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Review Bits: Die Ägyptische Helena

Richard Strauss, Die Ägyptische Helena (Metropolitan Opera, opened March 15), Deborah Voigt (Helen of Troy), Diana Damrau (Aithra), Torsten Kerl (Menelaus), Fabio Luisi (conducting)

Anthony Tommasini, That Face of Beauty, the Chaos It Creates (New York Times, March 17):
Then there is the peculiar role of the Omniscient Mussel. The creators conceived it as a towering oyster with a hidden contralto voicing the creature’s magical pronouncements.
Justin Davidson, Strauss' Helen finds a regal voice (Newsday, March 17):
For almost 80 years, Richard Strauss' "The Egyptian Helen" has lurked at the edge of the repertoire like orbiting space debris, unloved and out of mind since its American premiere in 1928.
Manuela Hoelterhoff, Singing Mussel, Elves, Slim Diva Animate Silly `Helen' at Met (Bloomberg News, March 16):
"Helen" is rarely staged today and its fans were never plentiful, though Hermann Goering attended a performance at the Berlin Staatsoper the night before his wedding. Perhaps the constant talk of drugs and food (the unfortunate opening line is, "Dinner is ready") appealed to the Third Reich's fattest drug addict.
Robert Hofler, Die Agyptische Helena (Variety, March 17):
Giant doors open and close periodically to reveal a Japonaise ocean, a football-field-size bed and a huge cut-out of that man-on-the-run from the poster for Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can." What begins in German expressionism ends in Hollywood literalism with an ocean liner ready to shuttle off the Menelas family.
Ronald Blum, 'The Egyptian Helen' Returns to the Met (Associated Press, March 16):
[David] Fielding originated this production at Britain's Garsington Opera. He had so much going on — MTVish Elves in white Warhol wigs with white beards, 24 white-clad desert horsemen wearing sunglasses who tugged suitcases that stretched across the stage — that it was exhausting to interpret all the messages. When Altair, a prince, attempts to seduce Helen and Menelas returns, giant red arrows lit up along the walls as if in a cartoon, pointing Menelas to his wife.
Sieglinde's Diaries:
The Voigt sound has changed indeed, but the good news is that she has once again regained the kind of technical security she's known for. Gone forever is the 'fat' sound, that creamy wonderment full to the seams, replaced by an edgier cutting sound that pierces the ear in a different way. The top register is once again complete, high Cs and thereabouts flawlessly spun.
Maury D'Annato:
Jill Grove as the savvy seafood (gods how we were hoping the society matrons would continue the tradition from opening night of themed wardrobing, trading in their kimonos this time to dress as their favorite fruits de mer. Hey, isn't that Mercedes Bass over there got up as a giant lobster roll?) didn't knock me off my block the way she did as Erda in Chicago back when, but then it must be acknowledged that The Super Smart Scampi is just Not a Very Good Role. Only a certain Polish plate of lox could save it, I fear.
BONUS -- Anne-Carolyn Bird with a backstage insight:
Our tenor had to miss the final dress rehearsal due to illness, but he was dressed and warmed up and ready to go at the start of the show tonight. But, he wasn’t as healthy as he thought and hoped, and he struggled through Act I. It is so hard to hear (over the loudspeakers in the caf) and see (from the stage, based on my colleagues’ reports) your friend and colleague struggling. Fighting to make things work! “I know I can do this! I just did it four days ago!” We’d watched him through the entire rehearsal process, and believe me, he’s an outstanding singer! He just wasn’t healthy tonight.
Six performances remain, through April 7. If you cannot make it to New York, tune in on your local NPR station for the Saturday afternoon radio broadcast on March 31, 1:30 pm. Sirius satellite radio's Metropolitan Opera channel will have live broadcasts for at least one more performance, tomorrow night (March 19, 8 pm).

See also the review by Jens Laurson, A Helen for all Ears, if not all Eyes (WETA, March 30).

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