The small older woman in front of me spoke quietly:
"Oh God...," she said wearily, as the curtain opened on the 2nd act of Thursday evening's prima of "Die Ägyptische Helena".
Oh God, indeed.
Now and then it's amusing to consider what would happen if you gave a bunch of immensely pretentious undergraduate theater students a wad of cash, a huge scene shop, and a wildly impenetrable text. While I'm not totally certain how that particular scenario would shake out, I have a feeling it would look at least somewhat like this.
Ohhhh boy. This is one freaking ugly production, folks. It's sort of like....Disney's Tomorrowland with a hint of pre-remodel sea foam green lobby of Alice Tully Hall. In a word: Boooo. Now, much like Maury, I can't bring myself to full-fledged boo-ing. But, a few quiet boo's and giggles between my companion and myself certainly proved satisfying.
The boo's, however, were reserved exclusively for the production. Musically, it was really a very fine evening. Torsten Kerl, the weakest link (Goodbye.), mercifully excused himself and his throat infection after a rocky first act. He was replaced by the very solid Michael Hendrick, who, given the opportunity to sing the entire role may or may not prove to be fairly awesome. And what do you know--a glance at the Met website tells us he will indeed sing the role tomorrow evening. Good news. Now I have plans tomorrow night.
Damrau was in excellent form, as usual. I have to admit--I'm a pretty big fan. She really has a Voice That Won't Quit™. And oh, how I do love a Dependable Singer. Damrau exists somewhere well beyond the dependable, however. And how nice to hear her in Strauss again. It was, after all, her Zerbinetta that at least partially prompted the creation of the Wellsung blog.
One D. Voigt was the real star of the evening. Going out on a limb...I'm going to say that in SOME ways, her performance in this trumps even her Chicago Salome. Not that I find a ton of value in pitting two excellent performances from the same singer against one another but...this role is pretty freaking merciless. She sings it with total ease and confidence. Obviously I enjoyed Salome a lot more--the production was less retarded, and please, it's goddamn Salome.
Anyway, Voigt is the queen. Of everything. And it's terrific that she is a a good sport about this stupid production. Like, she had to have nearly lost her lunch when she first saw the plywood comet or the Omniscient Mussel Covered in Tar.
Speaking of the Mussel of Dreams--poor, poor Jill Grove. Act one: covered head to toe in tar. Act two: in confectioner's sugar. She sang well, though the OmniMuss isn't exactly the role upon which to build a career or anything.
Overall, I'm giving this thing the thumbs up. Yes, the production sucks. A lot. And yes, the libretto makes NO sense. And no, no one would say it's Strauss' finest score. But there are lovely moments. Voigt and Damrau tear it up.
And really, outside of Dresden, are we ever going to see this again?