Summer is drawing to its close according to the academic calendar, if not to that of opera houses, and despite the fact that New York temperatures remain stubbornly above 90 degrees. My flatmate and I have stolen our last balmy late evenings on Lincoln Center Plaza, enjoying the HD rebroadcasts of Der Rosenkavalier and Les Contes d'Hoffmann. I should have anticipated the thought-provoking consequences of this pairing of operas, but I didn't. So, now I am sitting in my flat with a cup of tea and pondering the fragility and strength of mortal loves. Melancholy? Perhaps, but then there's this (here from the video which marked one of opera's few, memorable irruptions into my childhood and adolescence):
Unbelievably, people started leaving before this. Unbelievably, when R. Strauss himself is rumored to have complained about the length to a violinist during rehearsals for the premiere? Well, yes... because they sat through nearly all of Act III and then left. Before this. I entertained impossible visions of throwing myself across the aisles and grabbing ankles. But I was in the center of a row.
The productions were another interesting juxtaposition. The Nathaniel Merrill production of Rosenkavalier was opulent, adhering strongly to the details of the libretto for setting and even stage direction. And that was it: a setting for the sublime music, the rich libretto, and the not-inconsiderable charms of the cast. (An interesting exercise: go here for pictures from the United States premiere production of Der Rosenkavalier, in the 1913-14 season at the Met, and here for pictures of the Merrill production in last season's revival.) The Bartlett Sher production of Hoffmann, on the other hand, was a dark, striking, dreamlike take on the ambiguous tales (and dreamlike in a fine, old-fashioned sense: filled with images that part of you knows don't quite make sense, but are still powerful, and very often terrifying.) Were it available as a DVD, I'd recommend it: it left me wanting to see it again, not just because the 1920s Berlin excesses of Act I were gorgeous (here Olympia's song, with decadence in the background.) The role of the Muse/Nicklausse was especially interesting, as she was kept on stage for much of the opera, and given enigmatic things to do. My flatmate perceived a catch to the production which I, at first, did not: it's all very well if it's deliberately enigmatic, but if Sher has a clear commentary which he's trying to get across... he's not. Or at least not unambiguously enough that it's clear at first viewing. His own comments (accompanied by images less than desirable for small children or Puritans) are too generalized to help me get further into it. But for the moment, it is time for me to stop meditating and go chasing my own muse: I start teaching tomorrow morning. But first I'll listen to that trio again.