Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers & Das Rheingold-A Tale of Two Lokis

(*MILD SPOILER WARNING* for both venues)

Saturday May 5th was a power day packed full of superheros and villains. I saw Joss Whedon's The Avengers in the morning and caught the last performance of Robert Lepage's production of Das Rheingold that evening at the Metropolitan Opera. The result? Superhero flick and opera are two genres that compliment one another in very surprising ways - at least as far as these two venues are concerned.

First up is my assessment of The Avengers. Joss Whedon did what he does best - ensemble direction at its finest and a brilliant script that gave Marvel's superheros poignance as well as punch. For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Whedon's work, he was put on the map by Buffy The Vampire Slayer the movie and then TV series which spawned the spinoff Angel and then went on to create one of the finest science fiction series in the history of television - the cult favorite Firefly which led to his movie directing debut in Serenity - the Firefly movie that came about by the fans and for the fans. Previously he was known in the business as a "script doctor" - the guy or gal who is called in to basically save a mediocre script's hide in order to make it acceptable (in his case brilliant) for the screen. Many Whedon fans in the 'Verse were rooting for him. He's an incredibly talented and intelligent director/writer whose time was due after the heartbreak he endured when his beloved Firefly was cancelled by Fox Television. (I could go on a rant about that situation, but it has no place in this particular blog…) From all appearances, The Avengers has ushered in his era of film making.

The special effects did not eclipse the acting one iota and there was not a weak link in the entire cast. My only complaint was that Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts character was marginalized in the movie, but there was a lot to pack in for a 2 hour and 23 minute run time so I actually was pleased her character made it into the movie at all. Other pivotal female characters did not make the cut including Jane Foster (Thor's main squeeze) who only got a brief mention as to her safe whereabouts. Whedon's footprint is left all over The Avenger's universe with his clever, quicksilver dialogue that never stoops to the lowest common denominator, his moody camera angles that display a perspective of a common scene transforming it into an artistic moment in time, his incredible comedic timing enhanced by the actors and his quirky scenes that show the human side of the characters that could have easily been lost in the big budget and grandiosity of The Avengers storyline. Examples of some of Whedon's trademarks include a scene where we see Captain America's reaction in a smashed motorcycle mirror on the ground (the common scene transforming it into an artistic moment in time thing I was writing about) and a very human moment for our team - not to add a spoiler, but Middle Eastern cuisine is in your future if you have the patience. Examples of Whedon signature ensemble dialogue moments include:

Natasha Romanoff: Loki has them under some kind of spell. Along with one of ours.
Steve Rogers: I wanna know why Loki let us take him. He's not leading an army from here.
Bruce Banner: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
Thor: (With a Shakespearian delivery) Have care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.
Natasha Romanoff: He killed 80 people in 2 days.
Thor: (Waits a beat) He's adopted…

And this little gem of an exchange…

Security Guard: Are you an alien?
Bruce Banner: What?
Security Guard: From outer space, an alien.
Bruce Banner: No.
Security Guard: Well then son, you've got a condition.

And finally:

Loki: It's an impressive cage. Not built, I think, for me.
Nick Fury: Built for something a lot stronger than you.
Loki: Oh, I've heard, the mindless beast. Let's pray he's still a man. How desperate are you? That you call on such lost creatures to defend you?
Nick Fury: How desperate am I? You threaten our world with war, you steal a force you can't hope to control, you talk of peace but you kill because it's fun. You have made me VERY desperate. You might not be glad that you did.
Loki: Ooh, it burns you to have come so close, to have the Tesseract, to have power, unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all of mankind to share? And then to be reminded of what real power is.
Nick Fury: Well let me know if "real power" wants a magazine or something.

Then there are the Tony Stark one liners. The definitive script isn't out yet, but I have a feeling Mr. Downey, Jr. also enhanced their "hilaritude"…

Tony Stark: (to Bruce Banner) You really have got a lid on it, haven't you? What's your secret? Mellow jazz? Bongo drums? Huge bag of weed?

Tony Stark: (to Hawkeye) Clench up, Legolas.

And of course my favorite because of the NYC reference and pidgin Shakespeare...:

Tony Stark: (In response to Thor's inquiry) Shakespeare in the Park? (Pregnantish pause) Doth thy mother know thou weareth her drapes?

OK I guess it's kind of obvious that I loved this movie. Now onto the Rheingold tie in. I attended The Avengers with my husband, Adam, and a few good friends. Adam was going to perform the role of Loki, or Loge auf Deutsch, in Das Rheingold at the MET that evening and we wanted to have some fun the morning of his final performance. For those of you who read my blog below, this was a big deal for him to debut in that role at the MET on April 26th. What we didn't expect was that Adam was going to be so positively affected by Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki in the movie. Truly, he tapped some of his duplicity and other characterization elements for his portrayal of Wagner's version of that role that evening. The references were subtle but made all the difference.

Lepage's Rheingold truly has an otherworldly and superhero look and feel to it, especially with the costuming. Heck, they're right out of the Marvelverse. That is to be expected as the director is responsible for all of the Cirque du Soleil productions. I find this a plus as updating of opera productions, when done well, are most effective. Additionally, if there is a way to reach out to younger audiences without betraying the composer's intent, I am all for that, too. In this economy opera, as well as the rest of the performing arts, needs all the help it can get. To add a theatrical performance and honest character development to a role in Wagner's version of Norse mythology can also only enhance the piece. Truthfully, though, I think my husband more resembles Tony Stark/Iron Man rather than Loki. You be the judge.

Adam's performance on Saturday was critiqued favorably. The Associated Press said:

"Substituting on short notice for the wonderful character tenor Stefan Margita in the role of Loge, Adam Klein made a strong impression…"

This one from The Wall Street Journal gave me a chuckle:

"...Adam Klein, who stepped in as Loge and not only sang brightly but scampered fearlessly up and down the set."

And this love note came from an opera aficionado in Toronto who stated:

"Adam Klein sang a wonderful Loge, enlarging the physical aspect we’d already seen from Richard Croft in the earlier version of the opera last season. Not only did Klein walk backwards up the wall using wires, but turned it into a part of his characterization. At times he posed defiantly (sideways), at other times he struck a more ironic attitude. For me Loge is a bellwether of the production, which might explain why I loved this show so much. Klein made magic from his first appearance to his last: a revelation."

I certainly concur. If I were a top critic for one of these publications my review of his portrayal would go something like this:

"Adam Klein's Loge held his own and finally took his place amongst the Gods."

Perhaps a bit more trite, but nonetheless accurate.

I write this because so many productions of Rheingold cast a Loge that cannot act the role and/or whose voice is too light and character sounding. Common Wagner practice originating from Wagner's very own specifications calls for the Loge to have a heroic sound and for the same tenor cast in that role to go on to perform Siegfried. Many artistic directors and critics miss this point. These actions have resulted in some disastrous casting decisions and embarrassingly bad reviews - embarrassing for the critic since he or she is stripping themselves naked in front of those who know better. Unfortunately my intellect and good taste have been subjected to both travesties over the years. (Again, this is a rant for me to post on another blog.) And because of these frequent misconceptions the role of Loge is diminished resulting in the audience not feeling sympathy for Loge or understanding the reason why he ends up betraying the Gods at the end. So, in my not so humble opinion, the whole reason for going to see The Ring is seriously lost.

The MET Das Rheingold on Saturday May 5th, 2012 acquitted itself from any and all accusations. It was simply a great time with great singing and acting, not just from my guy who portrayed Loge, but from the rest of those famous and not famous folks onstage. They're bringing this production back to the MET next year, too. (Oh goody!) As of this posting, we don't know what this will mean for Adam, but I can take comfort in the fact that I saw a very fine production at the MET and that my husband had something to do with it. For now all we can do, as the tune from Soundgarden featured in The Avengers goes, is Live to Rise. I certainly live to see Adam's star rise…