Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Giacomo Meyerbeer soaked up musical styles like a sponge. During his career he flirted with his native German opera, then Italian, and finally found his most appreciative audiences for his French opera.
It is no wonder, therefore, that he was barely able to scratch the surface of the national characters he espoused, or that "Le Prophete," one of his French melodramatic successes, needs all the help it can get from its production to give it a more than superficial appeal.
The Metropolitan Opera's new production almost does the job. At Wolf Trap Tuesday night it looked beautiful bathed in golden light like a bucolic painting by Hals or Vermeer. A set made flexible by cart-like platforms used variously as a castle, stairs, tables and altars, allowed what momentum Meyerbeer did achieve to be maintained through scene changes.
Henry Louis conducted an intelligent middle-of-the-road performance.
And, certainly not least, was an excellent cast headed by Marilyn Horne, superb as Fides (and those who came to hear her third act acrobatics got their money's worth); Rita Shane, vocally agile as Berthe; James McCracken, occasionally stretched to his vocal limits as Jean de Leyde; and the three fanatic Anabaptists, Robert Goodlow, Jerome Hines and Frank Little.
But director David Sell, perhaps in an effort to give the cardboard main characters more dimension by contrast, has conceived of soldiers and townfolks who are almost zombie-like, thereby robbing Meyerbeer of one of the great things he had going for him, the audience-pleasing excitement of lively crowd scenes. Without this excitement, it is a pretty dull opera and neither the final conflagration nor Horne's magnificent musicianship can quite save it.