Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Growing up with Opera: Roméo et Juliette at the Metropolitan

We have all of us grown up in different lifestyles; some exalting in traveling countries far and wide following their parent's jobs, while at the same time never knowing a permanent home, others lounging on couches in basements and loitering in mall parking lots smoking and drinking slushies, the epitome of suburban life. Some of us grew up poor, others wealthy, but each of us have been molded by whatever it is we call home. Our understandings of ourselves, our passions and our purpose to the world are so often seeded in our upbringing, albeit we seldom see the connection until years or decades have passed.

I grew up in Minsk, Belarus, and by proxy the Belarusian Bolshoi Opera and Ballet House atop of Troitski Hill. As long as I can remember, my mom worked at the opera house, and as my memory serves me so did I. The walk to the theatre, I have memorized even though I have not seen it for over a decade. I remember the park and the river that leads your way there up the hill. I know the best areas to find mushrooms that have not yet sprung out of the ground, I remember the bushes that would yield the loveliest flowers for my childhood hands to pick, I remember statues of dancing maidens and holding my mother's hand on the walk to what always seemed like a somewhat imposing circular castle of grey.

Until school, most of my memories revolve around the theatre, the yard sandwiched between our apartment building and the Russian Embassy and the cottage in Polochanka where we spent all of our summers. In the theatre, I found myself trailing the big divas, attempting to emulate their cooing voices, daydreaming about their flowy, embroidered skirts. With certain conviction, I can say that for my entire life, my favorite aria has been "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen," sung by the Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute. To this day, I do not know a single word of German in the entire aria, but I have spent countless hours since the day I could walk well enough to trail the head soprano emulating the vocal display inherent to that song. You could not imagine my pride in thinking I could hit the notes as well as the Queen when I was finally old enough to be cast as one of the Peacocks in the show.

Thus I have spent my adolescence, employed as a bird or horse brusher (where I was sure I was being paid the same as my mother, even though I could only afford candy with my salary), and babysat by the rows of velvety cushions surrounding the stage during rehearsals. I am not a musician, but music has flowed through me my entire life: the staging, the colors, the rhythm and dramatic stories are in turn interwoven through my paintings and compositions.

Now, to the present.

I have spent the past six years of my early adult life in New York City, but it has only recently dawned on me to take advantage of the renowned opera programme at the Metropolitan Opera House. I have been so wrapped up in drawing and baking and my numerous hobbies and exploits, I have almost forgotten what has shaped the majority of my worldly opinions and love for history and culture.

Today, I find myself amending the years of neglect, and having perused the extensive season ahead of me, I plan to go to the opera at least once a month. I have been slowly hatching this plan for some time, I have encountered some setbacks and disappointments in being unable to find friends to go with me, but alas, I have found that to be unnecessary. I do not need companionship to be lost in a story of love, tragedy or betrayal, it is equally well savored tout seule.
This week, I attended Charles Goudon's Roméo et Juliette conducted by Placido Domingo. It is a well known story, so I will not lapse into a synopsis, but it was a charming and grand production. A huge screen of royal blue, boasting a gilded image of a monk at a writing desk styled as if pulled from an illuminated manuscript, acts as a veil for the prologue chorus and lifts to reveal a grand party at the Capulet's. The tilted stage with a rotating central axis holds an ensemble of at least 50 brilliantly clad chorus members and dancers acting the role of Capulet's family guests. Stage left and right are flanked with intricate architectural drawings of the home delicately finished in a wood grain, from whence the famed balcony will appear in a later scene. Finishing off the box, in the back is a huge ring, reminiscent of the frame of a watch or compass which will frame the varying sets as the scenes change. A huge chandelier representing the earth and orbits, historically timed with the earth at the centre of the orbiting planets, hangs down to finish the scene evoking a sense of historical philosophers and da'Vincian prototypes.

Starring as Romeo, Piotr Beczala put in a vocally beautiful performance. His voice was magnificent while mingling with Dwayne Croft, in the role of Capulet, James Morris, as Frere Laurent and Hei-Kyung Hong as Juliette. His last aria in act five left me sobbing to myself despite the lack of sympathy I felt for their foolish characters. Bravo!

I found myself somewhat disappointed in Hei-Kyung Hong's singing performance; she had a hard time sustaining her voice in the more challenging arias of her performance. One of these was in the first act at her birthday party, so that put a bit of a damper on her character for me. However, I must admit that I frequently find fault in a soprano's performance, so it is, more logically, a prepossession of my own that leads me to be disenchanted with the heroine. I am always drawn to the lower, velvety voices of Baritones, Tenors and Mezzo-Sopranos. Perhaps, I can find nothing to compare to my memories of the Queen of the Night.

All in all, it was an incredible performance and I am excited to see it on a more intimate setting when my mom's opera company, Belcantanti Opera, performs Roméo et Juliette this spring.

Ciao for now, more operas to come!

*Childhood photos are courtesy of my talented dad, Alexander Souvorov and the portrait of Piotr Beczala and Hei-Kyung Hong is by the Metropolitan.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Daria,
    Thank you very much for your reviev from MET. I wish I could be there. I like Gounod's Romeo and Julette very much. (Though some find it maybe too "sweet")For me it is delicate, poetic and touching. And I like Piotr Beczala's singing very much so I was intersted how he sounded in NY. You have got a very good pen so I will read your next texts on opera. Take care, Ewa