16 February 2014 | jwardww
Helen Archer, a croquis for greater roles to come, Kundry, perhaps
Watching Streep's creation of Helen Archer is a complete joy, from her poignant silences to her gemuetlich cabaret turn, humorous, tragic, moving but never maudlin. The character puts me in mind of that other sublime derelict from opera, Kundry, for whom it would seem Meryl has done workshops throughout her career. In addition to her Helen Archer, We have her femme fatale, Jill, in Manhattan, Madeline Ashton, a woman cursed with a Kundry-like longevity, like that of Emilia Marti from The Makropoulos Case, albeit actively sought and dearly paid for. Don't get me wrong, I loved the performance of Katarina Dalayman in the Met's most recent production of Parsifal, but, during my second viewing, not in the opera house, but in an HD theater, it became clear that one really needs an actress as mindful as Streep to make this spectacular acting opportunity realized to full satisfaction. She should take off for a year to work on it. And her voice. Yes, she will be required to sing high B and low B on the same word, Lachte. That vocal firework explodes as Kundry describes the ancient sin that occasioned her self-imposed curse. It has kept her alive over a thousand years in many guises: Herodias, Gundryggia and many personalities the audience never hears about. Now in the employ of Klingsor, she is required to tempt and bring down Parsifal, yet another vulnerable protector of the Grail. Streep would have amazing growth potential in that second act. For here she needs to communicate infinite wisdom, dumbness, innocence, guilt, power and impotence simultaneously. In the third act she is without a single line or note to perform, and yet a central character transformed as much as Parsifal himself. I'm sure she could meet the challenge of performing in silence with impressive creativity. As in all great scripts, this libretto is open ended in a way that would afford a freedom of interpretation any actor would sign on for. She could pull it off vocally, too. Back in 1977, before Broadway singers were miked, she did Lillian Holiday in Happy End and was a knockout vocally. In fact, one was surprised later when she chose to do non-musical roles. It was an operatic voice. Yes, 37 years have passed. But a Parsifal movie would not require the vocal heft required to fill the 4,000 seat Met opera. Moreover, computers do amazing things these days to add and subtract age. Yes, of course, it's four and a half hours long and Wagner, so it wouldn't exactly pay for itself, but would probably end up being definitive with the involvement of such an artist.