Saturday, February 14, 2015
Iolanta in HD
CONDUCTOR: Valery Gergiev
PRODUCTION: Mariusz Treliński
DRAMATURG: Piotr Gruszczyński
IOLANTA: Anna Netrebko (soprano)
COUNT VAUDÉMONT, friend of the Duke: Piotr Beczala (tenor)
DUKE ROBERT, Iolanta's Fiance: Aleksei Markov (baritone)
KING RENÉ, Iolanta's father: Ilya Bannik (bass)
IBN-HAKIA, Moorish Doctor: Elchin Azizov (baritone)
Tchaikovsky's Iolanta is based on a Danish play which is in turn based on the real life of Yolande, Duchess of Lorraine. For the simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera the story is moved in time to the twentieth century.
People around me expressed confusion about the production, but I didn't experience this. There is a naturalistic looking set with a single room representing Iolanta's imprisonment that is turned to various positions throughout the opera, surrounded by a few trees and a stack of wood. Between the stage and the audience is a scrim on which various things are projected, probably the source of the confusion. The projections begin with a deer running through the woods. It was immediately clear to me that this was to create the idea that we are in the middle of the woods, far from human civilization. The projections changed to ominous looking branches when the desired atmosphere was dark and mysterious. Why is this confusing?
Because the women who surround Iolanta are dressed in uniforms, we assume that she is being kept in some kind of institution. She talks to Marta, the head nurse, and tells her she is sad. She then asks Marta why Marta is sad, and though Marta does not tell her, Iolanta concludes that this is due to the tears flowing from her own eyes. She tells us that eyes must be for tears. This is the plot, you see. She does not know what they are truly for because she is blind and has not been told.
A doctor arrives to treat her, and he insists that Iolanta must be told everything. Father refuses. Young men arrive with skiing equipment, one of whom is her fiance. This is the most farfetched piece of the story. No, not the skiing part--the fiance part. He has never met Iolanta and talks about how much he is in love with someone else. He rejects Iolanta without ever having seen her. He leaves.
Piotr Beczala is left behind to meet and fall in love with Iolanta. She can't tell the difference between the white and the red roses, giving away the fact that she is blind. He tells her this and explains about light and seeing. This is the most beautiful part of the opera. Light was the first act of creation, he explains. There is a poetical beauty that is rare in opera.
All live happily ever after. Iolanta is cured, the fiance and father agree that Iolanta will not marry him, God is thanked, and joy abounds. A large chorus appears and Iolanta asks what this is. People, father explains. Netrebko then comes backstage to tell us it's Valentine's Day, and we should go home and enjoy ourselves. These are not appropriate Valentine's Day operas. We knew that.
This was very beautifully done, very emotionally done, with beautiful playing from the orchestra which is exactly perfect for this music. (You know I don't always think this.) Gergiev knows his repertoire. The singers were all gorgeous with wonderful solos for all 5 of the listed characters. Anna Netrebko sings Russian music like she was born for this. For me she successfully suggested blindness.
I couldn't help thinking about Queen of Spades, an opera that is very familiar to me, and how I have never heard the perfect one. Anna. Please.
P.S. The New York Times has informed me that this opera has been very popular in Russia, that to make it acceptable in the Soviet Union the libretto was altered to omit all references to the deity. The communists praised nature and not God. That Netrebko and others of the Russian artists insisted on singing the version they had learned, that is the religiously cleansed version. The motivation was undoubtedly the lack of desire to learn a different Russian text. The surtitles translated the original libretto and not the one the singers were actually singing. Curious.
Others have pointed out that this version of Bluebeard is actually interesting. I left early on, but perhaps I will go on Wednesday.