12 January 2013

Les Troyens - an opera on New Year's Day

Entrance to the Met, dressed up for the holidays.
My daughter recently bought two tickets for the the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of Berlioz's grand masterpiece, Les Troyens, and gave them to her loving parents - what a nice present for New Year's Day.

This opera, adapted from Virgil's Aeneid and not often performed due to its length, is really two works in one. The first two acts, of five acts in all, dramatize Trojan princess Cassandra's desperate and unsuccessful attempts to save her city, and her betrothed, from the doom she knows is somehow lurking in that large wooden horse the Greeks parked just outside the walls of Troy.

The final three acts follow Trojan warrior and survivor Aeneas to Carthage, and answer the question: Will he stay with beautiful, noble Dido, Queen of Carthage, who has fallen for him big time, or continue on to conquer Latium and become the ancestor of Julius Caesar?  We all know the outcome, but such is the convincing acting and singing by Bryan Hymel, as a truly anguished Aeneas, that we can believe he might just tell the gods to go find someone else to sail to Italy.

The stage, surmounted by Mary Callery sculpture.

An opulent interior.

The performance lasted five hours, with two 30-minute intermissions, but, really, that's shorter than most baseball games, only without the hot dogs. The singers, orchestra, dances, sets and costumes were all that one expects from the Met, and it was easy to follow the libretto on the Met Titles system - a digital screen in front of each seat displays the text of songs and dialog, in your choice of languages.

The cast  and conductor take a bow.

I had never been to the Met before, and the building is quite a palace of culture and a relic of a time when concrete was still celebrated for its plasticity as well as its compressive strength. Monumental stairs swoop and soar in the entrance way, leading to aisles and passageways seemingly carved out of deep crimson plush.

Grandeur in concrete and red carpet.

Our seats were way at the end of a row with less than stellar sight lines; however, after Act One, we joined a general migratory movement of every row inwards toward the center aisle and "squatted" in very good seats for the remainder of the opera.  The fellow in the seat next to me, an actor whom I didn't recognize (but then I watch little television) mentioned that he took a backstage tour, costing $20, and found it fascinating.  Sounds like a future field trip to me.

Chandeliers designed by Hans H. Rath of J. & L. Lobmeyr, Vienna.

Gleaming gold soffit, white light and red carpet.

The Met's comprehensive website also describes the art and costume exhibits on display in the lobby and hallway areas - there are even wall cases featuring stage jewelry worn by various luminaries.  One exhibit features paintings, reliefs and busts of famous singers, conductors and composers, including the treasure below, by sculptor Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966), who studied with Auguste Rodin.

Emma Eames as Desdemona, by Malvina Hoffman.

Opera is a wonderful stimulus for all the senses (even taste, with champagne at intermission) and the Met's facility, with its visual displays, restaurant, and activities reflects this omnivorous sensory experience.