It is infinitely better entertainment than The Hobbit or Les Miserables. Today we spent more than five hours in the glorious production live from the Met of Les Troyens. Also saw The Hobbit and Les Miserables this past week, but today’s Met production proves yet again the infinite superiority of great opera as pure entertainment, however long. Sure The Hobbit was good family entertainment through which the grandkids and kids (both just hitting forty) sat enthralled, as did I. At times it dragged–just how much great scenery can you see again? The scene of the trolls cooking dwarves was best. Followed a close second by Golum and Bilbo at odds over the ring. There was even some great music; the choral music sung as the dwarves hang on the end of a tree perched over a cliff was great.
Sure Les Miserables was entertaining. The kids skipped and I took the grandson (seven) with some old friends and their ten-year old daughter. Some stirring music, but one does yearn for a bit more musical power and declamation. Too many soft and sweet arias, mouthed by less than singing-skilled actors. Although I must acknowledge some great acting–some of which left us all crying, even though you know they are wrenching the emotion from you for all it is worth.
And so it was with some trepidation that I dragged two old Orange County opera pals to the Huntington Beach Bella Terra movie house at nine on a sunny Saturday morning. Far fewer people in the theater than in Coquitlam on typical rainy Saturdays in Vancouver. Must be the weather, I opined, all the time hoping the opera folk of Orange County did not know something I did not–namely that we were in for bad opera.
A few minutes of the opera dispelled all fears. Here was great music, none of which I can recall hearing hitherto; here were great singers, including Bryan Hymel whom I had not hitherto heard; and here is a great story, one read and seen so many times but here presented with a freshness of the absolute new.
Thus we sat enthralled and overwhelmed through the five hours. “It seemed a lot less than that,” one lady with me noted. The other, having drunk too much the night before, snoozed but briefly through the latter part of the second act.
So to the accolades. As last season when Siegfried was saved by a southerner, Jay Hunter Morris, today a second southerner came through as the hero, of both the story and of the opera. Bryan Hymel is magnificent. OK occasionally just a bit too loud. But that is a tiny issue compared with his voice, his emotional impact, and command of the stage. Except for a trifle too much mass, he is all I ever could have imagined Aeneas to be: a young, impetuous, loud, sensuous, love-stricken, needing a good kick in the pants to get moving, and yet a hero at heart—flawed as they all are.
There was an aria at the beginning of the fifth act (at least just after the second intermission) by (I think) Paul Appleby as Hylas. What a magnificent song did he sing magnificently. I wish I could hear more of him. I will just have to buy the DVD.
The ladies, Susan Graham and Deborah Voigt both gave impressive performances. At least the two ladies with me in the movie house were madly impressed. And I can watch and listen to them both forever. I prefered the edge of Cassandra played by Voigt–what a part to sing and to sing with such conviction. Bravo them both and to all the other ladies in the cast.
The story is simple, a repeat of parts of Virgil’s Aeneid: Troy falls in spite of Cassandra’s warnings; Dido receives Aeneas in Carthage; and she kills herself when he goes off to found Rome. In that short and old story we get in the opera, great love, great folly, great dance, utterly amazing music, and in this production eye-stunning scenery.
This is five hours of complete musical indulgence. So go see it when it is repeated. Sit back and let the story, music, action, and the great singers take you away in a way that is not achieved by the more expensive Hobbit or Les Miserables.