★★★ (out of four)
The Met at Lincoln Center’s Verdi Requiem is one of the great — if also strange — adventures of the Metropolitan Opera. For the last two and a half decades, several hard-to-resist seasons, since the end of the postwar era, and with smaller casts every year, the house has been moving one step closer to back to the Renaissance era it served as a haven for opera in the early 20th century.
Another now-common sight: varsity-level vocalists complete with visor and apron-style props getting off the bench in a hall with a backdrop of a church where, oh, “dark smoke” floats over. Not that it ever looks like dark smoke or “dark smoke?” Or even “dark smoke alone”?
There is an upshot to this brutal philosophy: Last season, on the death scene, tenor Eamonn Dougan shimmied onto a toppled flag to deliver the rousing “Dempsie!” A portent in the early days of American operatic opera, it is represented here by a pirate flag a la Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter.”
“Eurydice” at the Met, too, deals with some serious darkness: Eurydice must spend eternity with the demons and killers from the poem as a test of her virtue. Some do well, some not. Will it be enough? Even if for these spirits like Petrarch’s Helios or the Antichrist, the opera probably should. Dougan, by stark contrast, is both noble and angry as the matter-of-fact-scaled psycho Cyrano.
The rest of this richly textured production is very good — a loud, choreographed dance party, a chaotic vivaciousness — but not nearly enough to overcome the lack of transcendence.
Conductor Jonathan Darlington, always a superb raconteur, leads this no-frills score. Unfortunately, he and his players bring little star power to the big chorus of angelic voices. Several of the wind soloists have big voices, but it’s obvious that they don’t quite earn the “million dollar thrill.”
That’s not to say this opera won’t be very, very satisfying for fans of pretty vocal music or even the Met’s specialty: Young Verdi (he made this his last) and his depiction of complicated, obsessional, doomed love. The Russians do that quite well. But the Met’s masterful, controversial musical and theatrical reinvention of “Eurydice” has already done wonders for Verdi-style opera. (And it sounds most of all like “Riverdance” onstage.)
There are, of course, a couple of decent placeholders for the next Death Band, such as Joel Boyer, Oscar Rodriguez, Alex Love and Rhys Ernst in the cast. But all the true talent is too long gone for even the youngest singers to bring anything of note.
Perhaps the best news is that we will have many more chances to see this compelling staging. It makes perfect sense in a world without resurrections or human action to want more of this. And we don’t need to trust the Met to put on good productions. I’m certainly not naïve about the extent to which the company always cheats the general public for reasons of financial expediency. But there are always singers and musicians to be had from amateur organizations. Their voices might not work as well in a bit of rehearsal time, but they are part of our DNA, I like to think. It may even be better to hope for, rather than invite.
The Met’s “Eurydice” continues through Feb. 18. Tickets are $35 to $425. Call 212-362-6000 or visit metopera.org.