Sunday, November 10, 2013

Frau at the Met, Short Version

Go see it. You just don't have many opportunities to catch this one; the production is solid and often absolutely gorgeous, though I have many quibbles with it. The singing is mostly excellent, and.....CHRISTINE GOERKE. Well. You may have thought this opera was about the Empress, the woman of the title, but Goerke steals the show in magnificent fashion as the Dyer's Wife.

Hoping to get something longer up - Bruce Hodges heard a half-hour brain dump Friday night - but having a hell of a time getting going on it.


Chanterelle said...

I can understand why you're having trouble capturing it on paper; it's nearly as loaded, symbolically, as PARSIFAL. Also, expectations and all...

I'm going tomorrow and CAN'T WAIT, especially to see/hear Goerke's triumphant homecoming. I have seen the production before, but 10 years is a long time.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I haven't got that much to say about the symbolism, though I have a couple of things to say on dropped balls in the plot. it's more that I have many complaints but think the whole is well worth seeing anyway. Am also having a problem writing a good lede. I mean, I think I have three of them at this point.

Michael Strickland said...

I actually saw Karl Bohm conduct this at the San Francisco Opera in 1976 in a great Nikolas Lehnhoff production. it was revived in 1980 with Birgit Nilsson tearing up the joint as the Dyer's Wife, and Gwyneth Jones at her best in the same role in a 1989 revival. Would be lovely to see/hear again in San Francisco (we're not all globetrotters), even with all those singing Unborn Children.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I saw the '89 bring-up, and I remember maybe three things about it: 1. Jones was having a good night when I saw it. 2. I was overwhelmed by the music, because I'd never heard a note of it before I went (I was in Dress Circle standing room!) 3. I was appalled by the singing unborn children.

I wonder if SFO still has the production, or whether Rosenberg sent it to the knackers.

Bruce Hodges said...

...and a happy half-hour it was, hearing your comments. I'm seeing it tomorrow night and will weigh in further after that.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I had better get something written before the third-act curtain, then. :)

Henry Holland said...

I love this opera, flaws and all. I too saw that 1989 SFO production and Dame Gwyneth let loose a high note that parted everyone's hair. Great production too.

Los Angeles Opera did it with a wonderful David Hockney production. I saw it in 1993, here's a wonderful Martin Bernheimer review:


Did I forget something? Oh, yes. There's a chorus of unborn children. Also a singing falcon and a school of fish who fly into a frying pan. Apparently they sing too

Yes! The flying fish!

The various offstage voices sounded as if they were piped in from Zanzibar via a faulty shortwave radio

Hahaha. Good cast: Jones, Shade, Henschel, O'Neal and Grundheber. The sets and lighting were magical.

Damn, I really want to see/hear this opera in the theater again!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Fish: see the photo of Goerke and a cooking pot in the next blog posting!

"Did I forget something?" Oh, hahahaha.

The Met does a better job of piping in the voices, but I don't understand why they amplified the Voice of the Falcon and the Voice from Above.

Hope you get to hear it again!

Bruce Hodgse said...

So (after seeing it last night) I mostly loved the revival, and my feelings are pretty similar to yours: some minuses, but overall, well worth seeing.

In general I agree with Tommasini's initial 2001 assessment of the production, that it clarifies the opera, but I was mildly disappointed that the mirrored box is now without the gorgeous outer space projections from NASA that adorned the center back wall. The abstractions they substituted this time around aren't horrible, though - and for some, perhaps they equate with "timelessness."

But more random pluses: The opening - house lights still on and suddenly darkened with the first chords - was a great touch. The Falcon is much better conceived this time around. Previously, it seemed to flop around, not really resembling any type of bird at all (perhaps an undersea creature); this retooling adds more interest.

Jurowski's work with the orchestra (mostly great) reveals some interesting percussion (e.g., xylophone, castanets) that I don't recall the first time. He does Strauss more transparently than many are wont to - and I quite liked it, especially in some of the powerful, grinding climaxes. And he takes the score swifter than I recall, which again, might convert some non-Strauss-lovers.

As for the cast, Goerke ruled - there's a reason she was all over the news yesterday. But Komlosi was pretty good (in an almost equally unforgiving role), and Schwanewilms, while a bit monochromatic in her acting, sang quite well. Liked Torsten Kerl (new to me) and Johan Reuter (ditto); other small roles seemed OK.

The chorus of unborn children singing seemed much more prominent this time around; not sure if it's a plus or minus, especially for those of us who don't necessarily equate child-bearing with essential humanity. But generally I go for the broader picture in this piece, whenever possible, and ignore some of the over-the-top symbolism. The music is so beautiful, so often, that it's easy to do.

Overall, I'd put it somewhere in the "more than very good" category, and given the rarity, a definite "try to see it at least once."