Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sondra Radvanovsky

Since today's matinee broadcast, the blog is getting a bunch of search engine hits on her name -- but to a years-old post. I suspect readers would be better served looking at the recent review post on Radvanovsky's Met Trovatore or hearing this clip from its opening night performance:

(Thanks to Steve Smith for the use of this.)

UPDATE (3/21): More on Radvanovsky's Leonora here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Alice Tully follies

The newly reopened Alice Tully Hall has many kinks to work out: the frustratingly slow and late entry procedure, that painful electronic chime at intermission, the insufficient exit doors, etc. And while the outside looks nicer and a cafe is welcome (though, of course, it's overpriced and set to close each evening before operas end), some of the physical decisions were unfortunate: the sumo-wrestler-spaced urinals (squeezing a reasonable number in would've helped with the lines), the bumps on the rear stage wall that make it appear to have a skin condition, etc. But the seating has not much been changed, and it's a much better space than the Rose Theater.

In any event, one of the programs kicking off this week's hall reopening festivities was Wednesday's all-Schubert recital by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Imogen Cooper. Cooper began with the great sonata in A (D959), and after a break accompanied Padmore in the familiar song-cycle "Die Schöne Müllerin".

Cooper's solo portion was a frustrating listen, perhaps intentionally so. She played the first two movements in about as dry, disconnected, and deliberate a manner as one could imagine, squelching any sense of coherence or forward motion. The waltz of the third-movement scherzo wasn't dragged, but the dryness remained -- particularly in the trio. Nor did Cooper squash the lovely opening melody of the finale -- nor its restatements -- but the rest of the movement found her back in her initial manner. Overall ascetic deliberateness might have made some sense as contrast to real rhythmic exhilaration in the third-movement waltz and piece-concluding presto coda, but absent these latter it was just monochrome. Cooper also suffered from more finger fumbles than I'd expected.

Her accompaniment to Padmore showed she can play out Schubert's livelier impulses. She did tend to overpower him, but I'm not sure that was her fault. Perhaps the balance would have been better without the lid up.

Padmore himself is, within his vocal limitations, entirely admirable. But I'm not quite sure these limitations can be ignored. The first third of the cycle found him overpowered by both piano and the cycle itself, as he struggled to make an impression. He has a light voice, very light and heady on top, and without ideal focus (which was slow in coming) his very prominent sibilants were more telling than the actual musical line -- which disappeared into the piano in softer singing. His voice eventually found its footing with the more declamatory "Ungeduld", and despite a misbehaving hearing aid in the audience, Padmore soon after had them in the spell of Schubert's hapless protagonist and his Romantic-pantheistic entanglement with the brook and the miller girl. Padmore's concentration and earnest communication were, on the whole, both effective and impressive, but I couldn't help but wonder if a less taxed, more full and fully-colored voice might have unlocked more of the songs' possibilities.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Previewing Sonnambula

The Met, in case one has forgotten, will soon offer another new production open house (including dress rehearsal): this time for La Sonnambula on February 27 -- next Friday.

I am told free tickets will be given out this Sunday -- that is, before the Met Council Finals -- at 11AM. I'm not sure what that means in terms of lining up.

Speaking of previews, has it really been nearly three years since this?

UPDATE (3/3): Review here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The sleep of reason

Il Trovatore -- Metropolitan Opera, 2/16/09
Álvarez, Radvanovsky, Zajick, Hvorostovsky, Youn / Noseda

The theme of David McVicar's excellent new Met Trovatore is Goya, and it fits just right: not for any particular recollection of the Napoleonic campaigns' Spanish brutalities, but the recurring outbreaks (and threats thereof) of the odd and monstrous in the painter's work. With this image as the evening's curtain, the stage was properly set.

Verdi's much-derided opera has brothers, lovers, and a mother, but lacks one of his most persistent figures: the father. Whether divided and beset as in Rigoletto (both he and Monterone), stylish and daring (and metaphorical) as in Ballo, all-too-solid as in Traviata, or -- well, one could go on indefinitely -- the father sets the tone for his opera's world. Here, in Trovatore's story, he is wholly absent: dead of heartbreak, overthrown (in a sense) long ago by gypsy machinations. And so too in the piece itself: gone is the responsible worldly figure that makes our daylight world what it is -- ordered; rationally explainable and advancing; free from witchcraft, ghosts, and meaningful coincidence. But it is not just the shadowier stuff that he keeps off, but the oldest magics: rhythm - story - sacrifice. So here Verdi unleashes them all as no other could -- and too few since have at all dared to try -- for a nap-of-reason draught more intoxicating even than its near-contemporary Tristan's.

*     *     *

The joy of story: that's what the production so gets right. Ferrando's ghost story -- superbly sung by Korean bass Kwangchul Youn -- kicks things off, and the way it visibly gets to the chorus (who also sound terrific) perfectly sets the tone. Then come Leonora's romance tale-aria ("Tacea la notte") -- in which McVicar perhaps goes further than he has to by having Sondra Radvanovsky writhe around the floor, but who cares? -- and Azucena's obsessive revenge story ("Strida la vampa"). All take such relish in the elemental narratives (free from the later-in-origin obligations of fact, plausibility, and literal truth) with which they begin that not only onstage listeners but those in the audience are sucked wholeheartedly into this primal world.

The rest is mostly up to the performers. Conductor Gianandrea Noseda seems noticeably improved in Verdi since an incoherent run in Forza three years ago and some up-and-down Ballos last season: perhaps it's the extra prep time of a new production? Whatever the cause, he doesn't let Verdi down, doing a nice crisp job with the infectious rhythms that are so much of the piece's thrill.

First among the singers was Radvanovsky: the immense ovation she got for "D'amor sull'ali rosee" said it all. Her instrument is, as ever, a marvel, and she sang a stunning version of Leonora's fourth-act aria even four years back, but I'm impressed with what working in a premiere with a good stage director did for her. Though she's been, at times, a bit unfocused on stage and in character in recent revivals, there was none of that here. She not only sang well but sold the character throughout.

In fact, this seemed to be a uniform virtue across the cast. It is, I suspect, to McVicar's credit that he not only had a definite and full-blooded sense of the characters and their interactions (though having Manrico walk off from Leonora just to engage di Luna in a staring contest while she's dying was unnecessary) but got the singers inside these notions. Marcelo Alvarez, for example, was every bit the confused, headstrong, not-long-for-the-world man Manrico is, while Dmitri Hvorostovsky was not just inspiredly cast but well-encouraged to be the brooding, obsessively desirous nobleman (and convincing brother to Manrico) that "Il balen" shows di Luna to be, not the blustering lech of tradition. This was, I think, more important to the show's success than the vagaries of vocal form on the particular night.

Both sang well, in any case. Alvarez still has his lyric, sympathetic way with a phrase, though the high notes are not his strength. He finessed most of them with a lighter attack, perhaps saving up for the one note for which far too much of the audience judges a Manrico: that big high blast (C if not transposed, but usually -- as here, I think -- a B) at the end of "Di quella pira" (in which he didn't take the repeat). He did hold that forever, mind you, even managing a second B on the last, oft-omitted syllable. More characteristic was "Ah si, ben mio" before this: he only touched the high note, but showed an affecting grace throughout and a creditable slow-motion approximation of a trill.

Hvorostovsky sounded much more comfortable as a Verdian than in Ballo a season ago. I found his casting in that a compromise, but got no such sense of that here: di Luna's big solo is, after all, his most lyric moment, and if he can't outshout Radvanovsky in ensembles, no one else around can either.

Finally, Dolora Zajick's Azucena is a long- and much-admired role, and if her top is fraying with age, it's added a bit of human vulnerability to the assumption.

*     *     *

After the show, one may go back to laughing Il Trovatore off as silly, or implausible, or gauche. We do, after all, live in reason's world, and its holidays can't last long. But that's neither the whole truth nor -- in a presentation like this -- the important one.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Met 2009-2010 season lineup, annotated

Somewhat against my better judgment, I'm offering quick reactions to each of next season's announced productions and casts at the Metropolitan Opera, in order of first appearance. I'll do a more general preview this fall before the season starts.

Note that not every cast combination is listed below -- just most of the recurring ones.

Tosca (new Luc Bondy production)
Mattila, Alvarez, Uusitalo / Levine (opening night through October)
Mattila, Kaufmann, Terfel / Levine (April)
TBA, Giordani, Gagnidze / Auguin (end of April-May)
Is Karita Mattila the new Domingo? Not in ubiquity, more of which from her would be welcome, but in using her clout to put a lesser performer before the Met audience. For Domingo it's himself as conductor; for Mattila -- well, perhaps it's coincidence that consecutive seasons' star vehicles have featured not only her but fellow Finn and disappointingly ordinary baritone Juha Uusitalo (though he does, at least, sing to a professional standard). I'm quite curious about the in-transition voice of Marcelo Alvarez (though next week's Manricos will tell much) but those going only once should certainly see the April cast. The last cast? Don't expect much.
As for opening night itself, I expect those yearning for a specific Puccini sound will complain as they did about Mattila's Manon Lescaut. But Tosca has been a star singing actress' part for a long, long time, and Bondy has inspired Mattila to some of her best work.

de Niese, Relyea, Bell, Skovhus, Leonard / Ettinger (October)
Oropesa, Pisaroni, Dasch, Tezier, Leonard / Luisi (November-December)
John Relyea is intolerable in the title part, and as curious as I am about unknown debutant Dan Ettinger, I'm sure Fabio Luisi will impress in the pit here. Wait until November and Lisette Oropesa's likely less-affected Susanna.

Magic Flute
Kühmeier, Klink, Miklósa, Maltman, Zeppenfeld / Labadie (September)
Kleiter, Polenzani, Shagimuratova, Gunn, König / Fischer (April)
Full of names I can neither identify nor spell.

Urmana, Zajick, Botha, Guelfi / Gatti (October)
Urmana, Zajick, Margison, Guelfi / Carignani (end of October-November)
Papian, Zajick, Licitra, Guelfi / Carnignani (April)
Not bad casting -- and some fairly promising conductors -- if you crave the Met's grand Aida. So much for the internet rumor of Salvatore Licitra being finished at the Met... Though I do think Johan Botha is the better bet here.

Barber of Seville
DiDonato, Banks, Pogossov / Benini (October)
DiDonato, Banks, Vassallo / Benini (end of October-November)
Damrau, Brownlee, Vassallo / Benini (February)
I saw the amazing Joyce DiDonato in this production two years ago with Lawrence (the sometime DJ) Brownlee as Almaviva and Russell Braun as Figaro: a pleasant show all around, though DiDonato's was the only major star instrument on display. I suspect these casts will do similarly, though I wouldn't sell Barry Banks short. Conductor Maurizio Benini has grown on me a bit.

Der Rosenkavalier
Fleming, Graham, Persson, Sigmundsson, Vargas / Levine (October)
Fleming, Graham, Schäfer, Sigmundsson, Cutler / Levine (January)
Librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal rolls over in his grave as Renee Fleming reprises her emo Marschallin. The rest of the cast is promising, though, particularly in October. This Strauss opera has never been one of James Levine's strong pieces.

Damnation of Faust
Borodina, Vargas, Abdrazakov / Conlon (October-November)
What a cast! Too bad about the production.

Guleghina, Giordani, Poplavskaya / Nelsons (November)
Lindstrom, Giordani, Poplavskaya / Nelsons (November)
Guleghina, Porretta, Poplavskaya / Nelsons (November)
Guleghina, Licitra, Kovalevska / Nelsons (January)
The Met is doing 16 performances of this (in)famously over-the-top Zeffirelli version of Puccini's opera, all but one conducted by the young Latvian newcomer Andris Nelsons. But to see this show without seeing Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as Liu would be criminal.

From the House of the Dead (new Patrice Chéreau production)
White, Margita, Mattei, Streit, Hoare / Salonen (November-December)
Janacek+Dostoevsky+Salonen+Mattei = must-see+great press+empty seats

Il Trittico
Racette, Lucic, Blythe, Corbelli, Antonenko / Ranzani (November-December)
Racette, Lucic, Blythe, Corbelli, Licitra / Ranzani (December)
Patricia Racette stars in all three operas in Puccini's triptych, and -- with Stephanie Blythe, who stole the show last time -- may finally bring Jack O'Brien's literal production to life. Very promising, though debuting conductor Stefano Ranzani is unknown to me.

Tales of Hoffmann (new Bartlett Sher production)
Villazon, Pape, Garanca, Kim, Netrebko, Gubanova / Levine (December, including first night Gala, and January)
Villazon, Pape, Garanca, Kim, Netrebko, Gubanova / TBA (December)
Early rumors had Anna Netrebko attempting all the heroines in this, but she's wisely left high-coloratura Olympia to Kathleen Kim and mezzo-ish Giulietta to Ekaterina Gubanova. Rene Pape and Elina Garanca are singing in all the parts, of course, but the real question is: who's going to be singing Hoffmann when December rolls around?
Sher's first production at the Met wasn't so impressive, but perhaps he's learned from it. Obviously Levine's performances are the ones to see; his sciatica-induced cancellation drained the life out of an excellently cast (Shicoff, Swenson, Terfel, Mentzer) 2000 revival.

Bullock, Voigt, Palmer, Schmidt, Held / Luisi (December)
Luisi did well with Strauss' Helena, and he plus the excellent supporting cast should make much of the show whether or not debuting English soprano Susan Bullock crashes or triumphs in the name part -- and whether or not Voigt, who is no longer the creamy-voiced marvel of the 90s (as in the telecast with Behrens), can make Chrysothemis work in her new voice.

Hansel and Gretel
Persson, Kirchschlager, Langridge, Plowright / Andrew Davis (December-January)
This is a pretty starry lineup for a kids' presentation (with attendant 11AM matinees).

Carmen (new Richard Eyre production, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon)
Gheorghiu, Alagna, Frittoli, Kwiecien / Nézet-Séguin (New Year's Eve Gala through January)
Borodina, Jovanovich, Kovalevska, Kwiecien / Altinoglu (end of January-February)
Borodina, Jovanovich, Kovalevska, Rhodes / Altinoglu (February)
Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Kovalevska, Kwiecien / Altinoglu (April-May)
Yes, Angela Gheorghiu's first Carmen attempt onstage anywhere. A better fit for her temperament than Micaëla, but a stretch for her voice. Barbara Frittoli sounded sufficiently poor in her 2007 Suor Angelica that I've wondered why she's still getting big engagements here. In the other cast, Olga Borodina can certainly sing Carmen but seemed bored in her last one: perhaps the new production -- and not injuring her foot -- will energize her a bit. 2007 Tucker-winning tenor Brandon Jovanovich makes his debut opposite, which should be interesting, and Kovalevska's Micaëla has already outshined Borodina once. Much will depend on the two debuting conductors.

Cura, Marambio, Dobber, Ens / Domingo (January)
This obscure Verdi opera was only moderately interesting when Domingo was actually singing in it and James Levine conducted. Now, account for the mind-boggling gap between Levine and Domingo-as-conductor... A definite miss.

Simon Boccanegra
Domingo, Pieczonka, Giordani, Morris / Levine (January-February)
Domingo sings baritone! -- and not just any baritone part, but the great title role of this Verdi opera. Whether it works or not, it's an event -- though I'll be surprised and cheered if it's as good as the last revival.

Ariadne auf Naxos
Stemme, Ryan, Kurzak, Connolly / Petrenko (February)
Low-glamour but high-promise cast in a great opera and production. Kirill Petrenko's conducting last time was routine.

La Fille du Régiment
Damrau, Florez, Palmer, Te Kanawa / Armiliato (February)
If you want to hear this Donizetti piece again, the singing here's bound to be good. Dame Kiri is in a non-singing role, however.

La Boheme
Netrebko, Beczala, Cabell, Finley / Armiliato (February-March)
Netrebko, Beczala, Swenson, Petean / Armiliato (March)
Will get a lot more press than this season's revival, but won't necessarily be as good. The role of Mimi suits Netrebko's current voice, though.

Attila (new Pierre Audi production)
Abdrazakov, Urmana, Vargas, Alvarez / Muti (February-March)
Abdrazakov, Urmana, Vargas, Alvarez / Armiliato (March)
This is not only conductor Riccardo Muti's Metropolitan Opera debut but the house premiere of this Verdi rarity. Don't miss it, and buy your tickets to Muti's performances early. Intense young tenor Russell Thomas has one performance (March 19) in place of Ramon Vargas -- both should be interesting.

The Nose (new William Kentridge production)
Szot, Geitz, Popov / Gergiev (March)
This is the Met premiere of this early Shostakovich piece, and the debut of all three principal singers as well as the production team. If Gergiev makes you nauseous these days, there is one performance (March 25) led by his fellow Mariinsky conductor Pavel Smelkov. Very interesting, though by no means a sure bet.

Hamlet (new production imported from Geneva)
Keenlyside, Dessay, Larmore, Morris, Spence / Langrée (March-April)
Another Natalie Dessay showpiece, with another Natalie Dessay mad scene. Who can resist?

La Traviata
Gheorghiu, Valenti, Hampson / Slatkin (end of March-April)
2002 Met Council Finals winner James Valenti finally makes his company debut as Alfredo. Gheorghiu's Violetta and Hampson's Germont are likely familiar, but by the time of this revival it will have been a dozen years since Leonard Slatkin conducted at the Met.

Armida (new Mary Zimmerman production)
Fleming, Brownlee, Ford, Zapata, Banks, van Rensburg / Frizza (April, including first night Gala, and May)
Fleming in her element -- Rossini's take on Tasso. Don't miss, and buy your tickets early.

Flying Dutchman
Uusitalo, Voigt, Gould / Ono (April-May)
See note on Tosca. Tenor Stephen Gould's debut is interesting, but this revival's likely a miss unless Uusitalo shows well in the Puccini.

Petersen, Lehman, von Otter, Morris / Levine (May)
The greatest, most gorgeous (particularly when Levine conducts it) modernist opera gets a surprisingly starry cast.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Next Met season officially announced

Press release here, production-by-production here. I figured this was coming when I saw List Hall being set up last night for a press conference.

More when I digest it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Queen

The Onegin revival and the current tenor crisis played out in the past weeks' Lucia remind me of the Met's last Tchaikovsky revival, which was also the last time online wags proclaimed a tenor's career over after a run's first performance.

This was November and December's Queen of Spades, which I'd meant to review at the time. Ben Heppner did crack his way through that first night, and apparently much of the last performance too (this was, unfortunately, the radiocast matinee). But in between he gave a series of intense, impressive performances that were one of the highlights of a flawed revival. Of course, Heppner has had periodic bouts of cracking for ages now -- but his having passed through each and still being able to hit top form should mean rather less worry that any particular such episode of his is career-threatening.

Heppner's Ghermann was most compelling in his discomfort: a man awkwardly disassociated from the social pageant that's the opera's other side before he loses touch with his own humanity. He has, as we saw in Tristan, learned operatic torment, and played out both lighter and more daemonaic forms of it in his body and voice. But the battle for his spirit was not a fair contest.

For who'd lose his head for Maria Guleghina? The Prince of Persia, perhaps, or some other person who crossed one of her frightening manifestations. But in love, as Tchaikovsky's Lisa? As a friend of mine noted, Guleghina here "seemed to only sing with varying degrees of loudness -- not much emotional inflection". That's more or less her method, and it has its glories... but Lisa is all wrong for it. So the lure of love -- life and normality's strongest draw -- was weak in the revival, and the triumph of Ghermann's gambling mania never in doubt (and, of course, less interesting for it).

Still, others in the cast gave the show some moments. The two baritones -- Vladimir Stoyanov as Lisa's jilted upper-class fiancee Yeletsky and Mark Delavan as Ghermann's more worldly army-officer fellow -- made much of their arias, with Delavan's fine form leading me to wonder why he's not getting more big roles instead of, say, the mediocre Juha Uusitalo. (Uusitalo, the centenary Jack Rance!?)

Perhaps most memorable was Felicity Palmer as the Old Countess. The moment -- just before the Grétry air -- when all the tics, business, and nuttiness with which she browbeats her servants, the world, and even herself dropped away in the still, transparent purity of recollection: that was something. Not so much the contribution of Ekaterina Semenchuk, in the double role of Lisa's friend Pauline and "Daphnis" in the show-within-the-show. Not huge assignments, but Olga Borodina made them actually the highlight of the evening a decade ago.

Some good work, but on the whole the opera needs Lisa to succeed as much as Ghermann. Perhaps the next revival -- with, apparently, Karita Mattila and Vladimir Galouzine -- will do the trick.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The plot thickens

Again, I wasn't there (I'll attend if Joseph Calleja shows up... or Natalie Dessay), but after singing one no-massive-crackup performance and declaring himself fit last Saturday for this Saturday's Lucia moviecast, Rolando Villazon canceled last night's Lucia and was replaced by Giuseppe Filianoti.

Given how poorly bel canto roles now fit Anna Netrebko (to think that this is the singer I once so admired as Lyudmila!), my earlier "let's call the whole thing off" suggestion is looking better and better.

UPDATE (10:30PM): And there it is -- no Villazon in the moviecast.

I hope he somehow recovers, sooner or later.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Lisa della Casa at 90

The standard tag line for soprano Lisa della Casa -- that she was the supreme Arabella -- has been, too often, a polite form of dismissal, a concession to boost the received opinion that Walter Legge's record-company-backed wife was best in more significant Strauss parts, particularly the Marschallin. In fact Schwarzkopf used her clout to seize that part in Paul Czinner's film of the 1960 Salzburg Rosenkavalier, which della Casa had premiered for the opening of the new house in July. della Casa refused to sing at Salzburg long afterwards.

The festival's archives, though, help tell the tale. The fateful 1947 Arabella (with della Casa as Zdenka, under Böhm, on which occasion Strauss made the famous comment on her prospects in the title role), the 1954 Ariadne auf Naxos (again under Böhm), the 1957 Elektra (with della Casa as Chrysothemis, under Mitropoulos), and not least the audio record of that 1960 Rosenkavalier (under Karajan -- the actual Festspielhaus-opening performance of July 26 has been preserved) join the studio Four Last Songs, Capriccio finale, and Ariadne excerpts and the Munich telecast of Arabella (with della Casa as Arabella, under Keilberth), and a number of less easily obtainable live recordings to show the full scope of della Casa's Straussian glory.

Her silvery voice -- ever both warm and cool in its shimmering vibrato -- and outstanding breath control were matched to a precise and natural musicality and an unaffected, ever-composed manner in phrase and person. But it was her seemingly effortless responsiveness to Strauss and Hofmannsthal's subtle and variegated moods that made her great, almost unsurpassably so in all the roles above. One hears it, I think, in most remarkable form in the second half of Act I (from the Marschallin's monologue through the end) in that 1960 Rosenkavalier, but that's quite long and difficult to post. So, then...

*     *     *

She was born 90 years ago today (February 2, 1919) in Burgdorf (Switzerland), where she appeared in her father's (non-musical) stagings and in Swiss films before making her operatic debut. She still lives in Switzerland, in a castle by Lake Constance. On this birthday occasion, German TV offered a documentary on her life and career. This is the first part of the film (available, thanks to a conscientious YouTube uploader, in its entirety online):

(The remaining parts are here: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.)

Although it is in unsubtitled German, the film is worth seeing for anyone with an interest in della Casa: the footage old and new, from her movies, operas, and interviews, would be interesting even without the words. Listening along, however, there's more of interest... One learns, for example, that there was something of Arabella in her, in the unusual story of her marriage to her second husband.

*     *     *

Of course, della Casa didn't just sing Strauss: she was outstanding in Mozart -- a pillar of those postwar Vienna ensemble casts of legend (hear, for example, her Countess in Erich Kleiber's Decca recording of Figaro) -- and sang a fair number of roles we don't now associate with her. In fact this, despite the unfortunately low-volume upload, is pretty amazing:

Still -- and even though its success is due in no small part to Anneliese Rothenberger (who, in the documentary, has a nice story of singing with della Casa in these two parts) -- I can't help but end with this video clip:

Happy 90th birthday to this great singer.

UPDATE (12/09): Here is that 1960 Rosenkavalier excerpt mentioned above.
UPDATE (9/12): And now it's in embedded form

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A taste

The real story of last Sunday's Met Orchestra concert was off-topic: the world premiere of Charles Wuorinen's poorly-named ("Time Regained, a Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra") piano concerto to real audience acclaim. Was he ashamed to be writing such a piece? His program note (from which Tommasini drew most of his review) went on and on about the piece's source material (pre-baroque masters' music in various denatured forms) and didn't even mention the familiar three-movement form in which it's cast. (Unfortunately, he didn't just use sonata form for the first movement, which in fact doesn't go much of anywhere at all -- the latter two are excellent, though.) At any rate, Wuorinen seemed unprepared for the genuine enthusiasm (most, I think, would gladly hear it again) and warmth with which his piece was received by the conservative crowd. Enjoy your bow! And forget about the Proust nonsense next time.

But there was an unscheduled vocal highlight as well. Joyce DiDonato opened each half of the program, the first with a lovely "Ch'io mi scordi di te?" (with, of course, James Levine on the piano obbligato) and the second with La Regata Veneziana (in an orchestration by Douglas Gamley that makes nice use of pizzicati). I've always pictured Anzoleta (the protagonist of this late-Rossini trifle in Venetian dialect) to be, in character, a bit like Angela Gheorghiu, but DiDonato used her comic skills for a winning tongue-in-cheek rendition.

Afterwards the audience got a small taste of what a full virtuoso recital in the main hall could have been like, with an encore of "Non piu mesta", Rossini's Cenerentola finale. The way DiDonato's precise, energetic, and deliciously-ornamented singing rang in this larger space was a marvel, though the closer confines of Zankel did give an affecting intimacy to her Handel concert two days before.

DiDonato capped her virtuoso display, incidentally, by throwing in a messa di voce at the end. Her amazing "Scherza infida" (Friday) didn't make it to as many listeners as it could and should have, but her name and talent this day did.

The afternoon finished with an almost implausibly lively account of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. An embarrassment of riches.