Saturday, June 4, 2011

Le Crépuscule des dieux (Valhalla at the Bastille)

Twilight of the Gods was pretty damned good. It started at 6pm and we got out at midnight. It was opening night, so there were lots of bravos for the singers. Then the producer, set designer and costume guy came on stage and the whole opera house erupted into the most amazing chorus of boos I've ever experienced. It was hilarious. But it was definitely a partisan crowd -- they obviously didn't care at all for Siegfried (who did seem pretty weak, as best as I could judge), but loved Hagen (Hans-Peter Konig), who got spectacular ovations after every act (you could see that the guy who played Siegfried was totally jealous). Also, Sophie Koch, the woman who played Brunnhilde's sister Waltraute, was extremely popular with the crowd, but I think this may have been a case of 'local girl makes good', as she was born and trained in Paris. I don't see how anyone could sing Brunnhilde and not collapse by the end of the evening - she does pretty much all of the heavy lifting in the opera, but when you think that it's 4.5 hours of music and she's onstage for almost all of it, it's phenomenal. But Katarina Dalayman took it all in stride - she was amazing.

The production was kind of minimalist, in an avant-garde kind of way -- everyone wore modern dress, which was a little disconcerting at times. Siegfried wore a business suit and trenchcoat throughout, and the Tarnhelm was just this weird gold scarf that he would use to cover his face. All of the other special effects were done via this enormous semi-transparent video screen that took up half the stage, on which they could project images, but through which you could still see the singers behind the screen. It worked well for some aspects, mainly those involving fire and water. But some of the effects were simply ludicrous -- Siegfried's death scene, for instance, which goes on for about 6 or 7 minutes, as the orchestral accompaniment plays. They attempted to project a kind of 'stairway to heaven' effect on the video screen, but any kind of 3-D perspective was completely missing, and they had the Siegfried image who was climbing up the screen decked out in a kind of late 70's "Abba at their worst" white outfit, with this bizarre horned helmet. The resulting effect was like watching a cancerous moth slowly try to make his way up your Venetian blinds. It was ridiculous, as was the whole Valhalla crumbling bit, which they did by having very inferior video-game Vikings show up on the screen to be shot by a hand with a pistol in the bottom right corner. People were just closing their eyes to listen to the music at that point.

Nonetheless, the whole thing was pretty awesome. The music makes it all work, somehow, despite the length. A lot of mixed-up archetypes, that don't make too much logical sense, but are still resonant, which makes me think the whole cycle will be lots of fun, when I see it in San Francisco. "Rheingold" is on June 28th, a week after I leave Paris -- the entire cycle runs from that Tuesday through the following Sunday.

The Bastille opera house is terrific - I was in row 25 in the parterre (what we would consider the orchestra section in the U.S.) and it was ideal. The seat in front of me was magically vacant, the only one that I could see in the whole orchestra section. So I had an excellent view. It was hilarious during the intermissions to watch people break out the little picnics they had brought, as they fortified themselves for the subsequent acts.

It's around noon on Saturday, so I am headed out to the Musee Guichee (Indian and Asian art) for the afternoon. Later I hope to catch up with Gabriella for one last drink before she leaves for the U.S. tomorrow (Nancy left on Thursday). But when I get home, there's still the 180-page program book to leaf through. It was another 15 Euros added to the already steep ticket price (which you can probably decipher on the photo above). But nobody said culture was cheap!

A demain !

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