(Note: Puccini borrows from David Belasco’s play Girl of the Golden West to realize this verismo-style opera La Fanciulla del West, given a full realistic treatment by the Metropolitan Opera in this live in HD broadcast. At first it just seems that Buckminster Fuller has been booked into the Loeb Theatre at the American Repertory Theatre to give a lecture on “The History and Mystery of the Universe,” but the evening expands, through the artistry of that masterful A.R.T. actor Thomas Darrah, impersonating Fuller, to become a memorable, moving presentation of the possibility of saving all of humankind from hunger. Derek Jacobi as the old man King Lear makes his way to a tragic end, in this Donmar Theatre production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, in which all the characters and not just the ancient king suffer terminally owing to their crucial lack of self-knowledge. Composed and conducted by the composer John Adams himself, Nixon in China is an intense operatic recounting of Richard Nixon’s momentous visit in 1972, capturing the remarkable history of that event and bringing to the stage a musically deep and adventurous rendering of the man Nixon and his very unhappy and much distresssed wife Pat, all to a superlative score by Adams and enhanced by an expert though not trouble-free mounting by Peter Sellars.
Cristoph Willibald Gluck was a marvellous composer who wrote for much smaller ensembles than those marshalled by the Metropolitan Opera into its gigantic orchestra pit; here, with this production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, derived from a somber play with a happy ending by Euripides, Gluck’s rich music manages to shine through, capturing the story of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and sister of Orestes, siblings who each spend most of the opera thinking the other is dead but who happily discover one another at the end. Sophocles’ seldom mounted tragedy Ajax in a new translation by Charles Connaghan is given a less than clear production by the American Repertory Theatre, still beset by the political exigencies of the reign of the auteur, an overwhelming presence that persists here, to the detriment of a simpler, more textually aware approach to classic plays. The tragically doomed heroine of much opera emerges once again in this splendid production of Donizett’s Lucia di Lammermoor, based on the novel by Walter Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor, a culturally revealing figure about whom so much is being written today. More opera, this time a wonderful romp of a comic opera by Rossini, Le Comte Ory, featuring Juan Diego Flórez, a seducer extraordinaire masquerading as a nun, fully captured by the composer’s magical music played at a defiantly furious pace. It is amazing what can be found at one’s local cinema these days, as in the case of two versions of the spectacular horror story Frankenstein, based on the novel by Mary Shelley, in which Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, to the double delight of local audiences fully held by this Live in HD broadcast from the National Theatre in London. Renée Fleming revels in the luxury of the supremely difficult music given to the role of the Countess in Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, broadcast live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera stage, in which decadence acquires an authentic charm that makes it almost wholesome.
One is sometimes surprised by how professional an amateur production manages to be, as in the case of this Smith College mounting of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic The Pirates of Penzance, cast entirely with undergraduates except for two faculty members and affording many opportunities for so-called “trouser roles,” including a student who can sing the Pirate King at an octave lower than her usual voice. A holiday visit to Provincetown offers a chance to visit Eugene O’Neill’s original theatre, but a production there of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor fails to fulfill even the slightest hopes, and proves so dreadfully amateurish that it drove the reviewer and his companion out at the first intermission. A new Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner’s Die Walküre by the very innovative Robert LePage features computer-driven “planks” that represent any setting from hell to heaven and is lighted magnificently well, enhancing the superb voices of a premium international cast. To the Amherst Cinema once again, this time for a live in HD broadcast from the American Airlines Theatre in New York City of Brian Bedford’s carefully calculated production of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, aimed at what is called “the Broadway audience” but which ended up playing down to it, with somewhat disappointing results, while still managing a creditable approach to a timeless play. A fine production by New Century Theatre of a brilliant play by Tina Howe, Painting Churches, about an artist daughter who makes the mistake of coming home to help her elderly parents pack up and move to new quarters from the Beacon Hill home they all have shared for some years, with revealing though unhappy results. Once again, Amherst Cinema presents a National Theatre Live production, this time of Chekhov’s modern classic play The Cherry Orchard, with Zoë Wanamaker as Madame Ranevskaya, whose unhappy residence in a draughty, barn-like structure preserves many memories and, more important, is the present scene of the dramatist’s telling format of an arrival, a sojourn, and a departure, somehow finding meaningful truth in the inevitable passage of time. A two-character play by Jon Robin Baitz called Three Hotels, on the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s main stage, revived after twenty years and to much good effect, is acted by seasoned performers and wonderfully well directed by Robert Falls.)