Troy again

 Les Troyens is a wonderful, unique, and rare opera (also REALLY BIG), but it’s not one that sells itself. Without an equally strong and unique cast and production–from each of the principals to the chorus and choreography–its five and a half hours can become a bit of a slog. While there are some considerable virtues in the Met’s current revival, it’s only an intermittently satisfying affair.

Berlioz, Les Troyens. Metropolitan Opera, 12/17/2013. Production by Francesca Zambello (revival), conducted by Fabio Luisi with Susan Graham (Didon), Deborah Voigt (Cassandre), Marcello Giordani (Énée), way too many more, see here

Francesca Zambello’s production is fairly traditional, with a few Virgilian Easter eggs and non sequitur insertions that pass for vision. Maria Bjørnson’s multi-level George Tsypin-esque set is neither particularly effective nor intrusive, though its textured strips of metal make it resemble a high-end corporate lobby. (The sight lines are bad, too. In Act 2 I couldn’t see the ghost of Hector at all.) The costumes are traditional colorful robes and armor in the Troy portion and in the Carthage half consist of lots of all-white robes and royal purple. Zambello tends towards the heavy-handed and cluttered. Some plot points are underlined and circled, such as Ascagne taking Dido’s ring and Andromache’s screaming, while other developments seem quite badly timed, such as Dido and Aeneas finding love at the beginning of the Hunt kind of robs the rest of the act of its point.

After having seen three different productions of this opera live (this one, David McVicar’s in London,* and David Pountney’s in Berlin), I have come to three conclusions (besides that Troy is far, far easier to effectively stage than Carthage):

    1.    The Carthaginians don’t have chairs. They lounge on cushions.
    2.    The Carthaginians always look like the members of a New Age cult. White robes, little in the way of gender differentiation (apparently a side effect of having a queen?).
    3.    The dancing is usually awful, and goes on for far too long.

I actually liked Doug Varone’s choreography of the Chasse royal a lot, where he has a chance to build the drama to some developmental music, and wished Dido and Aeneas hadn’t been providing visual distraction as well as premature macking. But the insertion of dance at other points, such as Iopas’s song and the jazz hand-filled Laocöon ensemble, is irritating, and the long dance sections of Acts 3 and 4 outstay their welcome. Overall, at least as revived here it’s a generic, uninspired production–in Carthage considerably less egregious than David McVicar’s recent effort but also far less visually arresting in Troy. I must say that this production’s moderately-sized, literal horse is far less impressive than both McVicar’s steampunk fire-snorter and the Pountney production’s take, where giant feet kicked at the Trojans from overhead.

The problem with a lackluster Troyens is that you become acutely aware of how uneven the piece is. It’s not that much of it’s bad (I think it’s 98% genius, and the 2% is mostly the Dance of the Nubian Slave Girls), but it doesn’t fit together without consistent energy and vision. In this performance, I was not convinced that we really needed two peripheral beatific tenor arias, plus, well, I adore the whiny soldiers in Act 5. They’re my second favorite whiny soldier duo in opera, beat only by Nero’s guard in Poppea. The glance into their lives, plus the respite of Hylas’s music, are what gives the opera its epic quality. But if they don’t have some spirit you just want to get on with it.

next up: Dance of the Campaign Pollsters

The best thing about Fabio Luisi’s conducting is that it kept everything moving. I liked his work in the quieter music best, such as the lovely Didon-Anna duets, where he found a nice gentle flow. And the processions and choruses had a good solid momentum, with only a few coordination issues early on. The chorus, by the way, might be the real star of Les Troyens, and while I found the Met chorus somewhat less impressive than the ROH’s last summer, it was still a strong showing. Where I thought Luisi was less satisfying was in the quirky stuff that makes Berlioz so special, stuff like the ostinatos, the irregular phrases, the sudden turns. Stuff like this moment. Luisi has a tendency to make it all sound like early Beethoven, and pleasantly bland early Beethoven at that. More lurching energy, more neuroticism was needed.

Besides the chorus, Susan Graham is the star of this production. Her Didon is absolutely beautifully sung and acted, with more depth and intensity than I remember in her performance on the Châtelet DVD. She expertly balances musical grace with the text, giving her Didon dignity and stature, convincingly regal but also human. Her voice is bright but also slightly grainy, a perfect size for this role and by the end she becomes a real tragedienne at the end. Her only issue is high notes: the big and prominent B flat in “Chers Tyriens” simply entirely failed to come out both times, leading to a somewhat anticlimactic end. I’m guessing there isn’t a lot of time with Octavian in her future (which is a shame, because she is otherwise outstanding there!).

I wonder if Marcello Giordani took the widespread rumors of his imminent replacement personally. (How could you not?) For the first three acts he seemed to be giving it his all, and managed a little better than I expected. His voice is aging, the high notes extraordinarily loud but not very pretty, the disconnected lower range hollow-sounding and weak. It was in Act 4 where the problems really began to show, with a can belto “Nuit d’ivresse” that completely drowned out Graham’s more appropriately nuanced efforts, and his Act 5 “Inutiles regrets” were indeed regrettable, involving something resembling a high C and some B flats but also a lot of vaguely rhythmic, somewhat pitched shouting towards the end. His acting is acceptable but not exactly dashing or charismatic. I would not at all be surprised if he were sent packing to, uh, Italie before the HD broadcast (“he’s not Italian! he’s Sicilian!” -my relatives, my family comes from southern Italy). The rumored replacement is Bryan Hymel, who, with indisputable competence if not terribly much beauty, sang the role earlier in London this year.

Deborah Voigt’s wan, poorly sung Cassandre made me long for London’s brilliant Anna Caterina Antonacci. Voigt was always a Chrysothemis, someone who plants themselves in front of the conductor and makes a glorious sound. Cassandre is a role that requires the charisma and madness of a mystic, which Voigt has never possessed. What’s more, the sound is gone, the voice small and sour, a shadow of her past. She vocalizes through the music with rather unpleasant tone and unclear French, rarely looking at her Coroebus. Very disappointing.

The army of supporting cast was strong, for the most part. Karen Cargill’s warm, rich low mezzo as Anna was a highlight, and she made an excellent contrast to Graham. Paul Appleby sang Hylas with a sweet tenor and honest, simple phrasing. In contrast Eric Cutler was a Iopas with a large but uneven voice and fussy phrasing (with a fussy staging from Zambello), somewhat miscast and unaware that less is sometimes more. Julie Boulianne sounded clear as Ascagne with some strange flirty direction. Stephen Gaertner stood in for Dwayne Croft as Chorèbe and showed a strong, full dark baritone. The two most prominent basses, Kwangchoul Youn (long time, no see!) as Narbal and Richard Bernstein as Panthée, were both excellent.

There’s great stuff in this production, but it requires patient waiting through considerable quantities of not so great stuff to get to all of it. Still, recommended under the general “come on, it’s Troyens” rule.

Les Troyens continues through December with an HD broadcast on January 5.

*Like the set of David McVicar’s London production, this Met one (which
came first) also features, in the Carthage set, a raked circular thing center stage
that has little buildings on it (these look more like building blocks
while McV’s were very clearly a city). Unfortunately I have no pictures
of the NYC incarnation; here is the London one:

Coincidence? Errrrr.

Photos copyright Met.

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The Tucker Gala blasts it out

Only excerpts allowed!

The Tucker Gala again brought a lineup of the Met’s current roster (plus some extras) to Avery Fischer Hall on Sunday in support of grants for young artists as well as in support of having a big party where everyone sings arias really loud. The choices can be unusual.

One moment I am introduced to the wonderful mezzo Jamie Barton, who I had never heard before and found stunning. Then the next moment Dmitri Hvorostovsky is singing Wagner in a sequined tuxedo, and I do not think that he should do either of these things (sing Wagner or wear a sequined tuxedo) outside a gala (or, possibly, anywhere), but it’s still somehow enjoyable. While I found this year’s group less exciting than last year’s, Bryn Terfel and his pockets full of beer bottles can’t always be in town at the right time. This year’s program had the advantage of a large number of singers who I had never heard before, and some of them were really great!

You can watch an edited version of this gala on PBS on December 13 (they might have a hard time dealing with the clap-happy audience). Here’s the rundown.

Galas are full of gimmicks and, in my opinion, best described using them. This one began with a recording of namesake Richard Tucker singing “Che gelida manina.” So for each performance I ask: if Richard Tucker’s disembodied voice is the soundtrack of the opening, what cinematic, TV, or similar habitat would the following live performances best inhabit? This may be particularly apt if you believe that Hollywood is killing opera.

Ailyn Pérez, soprano (Tucker Prize Winner)
Massenet, Cour-la-Reine Scene from Manon
Pérez has a gorgeous light lyric soprano voice that really blossoms at the top, and a winningly charismatic stage presence. Manon is a perfect role for her. In the opening, however, the coloratura tended to show off her control for the sake of showing that she had it, rather than be used for musical-expressive purposes, and the effect was somewhat artificial. Arguably, though, a “willful” approach is appropriate to the character, which is why Manon is hella annoying, and that’s not Ailyn’s fault.
Soundtrack for: Confessions of a Shopaholic 2, in which the protagonist goes to Paris
Gerald Finley, baritone
“Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto” from Rinaldo
A peculiar choice, though I guess Finley doesn’t get frequent chances to show off his coloratura skills, which are indeed outstanding. It’s a very festive and ceremonial-sounding aria (due to the trumpets), which was nice, but I wish he had made some expressive contrast in the B section? Perhaps that is too much to ask in this rather Handel-hostile atmosphere.
Soundtrack for: A montage of overly elaborate wedding preparations in a romantic comedy
Tara Erraught, mezzo
“Una voce poco fa” from Il barbiere di Siviglia
I have enjoyed a number of Erraught’s performances as a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s ensemble and it was a pleasure to hear her get a chance to shine here. She got off to a fluttery start but ripped through the coloratura with dexterity and her lyric mezzo really opened up towards the end. She is also very animated and entertaining for a concert performance.
Soundtrack: Baby tigers frolicking in a nature show
Erwin Schrott, bass-baritone
Boito, “Ave Signor” from Mefistofele
I swear the Schrott-ster was wearing the same long leather coat he did as the Devil in Vienna’s disastrous Faust. Unfortunately he did not bring the ukulele this time, and was wearing a shirt. He has sufficient personality and charm to compensate for a certain lack of musical and linguistic specificity, but his voice was maybe not ideally large for this selection.
Soundtrack: something out of the Scary Movie franchise
Jamie Barton, mezzo
Donizetti, “O mon Fernand” from La favorite
Barton has a giant, freely produced mezzo with lots of chest voice drama in the lower reaches, and this was really excitingly sung. She has a good sense of musical timing, varied her big tone’s color nicely, and sounds great up high too. Can she sing Eboli like, really soon?
Soundtrack: Something major happening to a minor character in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie
Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor
Verdi, “Quando le sera al placido” from Luisa Miller
Filianoti is a very expressive and idiomatic singer with a lovely plummy sound in some places but there’s a ripe and wobbly quality in much of it that says all is not, in fact, placido. It’s unfortunate, because there is so much nice stuff there too, and he is very sincere and direct. The top seems most problematic.
Soundtrack: A pastoral scene in a movie about ancient Romans.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Wagner, “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser
Wha???? Yes, Hvorostovsky, Russian Italianate baritone par excellence, sang Wagner. It wasn’t bad, exactly, and this is a number that demands his silky legato approach, but the vowels were peculiar, and the entire effect rather disconcerting. While this is a  contemplative number, something about it here came off heavy and threatening, particularly in the huffing and puffing in the last few minutes. That evening star is coming to get you!
Soundtrack: A montage of war damage on Downton Abbey
Quinn Kelsey, baritone and Ildar Abdrazakov, bass-baritone
Verdi, “Tardo per gli anni e tremolo” from Attila
Two big low voices! Both are fine voices but I can’t say I think this duet is very interesting. Let’s talk about them later, separately.
Soundtrack: The scene from the really questionable grand opera in Phantom of the Opera, given a musical upgrade
Olga Borodina, mezzo
Saint-Saëns, “Ma coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson et Dalla
Olga Borodina still has the lushest, richest mezzo in the business, and this was absolutely fantastic. The high note at the end wasn’t a keeper, however.
Soundtrack: A sex scene in a French art film
Marcello Giordani, tenor
Leoncavallo, “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci
Of course. The meatball count was lower than last year, but someone had to do it, and the responsibility fell to the extremely Italian Giordani, whose hand gestures would give away his ethnicity if his voice had not already. This was on the whole stronger than his Friday night Calàf, but this voice sounds worn out, and the sobs were over the top.
Soundtrack: The Godfather, Part IV
Filianoti, Erraught, Barton, Abdrazakhov, and co.
Offenbach (NOT REALLY), Septet from Les Contes d’Hoffmann
It’s a big dramatic piece, but it’s kind of over-the-top and not by Offenbach! Arguably it sounds less ridiculous out of context than it does smushed into Hoffmann, though. But short for this purpose. Why not the infinitely better Antonia ensemble?
Soundtrack: A dramatic rescue scene in a superhero movie
Erwin Schrott
Ziegler, “Rojo Tango”
Who did Schrott sleep with to get two solo numbers? …. Oh. Right. It’s a great idea, but this would have been more fun had he been more audible and had the words not been entirely unknown to me. Also he matched Hvorostovsky in the sequined tux department.
Soundtrack: A chase sequence in a James Bond movie
Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello, tenor
Mascagni, “Suzel, buon di” from L’amico Fritz
Costello has a reedy timbre that while pleasant enough fails to open up on the top notes like his wife Perez’s does (she, on the other hand, doesn’t sound like she has a middle voice is strong enough to sing this kind of thing full time). But for the purposes of this excerpt it was all perfectly lovely, and they probably wouldn’t have sounded lightweight in non-Tucker company–this gala, like most Tuckers, tended towards big and meaty voices.
Soundtrack: Before Noontime, which takes place in Florence. Julie Delpy doesn’t fly out until 18:00, but she’s on Ryanair and has to get to Pisa.
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass-baritone
Rossini, “La calunnia” from Il barbiere di Siviglia
Abdrazakov has an agreeably deep timbre and admirably precise and tasteful musicianship, but he failed to project in the patter sections. Nonetheless, a nice selection.
Soundtrack: The clock is running out on Top Chef!
Quinn Kelsey, baritone
Giordano, “Nemico della patria,” from Andrea Chénier
To be honest by this point in the program I was beginning to check out; it was a long succession of numbers without any break at all. Kelsey has an impressive voice, though, very big and secure.
Soundtrack: ? You say in the comments. Sorry.
Liudmyla Monastyrska, soprano
Verdi, “Vieni, t’affretta” from Macbeth
And then I woke up! Monastyrska cutely brought a crumpled piece of paper to read in the letter opening to this aria, and then launched into the singing with a giant, metallic, very Slavic soprano. While not all the coloratura was the model of exactitude, her voice is big and impressive from top to bottom and this was genuinely thrilling singing. Her upcoming Aida at the Met should be something to hear.
Soundtrack: A serial killer is sharpening his knives in a Korean horror movie
New York Chorale Society
Verdi, “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco
“So we hired this chorus, what should we have them sing?”
“Va, pensiero, what else?”
“But didn’t they sing that last year?”
“No, you just think they did, because you can’t imagine them singing anything else. According to what you wrote, they didn’t get their own number last year. Unless you just left it out.”
“OK, whatever. Shouldn’t this gala have an intermission?”
Soundtrack: A video of last year’s Tucker Gala, which apparently didn’t involve “Va, pensiero,” but might as well have
Borodina and Hvorostovsky
Rimsky-Korsakov, “Zachem ty?” from The Tsar’s Bride
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous duet and they are the perfect people to sing it, and their voices match wonderfully. They tried to make this dramatic, which would probably be more effective for me if I understood a word of the text (the gala still doesn’t provide translations), but it seemed urgent and impassioned and all that. And also the vocal equivalent of shag carpet.
Sountrack: Due to the extreme quantities of Russian-ness involved we have to stick with a national theme here. Let’s say a BBC mini-series with too many Princes whose plot may or may not owe something to 100 pages of War and Peace. 

Giordani and Finley

Bizet, The Duet (you know the one), Pearl Fishers
This was supposed to be the duet from Otello,
but it was changed. I’m not sure if this was a good thing or not, but
I’m sure that Costello or Filianoti could have pulled off this
high tenor part better than Giordani, who sounded strained. I fear
for Les Troyens.
Soundtrack: Ironically pretty music used in a gritty noir  

A moment for the conductor, Patrick Summers, and the orchestra (“Members of the Met Orchestra”)
were some embarrassing issues with wind solos, but no outright
catastrophes. I’m sure they didn’t rehearse this much. Tempos seemed

Like, everyone with Perez as Violetta, Costello as Alfredo, Kelsey as Gérmont, and co.
Verdi, Act II finale from Traviata
This started at Alfredo bursting in on Violetta, which is a tense place to begin but Costello and Perez made it startlingly vivid. She shows signs of being a really great Violetta, and this was her most compelling singing of the evening, with a rare level of dramatic life and connection between music and character. She might be great in the Met’s production should spring’s Violetta, Diana Damrau, be excessively postpartum, no?
Soundtrack: Too dramatic and narrative to be the background of anything. 

Encore: Brindisi from Traviata

The Tucker Gala shows no fear in embracing the predictable. I must admit I was sad that there were no surprise guests, though.

Parting Questions:

  • Were the women all asked to wear black or white gowns? Only Pérez wore a color (and Erraught a very dark muted green). Dull, particularly when some of the men were so out there, fashion-wise.
  • Who is now dying to hear Monastryska as Aida? (I AM.)
  • Did they ask a surprise guest who then didn’t show up on them?
  • Did the winds rehearse at all?
  • Is there a rule about how much of the repertoire has to be Verdi or verismo?
  • What is Tara Erraught doing in NYC? (“Visiting her auntie” would not be the most interesting answer, even if it’s true.)
  • Which parts will make the PBS broadcast? (Hopefully not Pearl Fishers.)
  • Wouldn’t it have been awesome if PBS host Audra McDonald had sung? (She did not. She and Finley could have done Doctor Atomic! That would not have been very Tucker-like, though.)
  • Why didn’t Olga Borodina sing “I Am Easily Assimilated,” as I had helpfully recommended? (Alas. The Dalila was very appreciated, however.)
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Turandot and the culture industry

It is a little-known fact that when Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer wrote in Dialektik der Aufklärung that “amusement always means putting things out of mind, forgetting suffering, even when it is on display… at its root is powerlessness,” they were thinking of Franco Zeffirelli’s Met Opera production of Turandot. Despite it being performed year in and year out, this Friday was the first time I have seen this ridiculously outsized spectacle, because I try to avoid things that I know will make me angry, afraid that I will be compelled to unleash the blogging equivalent of the Incredible Hulk. But on Friday to the Met I went, and it was just about as bad as I feared, if not worse.

Turandot’s China, as composed by Puccini, is a vast, cold machine, its people an anonymous mob and its princess ice. But who should appear but quasi-European Calàf, who manages to, like Don José, conquer the resistant feminine Other. (Think of Liù as Turandot’s Micaëla.) Zeffirelli’s vast stage machines, the sets massive and gratuitously detailed and crowded with scurrying extras, leave little space for human feeling and individuals. Perhaps Turandot’s realm is actually his ultimate achievement as a director. It fits the music in a way where his Traviata was merely ridiculous, but it exacerbates the problems of the score.

That Viennese Turandot where all the characters were insects was onto something–if you hang onto the Chinese setting, it’s hard to do so in a way that doesn’t feature a) awful cultural appropriation and b) the direct portrayal of the Chinese as soulless savages. If you don’t see what’s wrong with this I recommend you read this. And Zeffirelli’s kitsch is dire in this regard. I might add that the last scene, where Calàf comes pretty close to raping Turandot before she decides she wants it at the last second, makes me really unhappy. While I find ending the opera with Liù’s death (the point where Puccini’s score ends) overly abrupt, maybe it has more going for it than I realized when I saw that version in Munich last summer (that production that is not the last word in self-consciousness but in comparison to this one is positively enlightened).

Anyway, Zeffirelli’s theme park visuals still get applause, particularly the epic Act 2 set, but this is the sort of opera that I feel like I always need to apologize for: visuals that beat the viewer into submission, casual racism, and careless treatment of the characters and story. The Emperor and Turandot begin Act 2 so far upstage that they are rendered nearly inaudible, and it’s often hard to pick the leading characters out of the masses onstage. It has, when combined with the vivid banging of the score, an undeniable potency, but it’s not something I want anything to do with. The audience seemed to think they had gotten their money’s worth, but if you want to see something artistic I recommend redirecting yourself to Un ballo in maschera.

Musically this production was satisfactory, and in that respect I enjoyed it, though I wish the sets had not swallowed the singers’ voices as well as their presences. Conductor Dan Ettinger knows his Turandot–he conducted the Munich performance I saw last summer as well–and except for a few snafus with the chorus (and an unfortunate trumpet crack right before “Straniero, ascolta,”) the orchestra was strong. The vocal highlight was debuting soprano Janai Brugger as Liù. Granted, it’s easy for Liù to steal Turandot, but Brugger’s crystalline yet full lyric soprano was beautifully controlled and expressive, portraying a rare moment of vulnerability in this tank of a performance. Less happy was Marcello Giordani as Calàf. This incredibly uneven singer had a night that was more bad than good. While some high notes still can ring out with power and squillo, all but the top few notes are sour and hollow, and even a few notes sounded like yelps. As Turandot, Iréne Theorin had sufficient power (though the set wasn’t helping her), but I found this less impressive than her Brünnhilde last summer. Her vibrato seemed unwieldy and her tone often turned shrill. But she is a lovely actress in a role that is usually just stood through. James Morris was a horribly wobbly Timur, Dwayne Croft was a fine Ping but Tony Stevenson and Eduardo Valdes were unfortunately less than audible as Pang and Pong, as was Bernard Fitch as the Emperor. Ryan Speedo Green made an impressive Met debut in the small role of the Mandarin, a bass-baritone ringing out through the crowds.

But you’d have to pay me to go see this again.

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Simon Boccanegra: I Can Still Sing, But I Never Could Fence Properly

Verdi-Piavo/Boito, Simon Boccanegra.  Metropolitan Opera, 1/22/10.  Conducted by James Levine. Placido Domingo (Boccanegra), Adrianne Pieczonka (Amelia), Marcello Giordani (Adorno), James Morris (Fiesco), Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo). Directed by Peter McClintock after a production by  Giancarlo del Monaco.

Oh, better far to live and die
Under this baritone’s flag I fly,
Than sing an odd modulating part,
With an aging voice if a tenor’s heart.
Away to the cheating world go you,
Where other tenors transpose too;
But I don’t care which fach I sing,
I’ll live reborn as a Baritone King.

Apologies to G&S.  (I hasten to remind you that Simon Boccanegra was a semi-pirate before becoming Doge.  You don’t know how hard it was to not write a lot of pirate jokes into this review, mateys.)

This opera is pure gold, y’all.  Yeah, the plot is a bit convoluted, but the score is absolute perfection from start to finish. And maybe it’s partly because I’m so partial to this period of Verdi but this was one of the most musically satisfying performances I’ve seen at the Met in a while.  Sure, there are some perplexing things (like “age”) happening to the voice of our dear Placido Domingo, which I will discuss!  And the staging is pretty as a picture, a picture painted many centuries ago, and about as mobile as a painting too (coming from me, this is not a compliment)!  And yet I highly recommend.

Let’s start off with the most important thing, and that would be James Levine.  When I see him conduct like he did last night I feel that most of the time I am insufficiently appreciative of his skill, because it was awesome.  But I honestly haven’t heard him conduct a performance this majestic, this finely colored, this exciting in a while.  There are a few little orchestral interludes that ended up being a little conductor-showy–I swear part of the intro to Amelia’s aria was sounding like a Klangfarbenmelodie–but all to fantastic effect.

Adrianne Pieczonka sang Amelia, the only female role in the opera.  She had a slightly iffy start, the entrance aria doesn’t sit in the prettiest part of her voice (an aria Krassimira Stoyanova hits out of the park, actually her Amelia is generally fantastic).  But after the aria Pieczonka was fantastically consistent.  By which I mean, musically perfectly precise, refined, and controlled.  That’s not something you hear in this rep very often.  Her voice itself is very lyric, clear, and even in color and yet big, projecting marvelously, an interesting combination that makes me think she would be good as the Elisabeth of your choice (Carlos or Tannhäuser).  Really gorgeous, I would love to hear her more at the Met.  Get on that, Casting Department!

She was somewhat oddly matched with the infuriatingly inconsistent Marcello Giordani as Gabriele Adorno.  He’s got something that not many tenors have, a certain sound and fearlessness that makes things work in an exciting way.  But his voice can turn sour on occasion, and next to a singer as tasteful as Pieczonka he sounds somewhat musically sloppy and coarse, she somewhat too restrained (JJ in the Post referred to her as “primly musical,” which is harsh but also true).  But mostly it was a good night for him, this role a much better fit for his unsubtle style than most–Adorno is such a hothead–than, well, Faust in Damnation de Faust.

In what often resembled Senior Night onstage, James Morris as Fiesco had the unenviable effect of making Placido Domingo (see below) sound young.  I realize in years he is somewhat fewer, but all those Wotans have had their costs.  He has gravitas, yes, there’s a lot of sound left too, but it’s wobbly, and his low notes have deserted him more or less completely.  He’s not quite in Ramey territory yet, but approaching it (look behind you, you may see a hill).  Also, the sword fight between him and Placido in the Prologue was rather pathetic, I’m not sure if this was due to a lot of arthritis or insufficient rehearsal time or what, but it did not live up to the ferocity of the score in any way.
OK, now onto Placido Domingo.  Let’s forget about the questionable management of opera companies and conducting for a moment.  Miraculously, at his age and in this tessitura, he still sounds like Placido Domingo, more or less.  And that would be a tenor sound.  Ironically, he may have finally proven to all those critics who said he’s a baritone that he’s been a tenor all along (a criticism whose logic I fail to see–he was a baritone who had a very long, very healthy career as one of the best tenors ever? really???).  In case this isn’t already clear, I LOVE Placido Domingo.  I have heard lots of his recordings, if I need a recording of an opera and one by him is available and the thing isn’t in German I will almost always pick him, I’m not a completist because generally I’m not like that and besides being a Domingo completist would be IMPOSSIBLE, but I’m very familiar with what his voice sounded like in his prime.

Which makes seeing him in this opera just a little surreal at times.  Because he is, inarguably, still Placido Domingo, and still sounds like it.  But the age and tessitura disguise him a bit, like watching Sean Connery in a movie today after having seen lots of James Bonds.  But there’s no way he sounds like a baritone, he sounds like Placido Domingo singing low, and while there is a certain loss of that Verdi baritone sound in this opera, there’s a lot of gain because it is Placido-freaking-Domingo.  The very audible prompter did have a big job last night (not the first time), but still, he gets the nobility and generosity of this character just right, even with the occasional wobble.

No whining about the plot, folks, sure, it’s too complicated and has some holes but I actually like it, and find it much more involving than many other works of similar convolution, maybe because the music is so good.

I feel obliged to comment on the production, but don’t have much to say about it.  It is pretty, the prologue and Council Chamber especially so.  It has a few functional issues, namely sometimes it’s a little creaky in the most literal sense and the offstage chorus behind the Council Chamber isn’t the most audible.  The statue that is pulled down in the Prologue is a silly-looking effect (apparently the Genoese equip their statues with hinges for smooth toppling and removal).  The Act 3 set is set very far upstage in a way that I believe facilitates a faster scene change but seems like a slightly spiteful screwing of those of us who are already sitting pretty far from the stage.  The Personenregie wasn’t out to make any statements, the only interesting thing that happens is in the last act, when Fiesco sits in Simon’s chair, which actually is a good kind of point.  If you want a fancypants Regie Boccanegra it does exist on the YouTubes, and looks intriguing.

So yeah, go if you can, you won’t regret it.

Next: A plane carrying a commedia dell’arte troupe crashes on a tropical island inhabited only by a lamenting woman, some unhelpful nymphs chanting mysterious numbers, and a cloud of smoke with a bad attitude.   Let us now say thanks that the prima of Ariadne auf Naxos does not fall on the same night as that of Lost.

I won’t be seeing Il Mondo della Luna at Gotham Chamber Opera, though appears to be something right up my alley it is sold out and I failed to remember to buy a ticket earlier.  (Gotham Chamber Opera!  Call me!  I will write about it!  Not that you seem to have any problems selling tickets, but, well, I’m totally an opster!)

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