[Met Performance] CID:310210
World Premiere
The Voyage {1} Broadcast ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 10/12/1992., Broadcast
 (World Premiere)
(Debuts: Douglas Perry, Jan Opalach, Josť Bercero, Ralph Di Rienzo, Bruce Ferden, David Pountney, Dunya Ramicova, Quinny Sacks

Metropolitan Opera House
October 12, 1992 Broadcast

World Premiere

Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in commemoration of
the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus in the New World.

Philip Glass--David Henry Hwang

Columbus....................Timothy Noble
Isabella....................Tatiana Troyanos
Scientist, First Mate.......Douglas Perry [Debut]
Commander...................Patricia Schuman
Doctor, Space Twin 1........Kaaren Erickson
Second Mate, Space Twin 2...Julien Robbins
Earth Twin 1................Jane Shaulis
Earth Twin 2................Jan Opalach [Debut]
Crystal Bearer..............Josť Bercero [Debut]
Crystal Bearer..............Ralph Di Rienzo [Debut]
Crystal Bearer..............Christopher Stocker

Conductor...................Bruce Ferden [Debut]

Production..................David Pountney [Debut]
Set designer................Robert Israel
Costume designer............Dunya Ramicova [Debut]
Lighting designer...........Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...............Quinny Sacks [Debut]

The Metropolitan Opera's Columbus Quincenterary Celebration and the commission
and production of The Voyage were a gift of the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Fund for Lincoln Center

Additional production gift of Robert L. B. Tobin

[Dancers appearing as Crystal Bearers were not listed in the program until October 16, 1992.]

[The Voyage received six performances this season and twelve performances in two seasons.]

Photograph of Tatiana Troyanos as Isabella in the Voyage by Winnie Klotz / Metropolitan Opera.

Review of Rodney Milnes in the December 1992 issue of Opera (UK)

America: First Glass journey

Of all commissions, one from the Met to write a new opera to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's (re-)discovery of the Americas must take the prize as the least enviable - even at a reported fee of $325,000. A straight narrative would of course be out of the question: current sensibilities and varying degrees of political correctness alone preclude that. Witness the notable failure of at least two Columbus movies this year. But the result, Philip Glass's "The Voyage," unveiled at the Metropolitan Opera on Columbus Day itself (October 12), neatly sidestepped that particular minefield. The scenario devised by the composer himself and his librettist, the playwright David Henry Hwang (author of "M. Butterfly"), was more by way of being a meditation, an exploration of exploration in its broadest sense.

Columbus and his voyage occupy the (short) second of three acts; the first is launched by a scientist (inspired by Stephen Hawking) musing on man's thirst for knowledge and proceeds with a spacecraft crash-landing on Earth 15,000 years ago as its crew meditates on what the future there might hold (the Industrial Revolution amongst much else). The third shows a space mission (the same one?) leaving Earth some time in the future, and ends with Columbus in colloquy with Queen Isabella and then floating up to heaven with the entirely correct thought that through exploration 'the sum of human ignorance might dwindle just a bit'. For those who may have found Glass's earlier operas unrelievedly portentous comes the welcome news that Hwang's libretto has a nicely ironic, not to say anarchic edge to it: it is succinct (20 pages) and the fact that the opera lasts over two hours (nearly three-and-a-half with intervals) comes as something of a surprise.

Yet not as an unpleasant one. Glass's musical language is developing, a contradiction in terms the hard-hearted might say. Chromatic elements have crept in, even the odd dissonance; in their wake comes counterpoint. Rhythms are marginally more complex, and while the score of "Voyage" is still based on much-repeated cellular motifs and arpeggios, it is broken up into separate movements more frequently. Gentle humour in the libretto was echoed in the score: mock-Spanish colour for Isabella's court, Rimsky-an arabesques, a perky tango finale for the first act. Whether this development is a Good Thing or not must be left to Glass enthusiasts to ponder: they might consider that it sullies the pure spring of minimalism, while non-enthusiasts could argue that the closer his idiom strays in the direction of non-minimalism, the more threadbare it sounds. I will only say that after experiencing "Akhnaten" and "Planet 8" I was a Glass-atheist: post-"Voyage" I am only an agnostic.

One thing is certain: "The Voyage" could hardly have been given a better launch, with the full resources of the Met behind it. The premiere production cost either $1.5 or $2m, depending on whom you asked, and it looked like it. To poverty-striken UK eyes it was a spectacle beyond wildest dreams and, call me old-fashioned, spectacle is and always has been part of opera. Robert Israel's sets whizzed up and down on lifts, and singers flew in and out - it was a good 20 minutes before anyone's feet touched the stage (if indeed the stage was there at that particular moment). The court of Ferdinand and Isabella dissolved before our very eyes and turned into the deck of the Santa Maria. The third-act launching was a riot of colour and movement. If the humour of the text was gentle, it was appreciably broader and characteristically puckish in David Pountney's production; the send-off party of celebrities at the Act 3 launch included Lady Thatcher in royal blue wielding a fearsome handbag (played by a large male dancer in drag), and the scene for two tweedy lady scientists (one bass, one mezzo) in the bowels of the British Museum (near quotes from "Rheingold," scene 3) was Pountney at his zaniest. In general it looked as though, after years of achieving near-spectacle on tiny budgets in London, Pountney suddenly found himself in the biggest toyshop in the world and was having a whale of a time. He ensured that the audience did, too.

Musically the performance was impeccable. In the pit, Bruce Ferden took constant care over both internal and external balance, and the playing was ideally disciplined. Glass has written that 'opera is about voices and singing', and his vocal lines sounded more rewarding than ever before. Timothy Noble was a powerful and verbally distinct Columbus, and Tatyana Troyanos, though less clear, a sumptuous-toned Isabella. Patricia Schuman was outstanding as the Commander of both space missions (very pc), and there were impressive contributions from Douglas Perry, Kaaren Ericson and Julian Robbins in assorted roles. The chorus was fabulous: the mass-tango (earthlings welcoming the alien) was a riot. In sum, "vaut le voyage."

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).