This week has been full of music. I started on Monday with the free dress rehearsal of Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach at the Metropolitan Opera. Our seats were way up at the top balcony, but how can I complain about seeing one of the best opera companies in the world at no charge? And it was an incredible show, although it turned out to be a four hour commitment. Most of the other people there were retirees that had brought miniature bottles of red wine and sandwiches for the two intermissions, whereas Sean and I just had one scone to sustain us. The production itself was stunning and half the fun was seeing what new set and costumes were going to be unveiled next. There was a giant rotating dragon, a gondola rowing across the stage, a horde of umbrellas decorated with giant eyes, even a skeleton dressed in a top hat that wandered in the background. The details were incredible, even from the top balcony. The lead, Joseph Calleja, took a break after the first act due to a cold (saving himself for this week’s premiere), but even in one act his voice got ingrained in my head. The understudy wasn’t bad, but it was unfortunate that there was a reprise of one of the first songs at the end for comparison.The whole thing was in French, although I wasn’t able to understand anything as this was opera, but there were cool subtitle screens on the seats that made it easy to follow.
The plot was a little insane, but I’ll try to sum it up. As the translation of the French title is The Tales of Hoffmann, the plot is the story of Hoffmann’s three loves. Or rather, people he loves, as none of the women reciprocates. And each is more tragic for Hoffmann than the last. The first, Olympia, turns out to be a robot. The second, Antonia, is an artist with a bad heart and dies when the ghost of her mother comes and encourages her to sing. The third, Giulietta, is a prostitute who steals Hoffmann’s reflection. And throughout all these stories, Hoffmann is accompanied by his muse in disguise and is followed by a nemesis who is played by the same actor in different characters. The villain was my favorite. Played by Alan Held, he had this ridiculously evil laugh each time he entered the stage. But the whole cast was really incredible. I don’t know much about opera, and honestly hadn’t much enjoyed my previous opera experiences, but I would totally see this again. I’m going to have to keep my eye out for future free dress rehearsal tickets. You can see some clips from Les Contes d’Hoffmann in this YouTube interview with the director, Bartlett Sher.
That evening, after packing up my apartment, we visited the holiday market in Union Square and had apple cider before going to a Japan Brand event at Felissimo. There were tons of products made in Japan, as well as sake and various Japanese appetizers. The entertainment was live floral arranging that represented the seasons. That’s right, we watched someone arrange flowers and it was actually quite entertaining.
Tuesday was moving day, which went relatively smooth. I got all my things packed into the van and we made it quickly to my new place, only to find that the girl who was moving out was still there. So, we had to move my things temporarily into the living room, but I don’t have many possessions so it wasn’t a big deal.
That night I went to see the Mountain Goats play at Webster Hall. I had actually seen them once before at Webster Hall, back in March 2008 when I came to visit Elizabeth. It’s not exactly an intimate venue, but they always put on a great show regardless of the space, even if I think the more delicate John Darnielle songs work better in small venues like the Opolis in Norman. I really miss the Opolis sometimes, where people were unfailingly polite, while crammed in a space the size of my current apartment. The crowd was horrible at Webster Hall, or at least the three people I was standing in front of. The whole time they were complaining that they “didn’t sign up for this” and that there wasn’t enough music to dance to and they didn’t recognize the songs. And I was just thinking, why the hell would you pay $25 for a concert for a band you’re not familiar with if you’re not willing to be surprised? And then ruin the experience for everyone around you? It was a much better experience after I moved further back.
Well, back to the music. Final Fantasy was the opener and I was blown away. I was familiar with his music, but hadn’t really thought about how it would be performed live. He recorded each violin part himself, then played them back while adding new strings over them. It was one of the coolest sets I’ve ever seen. This video of “The Butcher” should give you a good idea of his live presence (video is from another concert, not the one I went to).
The Mountain Goats were great as always. I think this was my fourth time seeing them. And it was a nice to surprise to see that they were joined by Perry Owen Wright of the Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. I still regularly listen to The Mother Of Love Emulates The Shapes Of Cynthia and think he is a wonderful musician. I awkwardly interviewed him for a story I wrote for the OU paper way back when I was a young journalism student and the Mountain Goats were doing a show with Prayers and Tears in Norman. I hope he creates a new album and tours again soon.
The Mountain Goats set included tracks from the new album, The Life of the World to Come, as well as older songs like “Going to Georgia,” “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?,” and my favorite, “Against Pollution.” Which actually, I have a recording of Perry Owen Wright singing. God, I hope he doesn’t google himself and think I am insane. Well, enough fangirling, I’ll just say that the show was breathtaking and much needed after a rough fall of unemployment. If you want, there’s a complete set list and great audio of the show at nyctaper. You can also watch a good video from the concert of “Old College Try” on YouTube.