Spellbound at the Met
by Edith Goldenzohn
As a recent ex-New Yorker, my California family and friends have frequently asked me what I miss most about New York. At the top of my list is the Metropolitan Opera. Having lived just across town from Lincoln Center, and having been a volunteer at the Lincoln Center Information Desk for some years, I thought of the Met as MY Met and, of course, through the many years, I had experienced some great performances there. It has been no surprise to anyone, therefore, that in the two years I have been a resident of Los Gatos, I have returned to visit New York a number of times, and always during the opera season.
In November, 2005 I was in New York at the Met for a performance of Romeo et Juliette with Natalie Dessay and Ramon Vargas in the lead roles. I had seen Gounod's opera a couple of times in the past, but at this memorable performance it was as if I were seeing and hearing it for the first time. Dessay and Vargas were so perfectly cast, so youthful, agile, and emotionally engaged with one another, that it seemed as if they were not just singing Romeo and Juliette, they WERE Romeo and Juliet. Ms. Dessay sang with enormous artistry and emotion, and I had read somewhere that she had wanted at one time to be an actress and had studied acting as well as ballet. That was so evident in all of her moves on stage. Mr. Vargas' warm, elegantly smooth singing had its exciting moments as well, and he acted as such a sweet, charming, playful Romeo so that he had his audience liking him from the very start. The rest of the cast were all in excellent form and very well directed on stage, and I thought Bertrand de Billy's conducting gave perfect balance to the entire performance.
This new production was also extremely visually effective. Except for Juliet's bed which unexplainedly had to rise up into the heavens, the set was unusual in that one was transported to Renaissance Italy and its streets and buildings, but the focus was always on the two star-crossed lovers on a stage that split apart to reveal a starry night sky as a backdrop to a timeless, otherworldly circular setting.
This was one night at the Met when 4,000 people sat spellbound throughout the evening - no rattling, coughing, whispering, tapping, etc. As the woman next to me said while we were standing and "bravo-ing" at the end, "This is what grand opera is all about!"
(SJOG Newsletter November, 2006 Issue)