|Tell's final tableau, photo @Marty Sohl|
So last night I went to the Met's new production of Guillaume Tell and it was glorious, fantastic, everything I'd ever want in a staging of Rossini's masterpiece ... eh, who am I kidding? It sucked. Rossini's opera has some of the greatest (if vocally demanding) music ever written, but it needs a production that respects and advocates for the opera as a viable stage vehicle. Pierre Audi's production is terrible in every way. It's a total disaster.
Audi apparently decided that this opera about how We're Starting a Revolution (!!!) needed the black and white minimalist treatment. Costumes by Andrea-Schmidt-Futterer are mixed and matched across a variety of eras but the long skirts on the women mean "in the distant past." White for the peasants, black for the conquerers. Mathilde is wearing a black Victorian bustle gown in the beginning because she's a Hapsburg! When she joins the revolution she changes to a white gown! Surprise surprise! Set designer George Tsypsin populated the stage with some styrofoamy fake rocks, an upside down cow, a big suspended ship/crossbow (???), and several tubes that light up during the finale (see above picture). Current fashion dictates that it's absolutely unacceptable to have painted backdrops so we had a mirror that reflected an ice blue. I guess it's Lake Lucerne?
|The suspended boat and mirror lake, photo @ Marty Sohl|
Okay, so the production wants to be boring and inoffensive. I don't have a problem with that. Alas, Audi wants to be "edgy" as well. In the third act choreographer Kim Brandstrup's ballet is some Hapsburg women in black leather S&M'ish tutus forcing the poor peasants to dance. The Hapsburgs have whips, y'all. It was more ridiculous and repetitive than anything else but it triggered a few audience members to boo. They might have been letting off steam about the awfulness of the production. I would have too had I cared more.
|Finley as Tell, photo @ Marty Sohl|
In the demanding role of Arnold Bryan Hymel certainly had the stamina and the upper register to get through the opera. He's of a very strong constitution and is specializing in these heroic French grand opera parts. He sailed through the big double aria "Asile héréditaire" and "Amis, amis" without any obvious strain. Unfortunately Hymel's actual voice is ... ugly. No other way to put it. Yes it has an extremely secure upper register with a lot of ping on those high C's, but the rest of the voice is pinched, bleaty, and without any beauty or warmth. It's as if the Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music and the goats started to sing.
You could say "Well who else can sing this better?" Except the cover for this run (who sings November 2) is John Osborn, who in my opinion sings with way more beauty, if not security in the upper register.
Compare and contrast Hymel with Osborn:
|Rebeka and Hymel, photo @ Marty Sohl|
The rest of the cast was a mixed bag. Maria Zifchak is a veteran mezzo and performed the part of Hedwige admirably if without a hint of engagement in her role. Kwangchul Youn has a big beefy bass and a nice patrician air. John Relyea also did some fine work as the villain Gesler. Michele Angelini's Ruodi started off the evening with an aria that was long on high notes but (like Bryan Hymel) short on vocal beauty.
The stars of the evening were the chorus, who despite being given almost no stage direction were musically always alert, sensitive, and really carried this opera through from the opening festivities to the radiant finale. "Go sing in the chorus" is often used as a put-down to aspiring singers but in this case, the chorus deserved as many flowers and bravos as anyone else onstage. The other star was the Met orchestra, led by the soon-to-be-departed Fabio Luisi. They were fantastic, and Luisi's conducting is always classy. Some of the newer "hot" conductors at the Met have conducted this sort of music without a hint of elegance. It's push push push towards the cabaletta. Not Luisi. It's New York's loss.
Energy and enthusiasm was low the entire evening. There were a depressing number of empty seats in all sections of the house, polite golf-clap applause after numbers, and, as I mentioned, even some booing during the ballet. This goes back to my original point about this opera needing a strong advocate. It hasn't been presented at the Met since 1931, and even though the music is great it's not an easy opera. It's long, it's demanding on the audience's stamina. Pierre Audi's production makes the worst case for this opera. Productions like these need the Lone Ranger to run them out of town.