In the meantime, after canceling several of his Metropolitan Opera performances, James Levine ended the MET in HD season conducting an impassioned and heartbreaking performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with a superstar cast that featured Jonas Kaufman and Eva Marie Walbrook as the incestuous lovers; bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as Wotan, the star-crossed king of the gods, and big-toned, big-haired mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe as an unusually sympathetic Fricka (arguing against Wotan for the letter of the law to preserve a loveless marriage). Only Deborah Voigt in the title role, the disobedient demigoddess who is Wotan’s favorite among his numerous illegitimate daughters, sounded and looked (oh, those ruthless close-ups) as if she were under constant vocal strain. Levine led with unflagging power, though he appeared thin and a bit haggard (he took his bows from the pit). Director Robert Lepage seemed less interested in the complex relationships among these mythic characters than in the mechanics of his tedious multi-million-dollar set (audiences in theaters around the world were kept waiting 40 minutes because of a computer malfunction, many no doubt worrying if Levine were unwell). An online comment compared the famous sword only a hero could pull from the trunk of a huge ash tree to a coat hook. When it dropped to the stage, it sounded like the tin lid of a tuna can. Maybe more than $1.99 of those millions of dollars should have been spent on this crucial prop. The HD broadcast gets an “encore” at area theaters June 1.
Intermezzo, an ambitious chamber opera group that’s done some exciting productions and numerous premieres, has teamed up with David Feltner’s excellent Chamber Orchestra of Boston to present a new one-act opera based on the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner and her founding of the Gardner Museum. But A Place of Beauty is not one of Intermezzo’s successes. Robert Edward Smith’s score inventively combines the style of tuneful Victorian parlor ballads and Baroque vocal music, a kind of great-grandchild of Virgil Thomson, but without Thomson’s dramatic pace, musical surprises, vision, or conviction. What was initially fresh and appealing seemed just more of the same before the hour was over.
Evans had an uphill battle given William A. Fregosi and Fritz Bell’s thin libretto (Fregosi, best known as a set designer, also designed the set — perhaps something of a first for a librettist). Creative Writing Rule No. 1: show, don’t tell. But instead of putting characters in dramatic situations, this libretto just kept telling us who they were and explaining what they did. “What about that museum idea?” Jack asks Isabella. “This was my life work," she announces, "my legacy.” The opera begins with the Gardner Museum heist and Fregosi’s set has a lot of empty frames, but there was no dramatic urgency, or arc, and so the music itself never had the chance to build to a showstopping climax.
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