(blog, not review)
Of course it’s a treat just to be in the Metropolitan Opera House, as it opens its second half-century, and I was lucky to be asked to the dress rehearsal. The lobby was jammed with school groups and ticket-seekers--it seemed as if every one of my grandfather's neighbors was peering up at me, asking if I had an extra ticket, or “maybe you’ll have one later?”
The crush was not for Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, which wasn’t new, but because Placido Domingo, who had been sick, was there to sing the title role, and music director emeritus James Levine, who has been very sick, was on the podium. It was grand to see Domingo, and thrilling to have Levine, and be reminded of what he can do with the Met Orchestra brass section, but the show was accidentally stolen by a production mishap.
It was during the dark second act, with a giant golden statue of Baal with horns atop a staircase of a structure like a Mayan temple. On either side of the idol burned a torch. OK, so what, there were 50 like it in the previous scene, whose set (by John Napier) slowly revolved to the rear to reveal the shadowy temple on its other side.
Abigaille had screamed a warrior aria (it wasn’t Liudmyla Monastyrska, it’s the role, and I can’t imagine how much stamina it takes to do early Verdi). She was upstaged when three guys hurried in with a ladder, which they climbed next to the temple staircase.
The whole house sat up straight, however, when the top guy opened a fire extinguisher onto the torch and statue, and a high-speed smoke jet shot out and began to engulf the massive stage. By the time I noticed that the sprayers were not cast members, figures in black were rushing the stage from all over the house. I never thought about how many unseen observers were posted, in case of this--or anything.
The curtain came down in front of clouds of smoke, and a rattled-looking woman appeared to tell the audience there would be a ten-minute break.
The fiery incident brought back Hildegard Behrens in Brunnhilde’s Immolation scene (1990), riding her horse onto the burning pyre, and getting clonked on the head by a falling beam. (We thought it was part of the staging then, until the curtain came down and a rattled little fellow in a gray suit said she had been taken to the hospital.)
I ran to the lobby and got coffee and a sandwich ($19.00), because I knew I’d never have a chance on the intermission line. When the curtain rose again, 35 minutes later, the audience tittered in relief to see the torches safely contained. Abigaille gamely plowed through her aria again, and the rest of the performance went smoothly.
Which gives me a minute to mention the beautiful choruses and the iconic Va, pensiero, so beloved that when Verdi died, people walked through Milan singing it. Levine took it small (gasp!), as if he were calming gently rippling waters. Oh Jimmy. Oh my soul.