Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Met season ahead, part IV -- productions

Although its most interesting night may involve productions of the distant past, the Met season that began with Monday's gala includes six house production premieres, including one house opera premiere -- John Adams' Doctor Atomic. Of these, only Mary Zimmerman's La Sonnambula is not a co-production, and I believe only it and Doctor Atomic have not (in one form or another) previously bowed on other stages.

The Opening Night moviecast featured preview segments for the first two new productions: Penny Woolcock's staging of Doctor Atomic and Robert Lepage's "reworking" of a Damnation de Faust first done elsewhere.

The staging of Berlioz's Faust piece looked, as in previously released stills, both interesting and visually arresting. The cast looks good but not great, but Levine's presence in the pit makes this a no-brainer.

The Doctor Atomic bits, on the other hand, hardly soothed my concerns. Though one might discount this devastating Doctor Atomic review from the fair-minded Alex at Wellsung for being at least in part a knock on Peter Sellars' world premiere production and not this new Woolcock physicalization, neither Adams nor Woolcock seemed to have a new angle on the piece itself. About the actual bomb neither appear to have anything to say except how awfully horrible it was, which leaves the Oppenheimer ledger something like this:
Minus: Possibly destroyed the world
Plus: Liked poetry, had authentic Native American maid
But of course the Manhattan Project, despite initiating a danger that haunts us to this day, also saved millions of American and Japanese lives and enabled a favorable and relatively bloodless outcome for the Cold War. Telling Oppenheimer's wartime story without engaging these facts -- which perhaps make him more interestingly and operatically tragic, and certainly not less -- is just unserious.

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After these only Sonnambula of the "new" productions seems particularly promising for the staging itself. All certainly have worthy casts, however.

Of the revivals, I would say that Lucia di Lammermoor (Zimmerman), Madama Butterfly (Minghella), Tristan und Isolde (Dorn), La Boheme (Zeffirelli), and Eugene Onegin (Carsen -- but only if they undo the lighting changes made for the 2007 moviecast run) have notably good productions, while Don Giovanni (Keller) is notably weak. But much will depend on whomever does stage direction for these revivals: much can be gained or lost from these often-unnoticed contributions.

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Of course, much of a show's success is in some unpredictable alchemy -- who inspires (or impedes) whom, who gets sick, who arrives in good form and bad, who adapts and who doesn't to changes and adversity, etc. etc. If a season were just the sum of its forseeable parts, there would be little fun in going. Fortunately, it's not.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.