Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ring, Week One

Think I may have mentioned this before, but this Spring, I am going to my first-ever Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera. It is a pretty major splurge for me, but I'm very psyched about it. I am not one of those "The Ring Cycle is The Greatest Thing in The History of Performing Arts" guys, but I do think it is a pretty incredible achievement that just gets better and deeper the more time you spend with it, and I'm really excited and awed to be able to experience it live. Which experience began on Saturday afternoon with Das Rheingold, which you heard live on the radio if you make a habit of following the Live at the Met Opera Broadcasts.

So where to begin? How 'bout with our seats? Carrie (an unexpected opera fan friend who dove into the Ring with me) got into the game pretty late and have fairly limited budgets, so we ended up with Balcony Box seats. We're in the first box on house right, meaning we are very close to the stage and can look down on the singers and the orchestra pit. We're in the box number 2 in the second (yellow) rung on this chart:

This graphic gives a sense of HOW high up over the stage we are. But it doesn't do such a good job at showing how much CLOSER to the stage we are than we would be if we were back in the balcony proper. This next chart does a slightly better job at that:

In this chart, picture us sitting where the number 2 is in the goldenrod 'Boxes Even" column on the left. This comes closer to doing justice to our proxmity to the performers. And sort of gives you an idea of our sightline...

You see, when you're in our particular box, there are some pros, and some cons.

The pros:

  • You're really close to the stage - MUCH closer than in the balcony proper.

  • You can see the conductor and the orchestra, so you can watch all the musical goings-on. And let me tell you: that adds something. I appreciated being able to see the harpists stand their intruments up when they were finished with their section; I appreciated being able to watch the incredible conductor James Levine doing his thing; I certainly have an appreciation I didn't have before of Maestro Levine's endurance: Rheingold has no intermission, and no breaks in the orchestral music, so the one guy who isn't able to take even a 3 second break in the whole 2 1/2 hours is the conductor.

  • You can see some of the 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain' parts of the stage magic - you can see the little slide built in behind the 'rocks' for the Rhinemaidens to 'swim' down; when the Niebelungen are getting ready to climb up from underground with their bags of gold, you see it; when Donner and Froh are piling up gold as high as Freia between the giants' staffs, you can see Freia kind of crouching down and taking a rest behind the pile. Not everyone would be into that, but I think it's a treat.

  • You have your own semi-private hallway leading to the boxes. Not a big deal at all, but it does add a kind of fun approach to the experience.

  • The sound is great. This is true throughout the Met, and while I'm sure we're missing out on the balance that's audible in the front of Parterre, it still sounds amazing.

The cons:

  • You are WAY HIGH UP THERE. The stage is big enough and deep enough that you're not just looking at the tops of people's heads, but they aren't really singing to YOU unless they're raging at the heavens or something.

  • There's no sitting back in your seat. Unless you don't care if you're not seeing anything. The angle is so extreme that you have to sit up at the edge of your seat if you want to see, and have to lean over the railing if you want to see much. At first, this seemed like a REALLY BIG CON. But as the day went on, I appreciated the way it sort of enforces active observation: sit up to see this, lean in to see that, shift over to glance at the surtitles, sit back and take a rest. I found a repertoir of optimal postures pretty quickly, and by the end of the fourth opera, I'll be playing them like a virtuoso.

  • The sightline is seriously compromised. In fact, it kind of sucks. There's no way to spin this as anything but a big fat compromise to get to all the good stuff (including the relatively affordable - but still really expensive - ticket price) You can see a lot, but there's a lot you miss no matter how much you lean over the rail. You can't really see the upstage wall at all. This is a big problem. Opera at the Met is larger-than-life spectacle, and this production is an emphatic example of that. And while we can see a lot, there is a lot we miss. For instance, Das Rheingold begins with a discussion of the completion of the construction of Valahalla, the palace/fortress of the Gods, and it ends with a coterie of Gods and Goddesses walking off to the Rainbow Bridge that will take them there.

See how that gorgeous image is painted/projected onto the wall up there? Yeah, we couldn't see that. At all. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that this is going to be my least favorite thing about this whole operation.

And then there are some things that may be pros or cons depending on how they pan out. For instance: these boxes are set up for four people. There are the two of us, and two other guys. SO there's potential for that to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, or an awkward intimacy. Das Rheingold has no intermission, so we didn't really talk to the other two guys at all, but I'm guessing that by the time we get to the Valkyrie's "Hojoto Hos" we'll know something about each other.

Don't get me wrong guys: pros and cons weighed, this was an awesome event. And I am not using that term lightly - the amount of effort and artistry involved, from so many people, in service of such an amazing musical and dramatic creation, is truly... awesome.

Stay tuned for more next week...

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