La Clemenza di Tito - Metropolitan Opera, 11/16/2012
Filianoti, Garanča, Frittoli, Crowe (d), Lindsey, Gradus / Bicket
It's hard to dislike mezzo Elina Garanca, but it's hard to like her past a certain point either. The daughter of a prominent Latvian voice teacher, Garanca is every bit the coach's son: heady, impeccably schooled, and willing to work and try at most anything. Put at her disposal the full-scaled, even, adaptable voice she in fact possesses and stardom is a matter of course. And yet -- and yet the moment is not hers. For whatever reason, that last crucial indicium of a star fails to appear, and even the triumph of Garanca's musically impeccable "Deh, per questo istante sole" is one for the broadcast mikes only. In the house one listens in vain for the central, personal point of agony behind Sesto's outcries of stubbornly uninformative sincerity, the opera-house magic that made Susan Graham's incarnation a human revelation and event.
An unfair standard, perhaps, but the rest of the current cast presented their own characters in much sharper focus. I've knocked Barbara Frittoli in the past -- including in last season's Don Giovanni -- for iffy vocal state and occasional lack of focus, but she is remarkably in her element in the tricky part of Vitellia. Not only does she hurdle the technical obstacles while sounding again as good as in the first of her 2011 Amelias, but Frittoli embodies the monstrously self-involved villainess with an ease and elan that make not only Garanca but her predecessor Vitellias seem a bit monochrome. Meanwhile, for much of the first act and in her solo bits of the second, Lindemann grad Kate Lindsey was seriously threatening to steal the show as Annio, something I hadn't even imagined possible in Clemenza. In vocal size and physical impact the American mezzo can't compete with her Latvian colleague, but in an actual show I think I'd prefer to see Lindsey every time: she is not only the finest of the Met's pants-role players, but seizes the moment and presence of her time in the dangerous spotlight with abandon. And Giuseppe Filianoti -- well, he did start in a rather rough vocal state, but he too embraced rather than shied away from the title character's singleminded display of moral hygiene and wound up giving about as good a Mozart performance as one could ask from a veristically inclined lyric tenor.
Debuting soprano Lucy Crowe, as Servilia, didn't get the space to make this sort of impact, but she -- unlike, it seems, her more hyped countrywoman Kate Royal -- can actually sing well and beautifully. Nice traditional clear sound, more presence on the bottom than one might expect given her repertoire, and comfort with the emotional demands of the sincere soubrette part -- a good addition. Harry Bicket's airless pit work was the only drag on the 2008 revival's triumph, but he's significantly more relaxed and sympathetic this time around, actually one of the show's real strengths and allowing the Met winds to work their characteristic magic. And Ponelle's production! Like all pre-Gelb shows still extant, it shines brighter than ever surrounded by detail-stripped look-alikes.
It's a good show, but the early Gelb-era decision to fast-track Garanca while marginalizing Graham and ignoring Joyce DiDonato seems sillier than ever -- and moviecasting this incarnation instead of 2008's is a loss for those limited to such media. (But at least Graham is at last getting her Troyens revival this season, and DiDonato headlines the next big Donizetti.) Of course, from her early years one would hardly have pegged Karita Mattila as the great stage performer of our time... but from Garanca's history so far, I think it more likely that the mezzo learns to fake embodying the stage charge than that she actually does it.