02 December 2005

Interstate Highway: Exit Ramp

Gounod ROMEO ET JULIETTE, Met 01.12.2005; c. de Billy; Dessay, Vargas, Degout, Hanslowe, Sigmundsson.

The last act of this evening's Romeo et Juliette travelled like a smooth highway through the great cornfields of Nebraska. There was a faked death, a suicide, and then another; then why the f* were my eyes scanning the big round turntable stage looking for my zodiac sign (Leo)? It was like looking out the car window; see how the horizon doesn't seem to move despite running over the speed limit; and look at all that corn (popcorn for the Multiplex). While doing that, I wondered where my exit was.

Act II typifies the horror. Right from the top of the act, Gounod made sure his score gushes with first love music; we're talking Romeo and Juliet after all. Curiously, I don't think it's possible to leech more romance off the music than tonight. Maestro Bertrand de Billy works through the bars like Florida rush hour traffic (bumper to bumper, but mysteriously still 60 mph). Then the curtain rises to reveal a protrusion off the left curved wall; supposedly Juliette's balcony, it has the aura of a cubicle at a telemarketing office. Down below, Ramon Vargas jumps up and down and rolls around Constellation Plaza like it was his first time on crystal meth. Natalie Dessay, clarion soprano, delivers to her abilities, but, sadly, in the end, the girl's just an employee-of-the-month amidst such immense monstrosity. This production lacks the ability to induce intimacy, echoing instead the appalling aimless impotence of the pit. Too many colors and shapes on the stage floor and walls; nothing makes sense; the eye wanders off easily; meanwhile, elevator music rolls by.

Scene changes are very cosmetic (a bed here, a staircase there), and yet, inexplicably, take minutes to finish, further deadening the music's momentum (if it had any). The waits between scenes are eerily quiet, punctuated only by certified city coughing: it's that funny feeling of being in a crowded elevator and you're wondering what the others are wondering about. Exciting opera usually elicits lots of discussion and instapunditing among seatmates during such pauses; in this case, however, the auditorium feels a kind of collective whiff of unsettled boredom, going nicely with the defiant sounding out of phlegm.

But it was really like being in your dentist's waiting room, awaiting root canal... OK, I will stop here. (Believe me, I got more material about Acts IV and V, but I must stop here.) Bottom line: two or twenty Natalie Dessays couldn't rescue this mess. Oh, it's a shame.