• Grant Harville

Month Two of the #metoperachallenge

It's certainly been true for me: month two really has gone faster than month one. I wasn't expecting to make it through a second month of watching the Met Opera streams every night, but it's actually felt easier somehow than the first.

I won't say as much this time around, but here are a few things:

1. For those keeping track at home, as of May 17:

Verdi - 11

Wagner - 8

Donizetti - 7

Puccini - 7

Rossini - 3

Strauss - 4

Bizet - 2

Mozart - 2

1 each: Gounod, Poulenc, Adams, Tchaikovsky, Massenet, Ades, Britten, Bellini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Thomas, Saariaho, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Muhly, Borodin, Cilea, Offenbach, Lehar

Any surprises? Not really - perhaps a little less Mozart than expected (which they're making up for soon) and a little more Donizetti (who I would guess has few fans outside the hardcore opera crowd).

2. I've been happy to see this much Strauss. He writes a really good flow into his scores, and his comic-ish stuff (Rosenkavalier, Capriccio, Ariadne auf Naxos) is pretty for days.

I admit I'm sort of conflicted about Ariadne. The first time I saw it, I came in cold, not knowing the plot at all. (The basic conceit is that two operas, one epic, one comic, are forced to go on simultaneously.) After the Prologue, where they set up what's going to happen, I remember being really excited at all the ways the two operas were going to inform or bump against each other. But it doesn't really happen that way: the two styles more or less alternate until the end, with the epic getting most of the stage time. What Strauss/Hofmannsthal do works fine for what it is, and the music's gorgeous - beautiful arias for Ariadne, Zerbinetta, and the Composer, and lovely trios for the nymphs - but there is so much more to be mined from such a premise. I remember thinking it was a lost opportunity. (Speaking of lost opportunity: how does the Met not end Ariadne with the most glorious fireworks show in opera history?)

3. There seems to be more of an effort now to acknowledge days of the week (to whatever extent that concept still has meaning). The two special events (the live video gala and documentary) both happened on Saturday, and viewers' choices have been put on Friday.

4. Speaking of, viewers' choices have been Aida, Lucia di Lammermoor, La bohème, and Madama Butterfly. Butterfly was the only new production, and the only one not to have been shown in a different production previously, which suggests that the audience was interested in the opera itself as repertoire. The other three had all had modern productions shown as part of these streams earlier, but the viewers chose to see them again in older productions featuring famous names (Price, Sutherland, Pavarotti). Not sure what to make of that, other than that star power still seems to mean something in opera, at least among the fandom.

5. Also speaking of, I enjoyed the documentary (The Opera House) more than I thought I would. I expected basically a marketing/propaganda piece, but they actually addressed, at least a little, some of the difficulties and problematic bits about building Lincoln Center.

6. I don't know if this is a bad thing or not, but I don't have a favorite composer, or a favorite piece, or a favorite conductor. I get asked if I do often enough, so I have stock answers to those questions (Bach/Brahms/Stravinsky, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Haitink), but those answers are lies. Not because I don't like them but because I don't think in quite those terms. So much of my appreciation of music or musician depends on me at that moment. I've gone to see performances (good ones!) of "favorite" pieces that I just couldn't get into, while being riveted by performances of music I've never thought much of. I do think Bach was a good composer (because of course I do), but I can only think of it in those terms when I'm outside the experience of the music. It becomes a sort of probability: I call Bach (for example) a favorite because, the way I remember it, I'm more likely to have a great experience listening to him than I am to others.

And yes, I have a similarly dishonest answer about favorite operas. My top 5: Marriage of Figaro, Götterdämmerung, Tosca, Salome, Peter Grimes. Four out of five of those have now made it into these streams, and predictably, I've liked some more than others, for reasons I freely admit likely had as much to do with my state of mind at the time as with the production. But in two cases I was very much reminded of why I call them favorites:

Figaro, besides having loads of beautiful music, also features an all-too-rare-in-opera example of a couple (Figaro and Susanna) who seem to actually enjoy being in love with each other;

Peter Grimes, like the aforementioned Prokofiev R+J, is saturated with more great music than most composers come up with in a lifetime - it seemed like at every scene I said "ooh, my favorite part."

7. What's coming up? I think I'm most excited for Lohengrin. I haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember thinking it was the most tuneful of Wagner operas, except perhaps Meistersinger. More Mozart (Idomeneo and Don Giovanni) is good too.

On to month three - stay healthy, stay fresh, stay hopeful.