I'm very grateful to the Metropolitan Opera for these live broadcasts, since I could never afford a ticket to actual performances at Lincoln Center.
I have seen two of these broadcasts over the last two weeks of two very different operas. Let me mention at the start that the singing is superb in both. No complaints there. The orchestra, which was conducted on both occasions by James Levine, is one of the best there is.
The two productions I saw could not be more different otherwise. Norma, by Bellini, was unrelieved gloom. Much care was taken to build authentic sets depicting the lifestyle of the Druids. A great deal of money was spent building a realistic set, with the result that the entire opera looked like a black and white television show from the fifties. Ralph Kramden would not have appeared out of place on this set, nor would I Love Lucy. The only thing different was the lack of jokes. Ayatollah Khomeini stated that there is no fun in Islam, and apparently there was not much fun in Druidic Gael.
The Druids worshipped Nature. Apparently, if this depiction is accurate, they dressed in burlap. Both men and women wore droopy burlap robes tied carelessly around the waist with something or other that might have been a vine. Norma,the high priestess, however, had other problems. Her lover, and father of her two children, was no longer interested in her, having transferred his affections to her second in command. Then on top of that, the Romans were threatening the tribe.
After much gloom and doom, the lovers were defeated by those pesky Romans but reunited in their love. They agreed to be burned alive on a pyre together, which is as close to a happy ending as it ever gets in Druidland.
On the other hand, the Magic Flute sparkled. Stars twinkled, fireworks went off, dancers danced. The costumes were lavish and colorful. The players had a wonderful time, and so did the audience. All were excellent. Markus Werba as Papageno was a delightful clown, and the rest of the cast were uniformly excellent. Especially notable was Golda Schultz--not the Golda who payed mah jong with your grandma, but a young, vivacious black woman from South Africa who played Pamina.