Tuesday 3 July 2018

The good the bad and the ugly: Susan Froemke's The Opera House

Susan Froemke The Opera House at Barbican Cinema  
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 1 July 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Susan Froemke's film marking the 50th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center

This Sunday afternoon, 1 July 2018, Barbican Cinema 3 showed a new film by award winning documentary filmmaker Susan Froemke, The Opera House. The film marks the 50th anniversary of The Metropolitan Opera’s tenure at the Lincoln Centre in New York, and it’s well worth a couple of hours of any opera buffs time.

As it sashayed from one subject to another it sometimes felt a bit of a mish-mash, trying to be all things to all people. The ponderous examinations of the minutiae of the architecture palled, killing a perfectly good anecdote about the happenstance design of the stunning Austrian crystal chandelier. Notwithstanding, it managed to be an absorbing and illuminating dissection of an artistic vision and the renaissance of the Metropolitan Opera company.

The potted biographies particularly of the bowler hatted Rudolph Bing and Robert Moses’ messianic pursuit of urban-renewal gave us some compelling insights. The frankly extraordinary amount of power that Moses and Rockefeller were able to wield caused gasps and giggles at their sheer audacity.

What really made this film sing were its first-hand accounts from a boy chorister to the glamorously garrulous Leontyne Price, the film's linchpin, they were a delight. Their eyes sparkled with passion, not just for the love of Opera but for the Metropolitan Opera family. The stories of the glamour and shortcomings of the old “yellow brewery” and the trials and tribulations of building and opening a new opera house with nine new productions were brought vividly to life.

But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour, Froemke doesn’t shy away from tackling some of the stickier social issues involved in the scythe of progress that bulldozed 45 acres to produce the mighty temple to the arts that is the Lincoln Centre. The startlingly sobering interviews of the then dispossessed children - “we were nobody” - rubbed shoulders with images of the Met’s ground-breaking ceremony where without any apparent irony they played Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Ouch! Did they think it had been worth their sacrifice? It wasn’t answered, but in the fullness of time I would hope so – but then I would say that wouldn’t I.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Russian Romantics: music for violin & piano by Glinka, Glazunov, Cui, Rubenstein, & more (★★★) - CD review
  • Powerful & emotional stuff: Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse at RCM Double Bill - Opera review
  • What a delightful voice: getting to know the music of Francesco Gasparini (★★★★) - CD review
  • Coming into focus: Kasper Holten's production of Don Giovanni returns to the Royal Opera  (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • A great big present: Stephen Medcalf on returning to Buxton to direct his favourite piece, Idomeneo  - interview
  • Handel's finest arias for base voice - Christopher Purves, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Story-telling in America: Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Each a world unto itself: Arvo Pärt The Symphonies (★★★★) - CD review
  • Intimate, candid and completely fascinating: The Tchaikovsky Papers - unlocking the family archive (★★★★) - book review
  • Notable debuts & a veteran director: Die Entführung aus dem Serail from the Grange Festival - opera review
  • Home

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