NY Diaries: Die Meistersinger, Trouble in Mind, Lackawanna Blues
|Die Meistersinger, photo @ Richard Termine|
First things first: Die Meistersinger and Lackawanna Blues have a very limited number of performances. Lackawanna Blues closes this week, Die Meistersinger only has two more performances at the Met. Both are well worth seeing.
|Volle and Kränzle, photo @ Richard Termine|
Lise Davidsen had too much voice for Eva. Eva isn't a big role, and Davidsen's voice is so large and expansive that it overwhelms the kind of coquettish dialogue that Wagner writes for the heroine. Her voice also tends to bloom on top, but most of Eva's music is very central. It was only when Davidsen could really sing out in "O Sachs! Mein freund!" and the Act 3 quartet that her voice made its full impact. Still, what a voice! I can't wait to hear her in meatier roles. And she's a surprisingly good actress. She towered over everyone else in the cast but somehow made us believe she was really an immature, sheltered village girl.
Klaus Florian Vogt's voice is one of those things you either love or don't -- his light, airy, boy soprano sound is not for everyone. I thought he did very well until Act Three when he sings various iterations of the Prize Song. He seemed to push for volume, and that pure sound curdled and the pitch sagged. On the plus side he is a good actor, looks the part of Walther, and has a youthful rather than heroic sound.
Antonio Pappano led a sprightly rendition of the score. As a result, the afternoon bubbled along, and the six hours flew by. The final act has so much joy (complete with a happy polka!) that by the final curtain I don't think anyone in the auditorium wasn't smiling ear to ear. My big worries (spending that long duration in a mask, the marathon run-time) ended up not mattering because of the quality of the performance.
Santiago says Nanny acted like "the government, if it really worked." She provided food ("Everything" Soup and corn bread), shelter, support, safety, The play is constructed as a memory play and somewhere along the line one wonders how much poetic license Santiago took in his remembrances of the sundry characters Nanny cared for at the boarding house. It barely matters though -- Santiago is such a gifted story-teller and so vivid with words and descriptions that the play just works.
The acting is uniformly excellent -- LaChanze is prickly and proud as Wiletta, Jessica Frances Dukes steals the show as Millie. Chuck Cooper was wonderfully blase as Sheldon. The only actor that didn't quite convince was Michael Zegen as Director Manners. Manners is written as a big shot director who can make or break careers. Think Arthur Laurents or Hal Prince. Zegen plays him more as a nervous, wiry assistant stage director rather than the abusive show-biz Svengali.
So how is the play? It was surprisingly funny and timely. There are serious moments but it's also a humorous look at a bunch of actors trying to motivate themselves to act in what they know is a bad play, and a director unsuccessfully trying to sell fool's gold as the real thing. Even the young ingenue Judy ends up complaining that her lines are "so smug." The actors' snarky commentary on a line-reading contrasts with their flowery praise of the play whenever the director is present.
The theme of sexism and age-ism in show business is also very timely -- Wiletta (LaChanze) has an edgy insecurity not only because she's a black actress, but because she's a black actress of a certain age and she knows the well could run dry at any moment. The older male actor Sheldon (Chuck Cooper) doesn't have the same insecurity.
So it's a flawed work, and maybe those flaws are what prevented it from originally transferring to Broadway in 1957. But there's a lot to digest, and much of it is written in a sharp, funny way. If you enjoy "meta" plays about actors putting on a play, or if you are curious about Childress's writing, this producton is excellent.