Well Met

Today’s random musing has been on the usefulness of context for disambiguation. In thinking about what I was going to write here I was struck by the fact that two of New York’s greatest cultural institutions have the same nickname, yet the occasions upon which this causes confusion seem to be few and far between.

This probably shouldn’t be at all surprising. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been to both the Met (Museum) and the Met (Opera), to an exhibition entitled Jerusalem and a performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and I don’t really see how it would be possible to mix up the two (although of course that didn’t stop me double-checking that Tom knew where he was going on each of the two evenings concerned).

To give it its proper name, the exhibition Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven was really quite operatic in scope. The impact of Jerusalem, both as a real city and as a place of the imagination, on art and culture was tremendous, and the Met curators have done an incredible job of bringing together all kinds of artefacts to illustrate this. The galleries are dark, with spotlights encouraging visitors to get close to the cases generating a sense of genuine personal encounter – a feeling often lacking in some of the grander blockbuster shows. For me, there were a gratifying number of manuscripts on display, amongst metalwork, glassware, carved stone and ivory, fabric, and armour.

Our second Met outing was to their new performance of Tristan, my sixth Wagnerian opera and the first time I’ve actually understood why people rave about his music so much. We read a number of reviews variously praising and condemning the directorial decisions – in brief, we liked some of them and weren’t so impressed by other bits – but musically it was just fantastic. As usual, one of the acts was pretty much unnecessary (the 2nd, this time), but the first (for action) and the third (for sheer musical beauty) more than made up for it. Interestingly this was also set largely in the dark, with stage lighting kept to a minimum, and the diminished visual impact gave even greater precedence to the sound.

Quite unusually, I’d be happy to go back to both of these shows – you’ll find me at the Met in the dark … but which one?!

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