I don't think anyone would disagree with me much when I say that, on the scale of preferences, travelling to New York to see a Met production ranks a little higher than a dress rehearsal. Not that that would prevent the possibility of sitting behind someone with a fat head that just so happened to block the most important bit of the stage where most of the action was.
It's probably not entirely fair of me to say anything about the dress rehearsal, to begin with, but I'm going to anyway. =)
The story is timeless. Illegal detainment and torture of political prisoners for speaking the truth, disagreeing in one way or another is as front and centre to us today as it was in the World War II era, as it was when Napoleon dominated Europe, time and time before, and time and time again hereafter.
For this production, a non-descript prison in the Cold War era was chosen. Even though the Vancouver Opera website says it's an eastern European location, the multicultural nature of the ethnic backgrounds in the cast, chorus and supernumeraries makes the location very difficult to pinpoint. Well, that makes it either very easy or very difficult to pinpoint, depending on your context. =)
I still think that German is a bit abrupt and awkward for opera in certain places. At least for me, there's a tiny pause-and-hiccoughing feeling in some places that catches me. I don't get that catching feeling with French or Italian. But I find Beethoven a lot smoother than, say, Wagner.
I was very impressed with the use of the main backdrop.
There was an enormous "wall" which was a sheer-ish material on a 3 or 4 story scaffolding. The sheer-ish material was painted with a large brick pattern that was visible when the light shone on it at an angle.
There was an invisible ghoulish splatter pattern along the top that was only visible to the audience when the light came right through it from behind it. With a bright red backlight, it alluded to dried blood splatter. With a white backlight, it was a thick, heavy and miserable rain splatter.
Sometimes, there were images projected on to the wall for ambience or reminiscence. At the end, the wall came apart in two pieces, one-third and two-thirds of the length. In the scene itself, the prison doors had opened and the prisoners were freed. But it was symbolic of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The most amazing use of this wall was during Pizarro's introductory scene where he's asserting his dominance over his staff — and Tom Fox is a fantastic dramatic baritone, BTW.
The wall was at an acute angle to the edge of the stage. While he's at stage right, facing the audience with his left arm almost pointed directly out in front of him, his shadow is about ¾ the height of the wall, but facing to the left directly at the prison staff with his arm pointed directly at them. Pizarro's character was meant to intimidate and be very intimidating. His giant shadow on the wall was a really neat and very apt visual effect.
What was even more amazing was, in the same scene, when Rocco was cowering in response to Pizarro's posturing. Rocco was positioned on Pizarro's left. The wall was angled such that Rocco's shadow on the wall was ironically bigger than Pizarro's.
That nearly blew me away.
It says Rocco is A Bigger Man, in the metaphysical sense. It alludes to the Napoleon Complex and I thought that was so very clever in the way they did that. It's true to Pizarro as a tyrant. And it's an incredibly deft homage to the original 1805 production when the French military, under the Emperor Napoleon, had its iron grip over most of Europe.
Very, very well done.
Minor gaffs, which I'm sure the production crew will get sorted out before opening night:
- spelling errors in the subtitles... "Oh Go," for "Oh, God" and a few others I don't remember now.
- the cast list on the website is "in order of vocal appearance", but Marzelline was on stage before Leonore.
- the mad humming projector for the subtitles. They tried to muffle it, but they can't do too much because the muffling foam causes it to overheat too. It might be time for new quieter projector.