I went to Torino to see Peter Grimes at the Teatro Regio with Mark as Captain Balstrode. I didn't have a lot of time, and couldn't really do the city justice, but I did what I could and saw enough to know that I would go back in a heartbeat to see the rest!
The city is beautiful, the buildings are beautiful, the piazzas
are beautiful, the Palazzo Madama Museum
is brilliant, as are, I'm sure, the Modern Art Museum and the Egyptian Museum which I didn't see.
But Peter Grimes alone was worth the trip.
This production is a veteran, seen in other houses including the Royal Opera House. It is also several years old, which means that much of the original Willy Decker stage direction has been lost in the shuffle. There are some inexplicable choices, but no deal-breakers. The production is generally simple, clean, and handsome.
Neil Shicoff was a brutish and tormented Grimes; whatever he lacked in stature and voice he made up for in artistry. His highlying voice was clarion, the lower register difficult; but he brought intensity, focus and musicality and his peak moments were memorable.
Nancy Gustafson was a perfect Ellen Orford; she has internalized the role, and the presence she conjures, as well as her voice, are pitch perfect for the character and the music.
This was Mark's first Balstrode. He moved quickly from being tentative to being a commanding presence, and sang Britten's music beautifully. Balstrode and Ned (George von Bergen) worked beautifully together, physically and vocally, as they helped haul in Grimes' boat. The Grimes/Balstrode duet was tense and anguished. Scene 2, in the tavern, built inexorably and here as everywhere the chorus was powerful.
The conductor, Yutaka Sado, was insightful, inspired I thought, and the orchestra played brilliantly. Kudos to the brass section, who handled not only the explosive climaxes, but the delicate part writing for soft brass, without ever bobbling a note.
The Grimes/Ellen Orford duet in Act II, after Ellen sees the bruise on the apprentice and realizes the train is going off the tracks, saw temperaments, voices, characters equally matched and pushed to their psychological limits. It was devastating; the doom was palpable. The end is not pretty, but the aggregate effect -- music, voices, drama -- was transcendent.
"Peter Grimes" is not an easy opera, not as hummable as La Traviata or as ingratiating as The Marriage of Figaro. It is about existential loneliness and profound personal anguish, about being an outcast in a world of hypocritical pieties and militant moralism. The music is orchestrally brilliant, but Britten's idiosyncratic vocal writing here requires an attentive ear; it's not hum-along stuff. The principals, the orchestra, the chorus, were firing on all cylinders the night I heard them. It was an evening of gut-wrenching drama and superior music-making, a great night at the opera.
The big surprise for me was the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. I didn't know it was there and didn't know what to expect. The building itself is especially peculiar. Built originally as a synagogue it resembles the top of a skyscraper without the skyscraper, a dome and spire planted firmly on the ground.
The exhibits examine the origins of film from their primitive beginnings in projected shadows and shadow puppets, and then examine the effect of introducing lenses between the light source and the image, making things bigger or smaller, focusing on details or casting spectra of color with prisms. It moves through stereoptical 3-D images or scenes in which manipulating the light source changes the image from day to night, magic lanterns enabling people to see things they wouldn't ordinarily see, satisfying their curiority and taking them on trips. Other devices make the images move by spinning them, an Infernal Concert of dancing skeletons, people getting on streets cars, bringing the miracle of moving images. There is an amazing variety of devices which produce moving images in ingenious ways.
George Demeny took great delight in recording simple moments: his lips saying "je vous aime," or his girlfriend playing with a fan. There is a looped sequence of his early attempts that are infectious with their sheer joy in movement: in one bit, a horse and carriage pass a long wall in one direction while a guy crosses from the other. In another, he leaps widly about; it is exuberant, the sheer joy of motion. It is Andy Warhol, only better; it is mercifully brief, sly and joyous, and created a century earlier.
There are also rooms of memorabilia exhibits: Fellini's hat and scarf, production drawings, important scripts such as the third revised final typescript of Citizen Kane with pencilled notes by Orson Welles and his secretary.
Meanwhile, the interior of the dome is a massive light show. Shutters shut out or let in natural light while projections dance on the interior surface to Phillip Glass and similar spacey music. The effect is magical, and drama is added by the elevator rising slowly and disappearing into the hole at the top of the dome just large enough to accomodate it. The counterweight that descends as the elevator rises is a flat rectangular pendulum of polished chrome. The vast room beneath is filled with recliners with headphones in the headrests where you can lay back and either look up, or at a movie screen showing clips of some of the greatest scenes in film.
Arranged around this area is a labyrinth of rooms, each creating a unique viewing environment for a looped sequence of thematically related scenes. One of the rooms is a lurid red, the round bed in the center is covered in red velvet with matching pillows inviting you to lay down. The screen is in the ceiling above the bed. I watched Marlon Brando fucking Maria Schneider in "Last Tango in Paris." It was the love scene room.
In another room the theme was explosions and included the opening tracking shot of "Touch of Evil," up to and including the car exploding; a head exploding in David Cronenberg's "Scanners," and Belmondo, face painted blue, wrapping his head with dynamite and, well, exploding...
And then there was Joan Allen's orgasmic bath when the walls begin turning colors in "Pleasantville" as her ecstasy builds until the black-and-white house explodes in colorful flames. I had forgotten what a great moment that was!
Torino is beautiful, the snow covered Alps are beautiful, the Palazzo Madama and Palazzo Reale are beautiful, the squares and the buildings are beautiful, the opera is beautiful, but, if you love movies, the real reason to go to Torino is the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. It was built by people who love movies for people who love movies and they have succeeded in giving a layered experience of the phenomenon of film and its culture with a lot of substance and a lot of razzle-dazzle.