Sunday, March 30, 2008

One more night with Zef

It was the return of the most familiar of all Met productions, but last night's season premiere of La Boheme seemed a bit more like a new production premiere than a revival. Revivals, with less rehearsal and more routine, too often start out with generic, unfocused character dynamics (new productions more often fail for too much detail) and and more than a few pit-stage and pit-podium disconnects. This performance was sharp, alive, and unified all the way through, with no routine to speak of.

Perhaps it was the presence on the night of original director Franco Zeffirelli, who was honored on stage after the Act II spectacle for which he's now best known. I don't know whether he worked on the show's rehearsals, but both cast and audience seemed very pleased to have him take a bow. Current Met GM Peter Gelb -- with Joe Volpe standing behind him! -- noted Zef's remarkably long association with the company (his first production was in 1964 at the Old Met) and described a pair of memorial plaques just installed inside the proscenium. Zeffirelli gave a short speech of thanks, first thanking Sybil (aka "Mrs. Donald D.") Harrington before singling out Pavarotti, Carlos Kleiber, and Mirella Freni for their work in this Boheme, and then thanking the technical staff of the Met for making his productions work. He shook hands with the singers from past productions who had come to help honor him. Audience reception was very, very warm.

Or perhaps it was conductor Nicola Luisotti. Never having heard him, I was almost shocked to hear the sounds coming from the pit from the opera's very beginning. Textures were clear, each of Puccini's instrumental touches were sounded with individual life, and everything felt of a piece. It's very, very difficult to mess up Boheme with this orchestra, but drawing out sound like this still shows far-above-routinier talent. Beyond basic sound, he shapes the music unstintingly, making the sort of grand (and small) expressive gestures of tempo and breath that would be disastrous if they weren't so successful. His sense of the opera's dramatic flow was remarkable, and his extremely entertaining body language grew bigger and clearer at each deviation from the straightforward. It seems Luisotti's soon taking over at San Francisco Opera: they should be very happy.

Or perhaps it was excellent casting. Debutant Quinn Kelsey showed a serious, serious baritone that should soon be everywhere in more heavyweight stuff than Schaunard. (Incidentally, he had quite the audible cheering section -- but definitely deserved one.) But he, Ludovic Tezier (Marcello), and Owen Gradus (Colline) had the natural sonic and dramatic chemistry the the bohemians should. And Ramon Vargas, who was fairly forgettable as Rodolfo five years ago, sings this time more in the vein of last season's Onegin triumph: so earnest it almost hurts (though not quite to Polenzani levels), each word used well, and musically -- particularly after all the (mind you, not entirely unpleasant) tenor shouting I've heard these last weeks -- pure bel canto pleasure for the ear.

*     *     *

So a great, not-to-be-missed Boheme, right? Well, yes -- if you don't mind that the Musetta is singing Mimi. Angela Gheorghiu is beautiful and has the star quality that keeps one's eyes on her, but what one sees is pretty much the opposite of the self-effacing grace that should be at least a major element of this heroine's makeup. As beautifully and with as much interpretive insight as she can deliver Act III's "Donde lieta" (her "Mi chiamano Mimi" in Act I barely even tried to carry over the not-overpowering orchestra), Gheorghiu, with her visible and demonstrative acting style, remains wholly unbelievable as the crafty, unaffected woman to whom Musetta of the loud antics is supposed to contrast. It seemed (perhaps unfairly) indicative when Gheorghiu jumped next to Zeffirelli during his honors, elbowing in and taking his hand for the photo-ops as if she were the #2 honoree and more important than all the aforementioned stalwarts of old who had premiered Zef's Met productions, and as if this sort of nonsense had never happened. (The rest of the evening's cast stayed where they started, on the other side of Zeffirelli behind the GMs.) A stunt like this is, like her formerly incessant applause-milking (thankfully absent last night), actually sort of amusing, but shows a character about as far from Mimi's as one can get. Gheorghiu is a good actress -- and don't get me wrong, I think she conveyed, for example, Mimi's physical vulnerability very well -- but not that good.

If Musetta is singing Mimi, the reverse is also sort of true. Ainhoa Arteta is good as Musetta and sings it often at the Met, but before this bohemian became the only thing for which the company seems interested in hiring her, Arteta was also the most honestly and emotionally communicative Violetta on the Met roster. I didn't see the one and only Mimi she sang here, back in 1994 -- perhaps the voice doesn't fit. But the character? Better than on Gheorghiu, surely.

*     *     *

That said, I'm not quite comfortable advising everyone to wait for next season, when Maija Kovalevska (good in her Met debut run as Mimi, and terrific recently as Micaela) and Susanna Phillips are the female stars. Despite the miscasting of Gheorghiu, the whole show really works here. And Luisotti is exceptionally good: I don't remember next season's conductor, Frederic Chaslin, ever having been particularly interesting. And, of course, Gheorghiu does her business well, if not particularly fittingly.

*     *     *

Some posts on performances before this one (including the last Tristan) should follow in the next days.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Support your local (world-famous) blogger

She'll sing in New York Wednesday, but Joyce DiDonato blogged her recital preparation this morning.

Addio del passato?

Now despite last year's brouhaha, I do not think Saturday night's performance of La Traviata will turn out to have been Ruth Ann Swenson's last appearance at the Met: turns and returns have long been parts of big careers. But if this was her exit, it was a most satisfying one. She and colleagues Matthew Polenzani, Dwayne Croft, and Marco Armiliato combined for not just the most engrossing and musically satisfying performance I've seen in this production but a remarkably high audience teariness quotient.

She has not essentially changed what she does. It's still a vocal performance, and her basic stage affect remains the unhistrionic thing it was: her Violetta is not some temperamental, hyper-imaginative monster but a sort of demimonde den mother, not far from natively understanding Germont Pere despite her disordered fate. But it works: as in last season's remarkable Marguerite, Swenson has figured out the subtle inflections that let her voice almost naively carry Verdi's sense.

Perhaps it was some development of this voice: settled and now full from top to bottom of Violetta's range, its characteristic ringing clarity of timbre is still present, but seems now mixed with something a bit more textured -- more human. Or perhaps it was, as I suggested, the pain and bitterness of rejection itself that made for the focused emotional communication. Certainly the other singers did much: Polenzani was, again, transparently ardent and expressive -- one ideal of Alfredo -- while Croft, again, was a remarkable partner for the great Act II duets. (Others may have a more spacious or fresh voice -- though he sounded quite good on this night -- but Croft seems to inspire his Violettas to superior work on their part.)

Whatever the explanations, it was both memorable, affecting performance and event. Act II, with all of Violetta's pained phrases telling in swells of sound, was properly the heart of the show, and even skipping the second verse of "Addio del passato" could not dim the unpressed but honest pathos of Act III.

The evening ended in a shower of torn-program confetti, which some Family Circle Box attendee thoughtfully timed to fill the air for Swenson's curtain call. The cheers were loud, but the sniffles and sobs -- most from attendees who had no idea this could be her last bow -- perhaps a better tribute. I'll remember it all for a long time... but may she soon return.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Last soprano standing

This is getting ridiculous.

I'm as excited about new blood as anyone, but Angela Meade sounded years away from legitimate dramatic coloratura leads even in winning the Met Council Finals last year. Hardly a fair trade for Radvanovsky, I'm afraid.

UPDATE (11:30PM): Microphones lie, and I only caught the last hour, but at least on broadcast Meade sounded quite good. This has, of course, little bearing on how she actually sounded in the house -- though the crowd seemed to like her.

UPDATE 2 (3/22): Micaela was there, and offers a generally positive report.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Can New Yorkers get...

even one straightforward, incident-free performance of Tristan? No, apparently not.

This would seem to make it even colder for the Met to dump Gary Lehman (who, it seems, was actually good -- without needing bonus points for the circumstance) from Saturday's moviecast in favor of yet another debutant (who, admittedly, is big in the part at Bayreuth and elsewhere). Of course, the way things are going they might both end up singing in it somehow.

UPDATE (9AM): Two articles on Lehman and his debut, from his hometown (Ohio) papers. The second one notes (about the moviecast):
The Met hasn't announced who will sing the role of Tristan for that show, and Lehman said he should know by Wednesday if he will appear in that performance.

UPDATE 2 (9PM): Cold... And killing a nice storyline.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cabalettafest 2008

To dismiss, as many do, the plot of Ernani (or Forza, or Otello, etc.) as "silly" for the means of its characters' doom -- here, a vow to suicide upon hearing a horn (playwright Victor Hugo there echoing, incidentally, a motif from the font of French literature) -- is largely to miss the point. It is to assume that their fate is contingent, dependent on the practical skill (or, rather, the lack thereof) much comic and popular story celebrates. But in tragedy this is illusion: the leads are doomed from the moment they appear on the tragic stage -- because they appear on it -- and as the all-too-good detective Oedipus discovered, one's skillfulness and cleverness become there not a guarantee of safety but the very means of one's destruction.

Yet Ernani is notable for the matter-of-fact ease with which the main characters accept and even seize their doom. Almost the very first words out of Ernani's mouth are on the possibility of his death; Elvira talks casually of stabbing herself at the altar; etc. Even the piteous illusion of possible happiness is almost perfunctory, coming (after a lot of this sort of talk) at the very end of Act III and not even making it through the first duet of Act IV. Interestingly, one can herein see thematic and situational seeds of Verdi's greatest pre-retirement operas -- Ballo, La Forza del Destino, and Don Carlos, discussed previously together here -- but the differences are instructive. Ballo is mixed with Olympian comedy and is quite different, but the other two also share with Ernani a certain fatalistic, honor-and-duty-bound feel. Yet in the later works Verdi brings obligatory piteousness to the fore, beginning with the what-might-have-been (Forza's Act I, Don Carlo[s]' Fontainebleau scene) before almost casually dismissing the possibility (to be regretted later through the show). What's more, he dangles the notion of escape from the tragic stage itself before his characters, in the dilatoriness and reluctance of Don Carlo[s] himself (and, indeed, the opera's enigmatic ending) and the running contrast with the free-from-honor's-worries casualness of the people (and their avatars Melitone and Preziosilla) in Forza. Alvaro, the hero of the latter piece, even gets a temporary literal escape from his tragic fate by playing folk hero/saint in a monastery -- but that's not the sort of story he's in, and the role can't withstand the call of honor.

So one might find this much truth in derisive dismissals of Ernani's story: the unreflective tragic fatalism of the characters does work against the ability of an audience raised in our age of economic, political, and social self-determination to identify with them. Should they not at least chafe more, see if other fates might not be theirs, as Verdi shows them doing in other works? Well, perhaps. And yet...

The all-ahead, pre-modern embrace Ernani et al. give their passions and fates seems to me of a piece with the unrelenting vitality of the music. Verdi was young -- 30, and working for the first time with his great collaborator Piave -- and the swaying, pulsing melodies and urgent cabalettas of this score have all the wholeheartedness of youth, its pleasure in tackling what's before it. This is not, again, what we expect in a tragic score now: as I've noted in an otherwise positive new opera review, for example, composers seem for a while (I suppose one might, with Nietzsche, blame it on Wagner) to have left mostly to pop music what the cabaletta was and represents -- the ordered appeal to physical exhilaration. Verdi himself used it more sparingly later, but its heady flower here in both arias and ensembles is irresistible.

And... it's not only the characters and composer who seem bent on seizing what's before them, but the current Met revival cast. What's before them is an obstacle course of technique and feeling, and all four principals go at the hurdles with significant sound and gusto. What might happen to fall short, on any particular night, seems as beside the point as the characters' failure to be happy. In this score, as these characters, backed by Pier Luigi Samaritani's stunningly handsome traditional sets and Roberto Abbado's ever-lively conducting, the thrills of the successes are what matter.

For last night's revival opener Sondra Radvanovsky (Elvira) was announced as singing-while-ill. Though less refined than she's capable she still did show her basic appeal: a huge but flexible (with trill) quick-vibrato instrument that can produce a hurricane or a caress... even on the same breath. Marcello Giordani (Ernani), elsewhere appealing, had real difficulty from the start of his Act II aria but soldiered through and even held on for some long high notes in the cabaletta. Thomas Hampson (Charles V) took the first act to settle down but was much better for the next two, capping his night with a most eloquent rendition of his Act III cavatina ("Oh de' verd'anni miei"). And Ferruccio Furlanetto (Silva), who's been one of the great Met singers of this decade, was as remarkable as ever throughout.

*     *     *

Incidentally, tenor Ryan Smith -- one of last year's Met Council Finals winners -- made his debut last night as the King's squire. He seemed more technically sound than at the competition. I believe another 2007 winner, soprano Angela Meade, is also involved in this production -- as Radvanovsky's cover.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Season of the sick

The impression I got from someone there for Friday's Tristan seemed to back up the general consensus: Gary Lehman with an attractive voice made a real success as Tristan, while Janice Baird wasn't so effective though still impressive given the circumstances. A real event, anyway.

Meanwhile, via the AP report, it seems that Ermonela Jaho, who subbed in for Netrebko in a Covent Garden Traviata this January, had a similar Met debut last night for Ruth Ann Swenson. I was across the plaza for King Arthur (great music, fun but entirely forgettable production), so I've no details myself.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gary Lehman?

If you haven't been following the news: Yes, it's Gary Lehman. For tonight's Tristan, anyway. I don't recall ever hearing him as a baritone, but it's an interesting prospect.

Meanwhile -- I didn't think it would be necessary, but I'll have another post on Lucia later today.

UPDATE (3/15): This time Voigt withdraws? What on earth is going around at the Met?

The question now, I suppose, is: "Janice Baird?"

UPDATE 2: Press reports suggest Voigt had a stomach bug.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


When this story came out a few weeks back, I wondered how likely it was for such a thing to happen in the classical/opera review context. Well, guess what?

Could this be the end of the surprisingly useful Bernard Holland rule?

UPDATE (3/9): The hilarity continues (Millo, not Zajick sang that duet).

The dark, dark opera

Tristan und Isolde seems to be doing a pretty good job of scrambling the Met's schedule: Wednesday's late starts for every act of Lucia (and, perhaps, Levine's absence) were, apparently, the result of a long Tristan rehearsal that afternoon, and a similar thing happened to Peter Grimes last night. This time there was a pre-curtain announcement that the Tristan final dress was what had held things up, and that intermissions would be shortened a bit to make up for it. (Meanwhile, it seems that Ben Heppner did not sing in the dress, leaving that to a cover named John MacMaster. What will happen for the actual performances of Tristan is anyone's guess.)

Any any rate, the performance of Grimes that followed was a musically memorable one, with Anthony Dean Griffey doing such a lyrically shaped and projected sing of the lead that my previous complaint seems unfairly besides the point. But a second view of the production had me amazed at just how literally dark it is. Yes, the gloom mixed with occasional (mostly indirect) lighting makes for a nice refreshing contrast when the walls go up at the end, but it really is a strain before that point, perhaps even more so for older patrons. This may be one of the few shows to benefit from the usual ratcheting-up of lighting for the moviecast (next week).

(Incidentally, Bernheimer actually liked the now-deleted ending! The mind boggles.)

UPDATE (11:20PM): The Tristan switch is official.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Two months of San Francisco

I admit, I haven't seen a single Met moviecast this season -- much less the uncoordinatedly-scheduled La Scala exports -- but might actually catch one of the SFO offerings that begin Saturday. Opera at the Ziegfeld! Neat.

Interestingly, the other companies don't try for the Met's one-day live "event" presentation. While SFO's consecutive-day run isn't a bad idea, I wonder if four shows per opera isn't diluting things a bit. The price seems to be $20.

In his "1984", Big Brother is the good guy

The elaborate farce that was the New York Philharmonic's visit to North Korea remains off-topic here, so I apologize in advance. Still this story is too jaw-dropping not to mention, not just for Lorin Maazel's headline-inspiring knock on Spielberg but the near-sociopathic vanity he shows elsewhere in the interview:
He had an epiphany after the performance after he saw the reaction of the North Koreans, saying, "They were completely moved, the orchestra patrons were on their feet, and their eyes were glowing. Theirs and ours. In that moment I understood: It had happened like that because they had waited for 50 years. An appointment that the entire country wanted, and like this, the poor of the country had to reduce their intake of electricity for four days to guarantee that there would be sufficient power for us."
The tears of a hallful of apparatchiks of the most evil bureaucracy on earth justified the four-day privation on the country's already-agonizingly-beset people? Maazel is, apparently, not horrified but pleased to have been the cause. What a man.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Past visions

The Met's next Opening Night is pretty humdrum, but in exchange March 2009 brings what looks like the most interesting gala idea ever:
In celebration of the Met's 125th anniversary, James Levine conducts a gala performance of fully staged scenes from classic Met productions, which will be realized with scenic projections and new costumes made from the original designs. [...] The evening will feature Marc Chagall's Die Zauberflöte designs (1967); the outlawed first presentation outside Bayreuth of Wagner's Parsifal (1903); the world premiere of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (1910); the 1883 Opening Night of Faust; and other classic productions from Met history.
This story had me imagining Karita Mattila as Fremstad in the infamous 1905 Salome, though I doubt that will actually happen. At any rate, I'm sure the archives hold all sorts of interesting and momentous productions.

Addition and subtraction

James Levine cancelled from last night's Met Lucia as simply "indisposed": given that he wasn't scheduled to lead next Wednesday's end-of-run performance in the first place, I think it a pretty fair bet that he won't appear for the intervening Saturday matinee either. In his place was Joseph Colaneri, who was scheduled for that last performance anyway. Colaneri conducted a very good conventional account of Lucia: well shaped overall, very strong in Act 2's climax, and always ready to give the singers space over a regular underlying beat. But somehow the magic of discovery that illuminated fall performances has evaporated not only from the conducting but Dessay's mad scene, which seemed yesterday more like, well, a very good conventional account than an improbable new light on such familiar material. Were Levine's fine textures and control essential to the wild shades of sexual tension and release in those fall mad scenes? Maybe. Or perhaps it was just the night, or colleague turnover.

It's unfortunate, because changing Edgardos from Marcello Giordani to Giuseppe Filianoti had the expected lively effect. Giordani is a good straight man for Dessay, but can't otherwise act; he can sing well but had difficulties in this opera. Filianoti's overpowering passion returns balance to the piece, with the long tenor finale no longer woodenly-acted anticlimax. Vocally he may have changed a bit since I last heard his Edgardo: the sound is a bit broader and less plangent, and on this night at least his high notes were a bit difficult, less rather than more clarion than the rest of the voice. He lets his character intensity get in his way at times, letting yelps and squeaks break into the vocal line when most heated. His stage presence remains what it was (though with some more gestural variety), self-regardingly intense enough that Lucia's fear of losing her bond to him seems plausible. He rushed too much ahead in his Act I singing (too much adrenaline?) but had no such issue afterwards.

I'm not actually sure why I'm nitpicking at such length: it was, as I said, a very good account of this masterpiece. (Mariusz Kwiecien in particular seems now remarkably fit for his part.) I'll see if I can go again.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Past tenors

Among the more gratifying things in yesterday's Met season announcement was the news that the company will at last give Luciano Pavarotti some of the musical commemoration and celebration that is his due, with Levine leading a free-ticket performance of Verdi's Requiem on September 18, a few weeks after the anniversary of Pavarotti's death.

The last Levine performance of the Requiem I saw -- a spring 2001 afternoon at Carnegie Hall with Fleming, Borodina, Giordani, and Pape -- was the finest Met Orchestra performance I can remember (though their 1999 account of Messiaen's "Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum" -- returning to Carnegie next season -- is up there): thunderous, impassioned, lyrical and ethereal all in full measure, and one of that hall's great moments. This tribute has a less exciting solo lineup -- Frittoli, Borodina, Giordani, and Morris -- but the occasion may count for something.

*     *     *

I've intentionally kept obituary-blogging to a minimum on this site, but after the above can hardly fail to mention Giuseppe di Stefano, who died on Monday at 86. Of course di Stefano passed as a singer and a public figure long before: though he sang into the 1970s, he had essentially blown out his voice years before Pavarotti even made his 1961 stage debut. His fame rests with the amazing lyric tenor he was right around 1950 and his later association with Callas -- things long, long ago. As short and distant as the peak was, we can hear it now and rhapsodize, if we wish, with those entranced at the time.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Next season

Details, as predicted, out today. Press release here.

UPDATE (5:05PM): Incidentally, I was a lot more interested in Doctor Atomic before reading this recent-ish review by Alex at Wellsung.

UPDATE (8:10PM), with bump: Complete production-by-production casting is already on the Met's website here.

UPDATE (8:30PM): Not only all the productions but all the subscription packages for 2008-2009 can be seen online.

Only Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturday matinees still have subscriptions of more than six operas. Every other evening has had its subscription size set to six performances. I don't have last season's subscription book here, but I believe this cuts down (from 7 or 8) the length of more than one evening's subscription serieses, allowing a new one to be added.

Longtime subscribers in particularly good seats on these evenings may be quite unhappy.


Last Saturday (2/23) was the day of the cancelling divas: besides Olga Borodina, whose foot injury lingered enough to pull her from the matinee broadcast of Carmen, Karita Mattila withdrew from the evening performance of Manon Lescaut, the last one in the run. The program slip cited unspecified illness, which at the end of a run sometimes means the performer was never going to sing that night in the first place. I've no particular reason to believe that true in this case, though, and hope it wasn't. The near-sellout audience was, in any event, awfully disappointed.

Mattila was replaced in the title part by Maria Gavrilova, who made her house debut replacing an ill Racette in Butterfly last season. That subsitution seems to have been a success, but this one mostly highlighted the importance of Mattila's contribution. Gavrilova, a Russian soprano from the Bolshoi, gave a more conventional account of the title part, disappearing into Puccini's melodic line and Manon's stylized behavior while relying vocal warmth to make her effect. (Though the main body of her voice is undistinguished as Met sopranos go, Gavrilova's high notes soar out forcefully as if from a larger, more solid instrument.) This worked well enough moment to moment, but by the end of the piece one began to wonder about all those unfair knocks on the piece and its libretto. For Puccini doesn't offer a straightforward narrative -- it's more like a variation form -- and so if a particular Manon isn't thoroughly fascinating, she can't rely on the forward force of story to guide audience interest. This Manon barely seemed to register the rich and poor potential admirers around her: how then were we (the audience) supposed to be transfixed, ready to follow her into the perdition of Act IV? It's a disjointed, insignificant work if we aren't.

*     *     *

One might make the same basic complaint of tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, star of the Met's new Peter Grimes staging (seen in its debut last Thursday): though using a broader, more refined expressive vocabulary of both body and voice, he too cannot quite make the stage his own. He is not, of course, called to in quite the same way: Britten and his librettist put Grimes in a story as taut-knit as the community he lives among, ensuring the show holds together. Grimes has thereby famously flourished in a variety of interpretations. But more: Grimes' significance is not, as Manon's, merely enacted and considered, but actually explained by the story and music. We hear it in the sea's outbursts, most strikingly in the storm interlude after Grimes' argument with Balstrode and dream of Ellen's harbour. It's his emotions that roil and seethe, but we hear the release and climax of this from the sea. Why not? -- the prior act has begun connecting them in text. Ned states: "Man invented morals, but tides have none", and so we see the Borough community as the huddled moral counterpoint to that pitiless, destructive sea with which they must coexist. But Grimes lives apart, in a clifftop hut by the sea: unafraid of storm, heedless of the Sabbath, inseparably attached by visions and ambition. (Balstrode the former captain understands, but he has retired, chosen the land and its comforts in a way Grimes cannot.)

So perhaps remembering that the first protagonists of story were divine, Britten casts Grimes not merely as put-upon outcast but as a sea god of sorts. Mortals entangled with him are, as one might expect, eventually wrecked: most obviously his final apprentice John, who falls to his death from the flood-eroded cliff. Grimes himself sinks into the sea as the opera ends with another chorus on the tide.

Griffey is lyrical, agonized, and even at times strange, but it is this elemental aspect of Grimes that he misses. Grimes is, in a very real sense, the storm and tide that ever threaten to engulf the Borough, and Griffey never evokes that scale of being. (Insert obligatory Jon Vickers reference here.) Of course he's not helped by John Doyle's near-empty production, which strips out not only all of the decor but any trace of the sea -- Grimes' fishing outfit is left, but not much else. (Gian Carlo Menotti's production of Manon Lescaut, on the other hand -- though his name has been weirdly stripped from the credits -- provides Desmond Heeley's handsome, evocative, but not suffocating "realistic" sets.) Working more with space -- set designer Scott Pask's bare dark walls shift to and fro, back and forth -- than detail is fine in theory, but the contrast between Borough coziness and Grimes' lot disappears here too. (For all the director's pre-production talk of understanding the community dynamic, he seems to have had little idea what to do with the Borough and its scenes.) The last time the Met offered something so bare, the audience at least got a big rock to look at... and didn't have to sit through a final tableau so utterly and strikingly stupid that several reviewers seemed to prefer pretending it didn't happen, perhaps under the (apparently correct) theory that Gelb would soon axe the thing.

But elemental grandeur does come out full force from the orchestra. Donald Runnicles, who seemed happy to press ever forward through Manon Lescaut, ever-clearly draws beautiful and terrible sounds from the pit in Grimes. He is the star the show needs.

*     *     *

I should mention that Marcello Giordani did sing in the last Manon Lescaut, and had maybe his best night of the season. A good sign, I hope, going into this month's much-anticipated Ernani.

[UPDATE (3/5): Tommasini's review, which I couldn't find offhand earlier, also ignores the final set -- though he spends much time discussing the rest of the physical production.]

[UPDATE 2 (3/5): Maury describes the now-excised spectacle.]

An invitation

NY City Opera opens its spring season this week (the house is used for ballet between the fall and spring seasons), with Wednesday's Mark Morris-ization of Purcell's King Arthur. I -- among, I believe, other bloggers -- was offered complimentary seats to one of the week's kickoff performances.

Now, while nice, this seems a minor spinoff of a more general offer: the general public seems to be getting a season-long version of an "Opera For All" deal -- $25 orchestra seats offered weekly by phone and internet. I could be wrong, but this convenient (line-free) "rush ticket" type arrangement looks new. It seems a good promotion, though perhaps I'd feel differently if I were paying rather more to subscribe in similar seats.

As for the freebie... I do plan to see King Arthur, but Wednesday is the Met's spring kickoff too, with Natalie Dessay's Lucia returning opposite new Edgardo Giuseppe Filianoti. (Craigslist scalpers, incidentally, want premium prices for this sold-out event.) And the rest of the week is also occupied.

If it weren't, though -- I must have an irresistible urge to look gift horses in the mouth, for despite others' positive reactions when the possibility was floated in Maury's comments, the whole press-tickets-for-bloggers business (towards which the above invite is a small but nontrivial step) makes me uneasy. Not just on behalf of my pseudonym, but the whole blogging enterprise. Wouldn't coziness be fatal, and all the more likely to arise when we receive a benefit as unknown individuals without a press institution's backing?

*     *     *

A mild bug has held up a post on last month's last Manon Lescaut and first Peter Grimes. But it should be up later today (Tuesday).