I was extremely heartened to read the New York Times article by Zachary Woolfe about his experience viewing a single opera nine times at the Met. His usual seat, (the Times’ reviewer’s seat, Row L seats 1-3 and likely on that early press opening-night,) had afforded him a lovely place on a lovely night to review each piece of Met fare. Feeling a tug from his childhood, he decided to check out the opera, Norma, from other seats in the house, as well as on other, further-through-the-run nights, to see how/if the performance grew, and to see where the true “best seats” might be.
I say that I was heartened, because as a director I just LOVE seeing a show over and over again…so many new colors come to light, so much growth happens performance to performance and week to week…it’s astounding. All too often, critics make value judgements based on one nerve-wracked night, and that can alter the perceptions, and sometimes the fate, of a piece. Woolfe’s insight in his critique the lead’s voice, as well as the voice of her replacement, was astute, and something that I now BELIEVE because he saw her sing it five times. He found that she has an amazing voice, but it was best and fieriest on night four, and her connection with her co-stars was just so-so. There you have it. Seeing the opera enough times to compare it to itself is really exciting to me. That, to me, is valid criticism. That criticism is good enough, actually, to help that soprano become a better artist, if her ego is intact enough to read it for what it is. I find that really exciting.
I also appreciate Woolfe wanting to view other angles, too, wanting to hear the music from other seats. I always try to watch what’s going on from different places in the house, sculpting staging so that everyone receives an interesting picture. It’s great, too, to see a number of performances, because each actor always has a #1, kick-ass, stellar night where everything gels, but rarely do all of the actors do this on the same night. It is breathtaking to catch the firecracker night where everyone is popping. (On a side note, this is what great Stage Managers appreciate most about running a show; they are artists, not simply technicians, who absolutely love the little moments of discovery that only THEY are witness to each night.)
I very much wonder if Woolfe will do this little experiment again. Or if other critics will follow suit. Perhaps nine times isn’t really the…charm…per se, but multiple viewings would give reviews a little more weight and could allow a show more than that one early opportunity to pop and crackle.