucia more fragile than usual, and created a marked difference in her sanity as the opera progressed, marking her descent into madness more poignant.
Scene III: the staircase rolled away, the top banister landing was absorbed into the ceiling, and the cemetery of Ravenswood Castle is established. Nighttime clouds and a large moon were projected on the back of the stage, completely bare. An arch lowered from the ceiling and framed the background, in the center a brambly tree and a few tombstones. Here Levine called on Edgardo at “Tombe degli avi miei” to take a few measures pause before his entrance, and stopped him to re-block the scene. When Marcello Giordani finished the aria, he was met with a well-deserved, sustained applause and tanti bravi.
The train of mourners arrived from the Lammermoor Castle, and I particularly liked Zimmerman’s attention to detail, as she had sprayed-down the mourners’ black umbrellas with glistening moisture, adding greatly to the realism of a cold, Scottish rain. Edgardo’s last was “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali”. Zimmerman reanimated the spirit from Act I now as Lucia, who came from the tombs and caressed Edgardo, then stabbed him in the stomach, holding him as he died. She was done-up in pale-face, as a zombie bride, too bulky for her, and a little too campy. The End. During curtain call, Dessay, the methodical ballerina, bowed and touched her fingertips to her toes. The rehearsal was over 2:45pm-ish, and then another 15 minutes of Jimmy retooling a few key parts with the orchestra. 3:00 pm began the Q&A panel with all the key singers and production team, and then until 5:00 pm was the queue to walk across the MET stage.
Dessay, during the Q&A, was as witty, self-deprecating, and clever as usual. When asked about her preparations for the role, answered that she collaborated with Zimmerman, and focused on adding layers to her character. When asked about how she stays healthy, she said she eats seeds in the morning [like a little bird!], and tries not to catch any diseases.
I don't think I could have said it better than that.
//sarahb has some great photos from the open house on her blog here.