Gounod ROMEO ET JULIETTE, Met 14.11.2005; c. de Billy; O'Flynn, Vargas, Degout, Sigmundsson, DiDonato, Pittas.
Sieglinde has attended about 15 Met operas (give or take) so far this season. This new production premiere of Roméo is easily her worst evening. Sieglinde has seen many new Met productions in recent years, including the Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini from a couple of seasons ago (a frightening event). This new production of Roméo is easily the worst she's seen. Set design went nowhere; voices were misplaced; the conductor (a Frenchman!) didn't inspire: the entire evening alternated between insecure and listless; this Gounod turned out so amorphous it was like watching a Greyhound bus trip unfold. It seemed that all the bright ideas of the production/design team were spent on the spinning stage, a constellation diagram of sorts: and once that gigantic mechanism was set, everything else was patched in to form the rest of the so-called "scenes." Truly, the entire evening felt like a mediocre patch-up job. On any other day, the singing would have been OK, except that this was meant to be a special event. Maureen O'Flynn was understandably cautious thoughout the evening; her voice, a Judith Blegen clone, isn't what I remember it to be: there is now an unpleasant quiver stitched into its backbone, and her top notes are no longer as crisp. The exact same thing can be said of Ramon Vargas (well, except for the Judith Blegen comparison): he may have been a bit under the weather as well, for he has never sounded this "small" or inelegant in the lyric realm: top notes were forced and pianos seemed to cause actual physical pain. Vargas isn't the most dashing figure in the roster, this is obvious: now why did they insist on clothing him with those purple blue tights: in those tights, with his limited stature, and on such an open, cavernous set, he looked like a sorry midget: and how can one appreciate that kind of a Romeo. Yes, that spacious set design, empty of coherent ideas, sometimes left characters too "naked" for comfort. Then, there's Bertrand de Billy (is he really French?), who had little sense of drama: I mean, Gounod delivers high romanticism on a silver platter, so I imagine one could at least sleepwalk through the score and come out with the likes of the Zeffirelli film. But for one reason or another, nothing gelled: Acts IV and V, usually devastating in poignancy, went by without a "tear." The house felt it: I've never heard a more tepid curtain call of a production opening than this: there were a couple of boos for the production/design team, and I would have joined in, except that I was too preoccupied with the hard question of how they can manage to strip the Love off this vivid as a rose garden of a score. By they, I mean everyone involved (except a number of minor singing parts, which I'm too depressed to list here). I doubt that Natalie Dessay can rescue this thing.
[Pictured above is Dean Lois Kirschenbaum, checking out the evening's poster, and wondering why she wasn't consulted about the last-minute cast change.]
UPDATE: Steve Smith gives a more generous account of Maureen O'Flynn's performance, while the Wellsungs (now did you boys think that'd become your blognick?) J & A give Ramon Vargas a pass. After a good night's sleep, I too am inclined to forgive, especially under the circumstances. Specifically, in light of the frightening production the singers have been asked to animate. Steve says it was an "ultimately static affair that left me scratching my head pondering relations to Copernicus, Kepler, MC Escher and Swatch watches." Jonathan characterizes it as "sort of like a Griffin and Sabine book meets a Nova episode meets a bad dream of Galileo's," and Alex calls it precisely as a "kind of shallow compromise emerging again from the tension between not wanting to do another straight-up production while being unwilling to do too something too far out." Oh what a waste of space, indeed.