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Dramatics in Isolation: The Nightly Met Opera Streams Reviewed

Kwan-Ann Tan gives her take on a week of free online performances from the Metropolitan Opera of New York.

On the 13th of March, the Met Opera’s Twitter announced that they would begin a series of ‘nightly live streams’ of beloved operas for anyone with internet access (and the enduring patience necessary to sit through three hours of singing). Despite really enjoying opera, I had only ever seen one — Eugene Onegin, in its run at the Oxford New Theatre — so it was rather exciting to see that the Met were going to livestream operas I’d never been able to catch in real life.

Opera had been on my mind since I decided to self-isolate at the beginning of 8th week, mostly because I soon discovered after staying at home all day that there were one or perhaps two people who would practise their singing in my building or that across from me (I say one or two because while my flatmate and I agreed that there was a tenor, she couldn’t hear the soprano I often detected). A week of rather more professional renditions awaited.

17th of March — George Bizet’s Carmen

After a mad dash out to gather books from the university libraries before their final closure, I sat at my desk, huddled away from the world in a blanket, to watch Carmen. The wonderful thing about Carmen is that all the songs are so well loved that you don’t really have to concentrate to figure out what’s going on — just sit back and let the music wash over you. Even at the end, as brutal as it is, you can’t help but feel a wave of satisfaction.

18th of March — Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohéme

The work opens with a crew of Bohemians artists struggling to keep warm: in order to do so, the writer of their group volunteers to burn his manuscript, making a lovely, crackling fire. As an English student with similarly bleak job prospects, I found it particularly relatable. For me, the opera peaks at the end of the second act, as Ainhoa Arteta in the role of Musetta sings an absolutely gorgeous rendition of ‘Quando m’en vo’ soletta / Musetta’s Waltz’. Puccini’s strength is in his ensemble pieces, and this one is gloriously performed — at once tender, controlled and seductive, with a touching reunion at the end of it all.

19th of March — Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore

The plot of this opera was a little too dramatic and far-fetched for my personal tastes, and while Anna Netrebko is always lovely to watch at work, her character, Leonora, was too spineless and irritating for me to truly enjoy her performance. One pleasant surprise was the casting of Yonghoon Li as Manrico, a troubadour with a complicated past involving being vengefully kidnapped as a child by a group of gypsies… honestly, the plot itself has too many twists to explain here. At any rate, in the end Leonora dies from poisoning herself and Manrico is executed. This was probably my least favourite of the week on account of the terribly bleak staging and drab costumes.

20th of March — Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata

Here was another beloved oeuvre, and one which I really loved, especially after the bleak greys of Il Trovatore. Verdi has range, that’s for sure. Throughout the opera lies an undercurrent of a waltz-three-step, which buoys the plot from dramatic beginning to tragic ending. I found it particularly interesting that the director chose to bring the end to the beginning, starting off with Violetta’s deathbed, and casting the rest of the events in the shadow of a fever dream.

21st of March — Gaetano Donizetti’s La fille du regiment

The comic opera La fille du regiment was her augmented by the special appearance of Kathleen Turner as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a non-singing role. This light-hearted romp was a welcome respite from the heavy dramatics of quite literally every other opera so far. It distinguishes itself by some unique tricks and idiosyncrasies, like Javier Camarena hitting nine high Cs in the song ‘Ah! Mes amis … Pour mon âme’…which, I assure you, is quite amazing to listen to and probably quite impossible to recreate.

22nd of March — Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Why do people insist on casting Anna Netrebko as ridiculously pathetic female leads? This is based loosely on Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor (and read: loosely). More traditionally Scottish names have been swapped out for Italian first names, but it is still set in ‘Scotland’. Of all the tragedies so far, this one is the most deliciously gothic, combining ghosts and old castles in a really beautiful setting.

23rd of March — Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

The last one, and strangely fitting, given this was the first opera I ever saw. I’m slightly biased because I love all of Tchaikovsky’s music, but the plaintive strings and opening scene of Onegin all alone, snow (or torn pieces of letter) raining down overhead, is one of the more lasting images I will take from this production.

I had thought that this week would be it, that I would be free from the daily dramatics of opera for a while yet. I had: that is, until I found out that the Met are doing another week of live streams. This time, they’re doing Wagner, starting with Tristan und Isolde —how could I say no to that?

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