The Met's salute to Stravinsky - from two vantage points
The Metropolitan Opera's bold attempt to bring itself into the 20th century continues with a new triple bill of Stravinsky works in repertory through Jan. 2 . It includes the ballet ''Le Sacre du printemps,'' the opera ''Le Rossignol'' and the opera-oratorio ''Oedipus Rex.'
As in the highly acclaimed French evening, ''Parade,'' the designer is noted artist David Hockney, and the director is John Dexter. Unfortunately, the evening lacks the impact of the Satie-Poulenc-Ravel triple bill, in which Mr. Hockney was given many opportunities to dazzle us with his whimsy and his visual acumen there. In this new undertaking, the ''Sacre'' set consists of a suspended scenic disk, and the ''Oedipus'' offers only a pillar-like golden slab hanging behind the singers, and a vertical red semi-circle that allowed for exits and entrances.
The choreography is reviewed in the adjoining article. As for the music, Mr. Levine led an often white-hot account of the score, though the Met orchestra had its share of problems in coping, for its first time, with music most symphony orchestras now consider a staple.
In ''Le Rossignol,'' singers of these roles were in the pit, staring onto the stage, elbows on the apron, head in hands, when they were not actually singing. Overall, Hockney's imaginative Imperial Chinese blue sets became slightly stultifying, instead of illuminating the music or the story.
The ''Oedipus'' was the most stylized production of the evening, and of Mr. Dexter's career to date at the Met. On a stage raised 10 feet higher than normal , the principals sit to one side or the other of the gold and red creation. On the lower level sit the men of the Met chorus, staring out. Everyone is in evening dress, with black gloves on. Bold stripes are projected onto the gold hanging, as well as onto the deep sides of the Met's elaborate proscenium arch, lending an almost fascistic air and blurring the traditional line of that proscenium. One is altogether distanced, even alienated (in Brechtian fashion) from personality during the work.
Levine, who found the orchestra in better form for ''Rossignol,'' and gave an insightful, eloquent account of that lovely score, was in superb form for ''Oedipus.'' He sees the work in epic terms: The fanfares rang out with staggering impact, the drama, as it was inexorably unfolded, became increasingly compelling, and by the end, he conjured up a genuine hush from the players - something even our best symphony orchestras are not too adept at achieving.
But the glaring liability of the evening was the calibre of the singing. There was a time when this house would have offered the finest available international talent for a new production. Now it is contented with using ''house'' singers, in this case, almost exclusively, and none were up to what should be the Met's standards in such matters. Gwendolyn Bradley was only adequate in the floridly coloratura part of the Nightingale, but Phillip Creech as the Fisherman at no time justified his being cast in this major role.
This ambitious evening ultimately does not do the Met as proud as it should. Besides, none of these Stravinsky works should have been attempted until ''The Rake's Progress'' had a chance at this house. It is Stravinksy's finest operatic effort, and novelties should follow, not precede, recognized works of merit