Well, the last two weeks have certainly been amazing, haven't they?? I am very happy and relieved about President-Elect Obama, and I subscribed to the New York Times yesterday so that I can follow every step of the way! However, what I really want to write about is what I did yesterday. (And please be aware that the rest of this post is me nerding out about opera, so. You've been warned)
I woke up to the strains of the "Menuet des Follets" from Berlioz's Damnation de Faust, and I remembered that last night was its opening night. My interest in seeing Faust at the Met was sparked by reading the program notes for Doctor Atomic: John Adams said that his opera was commissioned to be a modern American Faust story. So, since I loved Doctor Atomic, I thought it would be really neat to see Faust to compare.
The new production at the Met is directed by Robert Lepage, who did a Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas recently. I knew this before going into the opera, and I wonder if I would have had the same reaction had I not known. I thought that the opera was a little circusy--there were acrobats suspended on wires doing flips in almost every major dance. Marguerite's Act 2 aria, "D'amour l'ardente flamme," started out very simplistically, but as the music swelled a giant image of the soprano was projected on the large screens behind her. The projected image was not only the height and width of the stage--the image was also burning (in case you needed a visual for love's FLAME?). I thought that all the larger-than-life staging took away somewhat from Berlioz's music. Although, in the middle of Act 1, when Faust is having the vision of Marguerite, the dance is made to look like it's under water. I loved that--partly because it really seemed magical (is it a tank of water, or just a visual trick??), and partly because of the symbolic weight of Faust falling through water, drowning as he is coming under the spell of Mephistopheles. It was beautiful and unique.
The singers were fantastic--Marcello Giordani, John Relyea, Patrick Carfizzi, and Susan Graham. I can't imagine the vocal stamina it must take to play Faust; he sings almost constantly for the entire opera. And Susan Graham's D'amour l'ardente flamme was so beautiful, even with her own giant burning head behind her. The ensemble was huge, and all of the choral numbers were really gorgeous. It was also really cool to see James Levine conducting! I have seen his name and image so many times on CDs, text books, etc., and to finally see his little head bopping over the edge of the pit was so neat. I wished that I had been able to take a crash course on Berlioz opera with my favorite music professor Dr. Swenson, as I'm sure he could have provided me with some great insight.
I also have to mention my seat, or lack thereof. I actually thought it was really neat to be in the standing room orchestra section--even though you can't really see the top half of the stage, I don't know that anything was really lost. Being in standing room is neat because you know that the people standing with you are really there because they love opera. It's a necessarily intimate setting, because the translation screens are so close together, that you kind of have to huddle next to the people around you. It felt like reading a book with someone--both bent over the same story and experiencing the same excitement over it. A couple of women walked by at one point and one said, "Standing room?" to which the other replied, "I guess if you REALLY want to see it..."