(Note: Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier is resplendent in a triumphant Metropolitan Opera production, live in HD, which fully captures the composer’s brilliance while pursuing the delightful intrigues of an action not so much preposterous as satisfyingly intricate. Mounted on a turntable that affords a series of perspectives on a Roman amphitheatre, this superlatively well directed and produced Carmen, Bizet’s masterpiece about love and loss, dramatizes the irresistible force of deep passion submerged beneath the veneer of civilized life. Some promising materials about settlers in Nebraska remain part documentary, part play, in this dutiful staging by a group called Misa Table, otherwise unidentified, performing in the UMass Curtain Theatre. Mark Ravenhill adapts a novel, Nation, by Terry Pratchett for National Theatre broadcast via satellite in a welcome and successful attempt at family entertainment, though it remains sparse in the realm of ideas.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a romp through the works of the Bard by three expert farceurs, joined by at least two audience members, and much appreciated by an overflowing audience. A self-satisfied auteur is evidently at the root of this misguided production of Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty, mounted with too much room left over on the wide, deep stage of the A.R.T. and requiring actors to walk far along the broad, wide platform instead of being crammed into the narrowly confined space called for by the dramatist’s concept. The Metropolitan Opera revives Ambroise Thomas’s dramatic opera Hamlet, based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, or suggested by it, at any rate, but there the resemblance ends, since Thomas’s librettists have claimed sufficient scope and freedom to construct an entirely separate, original piece that turns out to be a roaring good melodrama with all its own reasons for compelling attention from opera-lovers. Alan Bennett is an exceedingly skillful dramatist, and he is fully at home adopting the rehearsal play format of this constantly interrupted comedy The Habit of Art to the exigencies of apparent casual conversation between the composer Benjamin Britten and the poet and dramatist W. H. Auden, to the delight of a local cinema audience watching by HD transmission the production of the play on the National Theatre Lyttleton stage.
The UMass Theater Department production of Little Shop of Horrors, by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, was all that good casting and persistent rehearsal could make it, but not enough to overcome the reviewer’s long disaffection with the American musical. The last offering in the current series of Metropolitan Opera productions, Rossini’s Armida is given a breathtaking mounting featuring bravura singers including no fewer than six tenors, along with the supremely gifted Renée Fleming in the title role. Terminal ennui is the dramaturgical goal in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, a term in chess that in the dramatist’s hands takes on human dimension and develops a comedic tone along the way, as two wonderfully contrasted actors capture the dramatic qualities of futility, creating a large quantum of human interest reflective of the playwright’s singular genius. “Who was Boucicault?” asked a colleague of the reviewer’s, ignorant of the oversize workaday talent of this Victorian-era craftsman, so prolific that his plays have remained uncounted, even as the best of them, including the present London Assurance, continue to enjoy revival by the National Theatre, broadcast in this instance to cinemas across America and beyond.
For its summer season New Century Theatre offers four plays, including Frayne’s Noises Off (a stage direction elevated to title status), Jack Neary’s To Forgive, Divine, Singer, Long, and Winfield’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and one more serious play, Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel; it remains a fascinating puzzle how Michael Frayne can be the author of a rollicking farce and also of a thoughtful, serious drama, Copenhagen. Continuing another successful summer, Tina Packer’s Lenox, Massachusetts, Shakespeare & Company casts the statuesque African-American actor John Douglas Thompson in the title role of Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King Richard III, to the great delight and clear understanding of the reviewer’s very well-entertained grandson. Adjudged the best new play of 2004, Joanna McLelland Glass’s two character work Trying by implication calls in doubt the general quality of that year’s dramatic output, and yet captures an incisive study of character in the personage of Francis Biddle, the primary American judge at the Nuremburg trials. A spectacular Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, magnificently well staged by Robert Lepage, who has invented a set of manipulable scenic “planks” inspired by Adolph Appia’s high blank walls and ascending staircases, raises extensive musings about the history of scenography and stage lighting and the human implications of the mythic foundations of Wagnerian art.
Broadcast live in HD is the Metropolitan Opera’s wonderful production of Moussorgsky’s brilliant Boris Godunov, on an epic scale of vast realization, timing out at over five hours and featuring an expanded Met chorus, arguably the best in the world, the ensemble representing the large-scale resources of this opera company stretched to their perceivable limit. The theme of suppression of natural human longings rises high in this UMass Theatre Department production of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, ably directed by Toby Bercovici, creating an intense, increasing tension that carries all before it, with tragic results. One of the best of all Valley Light Opera productions, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri, appears on its local home stage, the Amherst Regional High School auditorium, to great effect and resulting in much merriment on the part of a delighted audience. And we just loved this Met Opera production of Donizetti’s mellifluous Don Pasquale, in which the Norina is flawlessly sung by the gymnastic Anna Netrebko, to Matthew Polenzani’s lyrical Ernesto, conducted for the first time by James Levine presiding over this flagrantly comical musical romp.)