Review: Metropolitan Opera Virtual ‘At-Home Gala,’ Live from the Stars Living Rooms

By Jonathan Spira on 26 April 2020
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In opera, glitches are typically along the lines of what happened in Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” in the early 1900s, when the boat drawn by a swan moved offstage without him, and he said, audible to the audience, “Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?” or “What time does the next swan leave?”

Back then, opera was performed in grand opera houses.  Today, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, great opera is performed from the homes of the world’s top opera stars in the Metropolitan Opera’s virtual “At-Home Gala,” presented Saturday afternoon, hosted by Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s music director.

The gala was part of the Met’s “The Voice Must Be Heard” fund raising campaign, a fact that an introductory video featuring numerous performers repeatedly reminded us of.

The look into the homes and gardens of major opera stars and members of the Met Orchestra was both moving and a technical triumph. It was largely glitch free, no mean feat given that there were over 40 opera stars phoning in from 15 countries, all using their smartphones, tablets, and laptops with some control-room magic behind the scenes.

Indeed, the only glitch – aside from discovering which opera stars had better connections to the Internet than others – is when the show cut to Günther Groissböck early due to a connection issue with Nicole Car and Étienne Dupuis. The bass-baritone calmly finished his beer before taking the baton and performed – accompanying himself at the piano – Richard Strauss’ “Die Schweigsame Frau” on a homemade set that included a small statue of Wagner wearing a face mask, posters from La Scala, and a model of the Metropolitan Opera house atop the piano. Groissböck’s set changes with the season, he explained, and occasionally has a Harry Potter theme.

The moving performance of “Va, Pensiero” from Verdi’s “Nabucco” by the entire orchestra and chorus was the highlight of the afternoon, first bringing in the individual players until the big orchestral tutti provided a full view.

There were some unusual moments as well as some amusing ones.  Baritone Peter Mattei, from his summer home outside Stockholm, sung the serenade from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” from his living room, a serene lake in the background, accompanied by a most untraditional opera instrument, the accordion, played by a neighbor.

“Welcome to our kitchen,” said Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé in Orange, France, an opera power couple whose children made a cameo appearance. “I just got out of the shower, noted Piotr Beczała, phoning in from Zabnica, Poland. And on the side of Anita Rachvelishvili’s piano was a placard that read “No autographs, please.”

Leading up to Renée Fleming’s stirring “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s “Othello were such great artists as Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak, and Michael Fabiano.

Another moving moment was Joyce DiDonato’s performance accompanied by the orchestra’s viola section of “Ombra Ma Fu” from Händel’s Serse, as a tribute to the late Met violist Vincent Lionti, who lost his life to Covid-19.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in New York provided a stirring à cappella performance Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from “West Side Story,” the lyrics “There’s a place for us” and “There’s a time for us, someday a time us” a solemn reminder for us “to look” and “to care.”

All told, the afternoon showcased the incredible talents of the Met’s performers as well as their versatility.  As a pianist, I especially appreciated those singers who accompanied themselves, such as Groissböck and also tenor Matthew Polenzani, who performed “Danny Boy.”

Since the Met went dark on March 12, it has made a free performance available online every night from its Met Opera On Demand library. Sadly, amidst the lack of funds as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, members of the Met’s orchestra and chorus have not been paid since the end of March, something that went unmentioned during the program.

“A civilized society cannot exist without the performing arts,” Gelb said.  Indeed, the voice must be heard.

THE DETAILS

Met Opera Virtual At-Home Gala
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Limited engagement through April 26, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. EDT
Running time: 4 hours
www.metopera.org

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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