Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Freni Gala

It will be at the Met on May 15, 2005 (Sunday) at 5pm. Mark your calendars.

"On the 50th anniversary of her operatic debut and the 40th anniversary of her Met debut."

As of opening night 2002 -- the last time New York audiences heard her -- she still had the vocal goods. Mirella Freni is 70... But apparently not ready to retire.

UPDATE (5/17): Post-event thoughts here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


While I struggle with a silly post that refuses to right itself, perhaps one of my readers can answer this minute question:

What happened to the youngish scalper-in-residence by the Met front door? He seemed fairly honest and forthright, much better than the bottom-feeders who work Carnegie Hall (and still lurk curbside at Lincoln Center).

Just curious.

UPDATE (4/9): Hm. He still appears there intermittently.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Red letter days

For those readers who are in New York but don't give lots of money for free intermission coffee at Met performances:* it turns out that recitals by participants in the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (whose alums include Ms. Radvanovsky and Mr. Polenzani) are, this spring at least, being duplicated about a week in advance at the Goethe-Institut New York.

[* That is, participate in the company's Patron Program, of which the regular Lindemann recitals are a nice perk.]

Check it out: you may hear something amazing. Or less so, but it's only $20.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Met Council (Audition) Finals, 2005 edition

Warning! This is a long report -- mostly observations, few deep thoughts. If, like one of my readers, you'd like more of the latter and less of the former, you can pretend I didn't write this. Incidentally, WNYC is broadcasting a replay right now, though whether I can finish the post before it's over is another matter...

UPDATE (10:35PM; link update 3/23): Pictures!
UPDATE (11:25PM): Linked some singer sites and articles. Who knew Oropesa was a first-generation Cuban emigre?
UPDATE (3/23): Geoff Riggs liked Susanna Phillips a lot. And the other singers moderately.
UPDATE (3/25): Elaboration on the winners at Trrill.

This year's format was somewhat different from former years'. Instead of having the singers do two rounds of one aria each, each contestant did both selections together. The lineup:

Mari Moriya, soprano
"O luce di quest'anima" (Linda di Chamounix)
"Der Hölle Rache" (Magic Flute)

Joseph Kaiser, tenor
"Dies Bildnis" (Magic Flute)
"Kuda, kuda" (Onegin)

Elona Çeno, soprano
"Com'é bello" (Lucrezia Borgia)
"Come scoglio" (Cosi)

Michèle Losier, mezzo
"Parto, parto" (Clemenza di Tito)
"Va! laisse couler mes larmes" (Werther)

Susanna Phillips, soprano
"Je veux vivre" (Romeo & Juliette)
"Ach, ich fühl's" (Magic Flute)

Rodell Aure Rosel, tenor
"Jour et nuit" (Hoffmann)
Worm Aria (Ghosts of Versailles)


Ellie Dehn, soprano
"Ach, ich liebte" (Abduction)
"No word from Tom" (Rake's Progress)

Lisette Oropesa, soprano
"Ruhe sanft" (Zaïde)
"Una voce poco fa" (Barber)

Jordan Bisch, bass
"O wie will ich triumphieren" (Abduction)
"Ves' tabor spit" (Aleko)

While the judges finally deliberated, we had guest appearances by Sondra Radvanovsky, Morris Robinson, and Garrett Sorensen & Charles Taylor (doing the Pearl Fishers duet).

Moriya is a 27-year-old Japanese singer now studying in New York. Neither voice nor temperament showed much tenderness here: the top, though quite powerful for a high-ish coloratura soprano, is a bit harsh. This made for a very good Queen of the Night -- appropriately angry and frightening -- but I'm not sure what else fits. She did both ornament and squeeze out a trill in the Donizetti, which was nice.

Kaiser I didn't like much. He's also 27, but has a very noticable loose vibrato to his sound -- not a good sign. Plus he hammed the heck out of the Mozart (the Tchaikovsky too, but it works better there).

Albanian (also in NY?) soprano Çeno was the oddest of the bunch. The basic sound is covered and very soft-grained, but it's pretty even top to bottom and she can push for climaxes with no problem. However, she came with all sorts of odd arm-waving histrionics that seemed to pull even her sonic interpretation out of whack. (Provincial bad habits from Albania?) Plus, her rhythmic sense isn't the greatest -- not only did slow passages get mushy, but she got quite tangled up near the end of Fiordiligi's aria. Could be interesting down the line, but something of a project.

(French Canadian?) Michèle Losier was definitely the best-dressed, with her white-on-black dress offsetting striking short blond hair. But I'm afraid she didn't leave much other impression on me.

Susanna Phillips: delicious. Clear sound -- lots of happy overtones -- and an easy, sensual stage presence. And the close of the Mozart... Twenty-three, from Alabama. Hooray.

Rodell Aure Rosel -- the oldest of the set, at 29 -- was the first singer I've seen at the Council Finals who bills himself a "character tenor". And that he is: very funny in the Offenbach, strikingly, er, characterful in the Corigliano. Very good stage business even in concert. But he's quite a singer too, with high notes and everything. Impossible not to like, really.

Dehn was OK. A bit strident on top (with some volume though), some pitch problems early... She settled down, but didn't show much interpretively in either piece.

LSU student Lisette Oropesa! 21! A great delicate soprano! Charming in voice, diction, and person! OK, not quite the young Elisabeth Schumann, but you get the idea. Sadly, her voice may be too small for the Met. Also, I can't remember if she showed a trill.

Bisch was decent. I don't recall a bass ever sounding really full-voiced at one of these events -- especially at 23. He certainly didn't embarass himself.

*     *     *

The winners, to no one's surprise or consternation, were the last two in each group: Phillips, Rosel, Oropesa, and Bisch. May they do well, and the others improve.

Meanwhile, however, Sondra Radvanovsky's "D'amor sull'ali rosee" had us wondering what we'd seen in those other sopranos anyway...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Samson report

Jose Cura is a force, not a singer. For an act or so tonight I wondered if this means he can't actually sing -- under any conventional understanding of the term anyway -- but it turns out he can. I do wonder in what percentage portions of how many of his performances this comes out, however.

House debutee Malgorzata Walewska has a rich, vibrant lower register: a real asset. The rest is pleasing, though -- as one can hear on her comically overproduced website -- not as secure. But she worked within a fairly narrow dynamic and coloristic range, and seemed to have no particular ideas about phrasing or drama outside of her Act II showpiece (which was well carried off). I wasn't impressed by her bits of acting either, but as a cover (with just this one scheduled performance, and probably not a huge amount of rehearsal) she's owed a break on that stuff.

Walewska got a lot of applause, though. And much of the talk filing out seemed to be about her. Quite positive.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Drei arme, adelige Waisen

Was it Assistant Stage Directors Robin Guarino and Zoe Pappas who trimmed down and punched up the stage business in the Met's current revival of Der Rosenkavalier? If so, kudos to this back-page-credited pair: said stage business had gotten both indefinite and exaggerated over the years. Its new life is a large part of what makes this the first successful Met Rosenkavalier in over a decade.

Between that and the infectiously energetic waltz rhythms of Donald Runnicles, how could the Strauss not be a success? Even without the best Marschallin in decades. Great principals can overcome dumb directing, but Hofmannsthal writes too many telling bits for walk-ons.

Take the aforementioned three poor noble (war) orphans. Recent revivals have played them for broad laughs. And they are ridiculous, the hapless hangers-on that they are. But indispensable is the strain of "Ehre" that they bear through their father and bring to the levee. This revival handles the whole levee brilliantly (though not exactly to the libretto), harmonizing the contrasts between conspicuous consumption, dinner consumption, malicious consumption (avoided!), musical consumption, and noble charity -- harmonizing all into the highs and lows of one world to which the Marschallin provides an order.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Another notelet

Despite earlier schedules, it appears that local favorite Matthew Polenzani will be the tenor for most of the Met's Rosenkavalier run, including Friday's prima. (He also sang in today's dress rehearsal.) Hooray.

Not that you should see this opera for a tenor, mind you... Denoke should be reason enough.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


If you hadn't noticed, the Metropolitan Opera has a new, snazzier-looking site.

Now to check all my links to the old one...

Monday, March 07, 2005

First impressions

Thursday was the Met debut for two performers: Fabio Luisi, a young Italian conductor with impressive Austro-German credentials, and Luciana d'Intino, an Italian mezzo who's already debuted at most of the other major houses. Luisi showed promisingly detailed ideas about phrasing, tempi, etc. but wasn't always getting everyone else to go along. We'll see. The previous Met Don Carlo gave us Dolora Zajick bulling her way through the Veil Song before an impressively powerful 'O don fatale'. d'Intino was a welcome change: the sound is solid not luxurious (nor wall-shaking a la Zajick), nor does she have the widest range of vocal colors, but she's got full rhythmic and dynamic control of this instrument and an old-school Italian feel for Verdi's phrases. Her Veil Song was the evening's show-stopper, and rightly so.

But the first impression I left most thinking about was one from over three years ago. Sondra Radvanovsky had sung one-offs of (Trovatore) Leonora and Micaela in the years before, but reviews were mixed about this promising but apparently raw soprano whom before that day I'd only heard in bit parts. The Luisa Miller showed something else: a full-grown artist with an astounding golden-age instrument. It was easily produced, large-scale but unequivocally agile (with trill!), and had an affecting quick vibrato in the middle and remarkable squillo on top. Assisted by Levine -- and Nikolai Putilin -- she showed total command of the long Verdian line and some fluent acting chops to boot.

That night was, in short, a complete and not-entirely-expected triumph.* Met management seems to have since been trying -- with some success -- to put Radvanovsky on stage as many times as possible. And I've gone to a bunch of these, drinking up more of the voice that so intoxicated me -- note upon note and phrase upon phrase -- that first night. And always there's a bit of it... But never quite so much. Of course now I'm expecting her to spin out that timbre in endless slow lines and thrilling quick coloratura, to dominate every ensemble climax, and to wrap that all up in a plain and convincing characterization. On every night? Of every opera? With every conductor? Ah, the life of a star.

[* Interestingly, I don't think it was even the best singer's performance I saw that month! Karita Mattila's only unvideotaped Eva may have been her finest evening at the Met. What a season that was.]

Thursday Radvanovsky seemed to be pacing herself through the first four acts, perhaps feeling out the shape of the role in her long version debut. And the huge top notes sounded less knit to the rest of the voice, and she too often seemed to be singing on top of the character rather than through...

But she still is and has all the things above, and I'll be going back to take more in.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Don Carlo[s]

If Verdi's last operas are, obviously, Shakespearean, the three greatest before -- Ballo, Forza, and Don Carlo[s] (1859-1867 in their original shapes) -- are both newer and older in form. The oldest dramatic subject -- the suffering of one who'd shape the public order -- is handled with an almost Greek directness, but through the lens of very contemporary interests in the matter (prompted by the events of 1789+, 1848+, and most particularly the Risorgimento). And we hear these masterpieces in even newer aspect: with market society's decentralization and (partial) depoliticization of the public space, we may now find ourselves -- each one, more than ever before -- participants in the struggle depicted by Verdi and his librettists. At which point I wonder at these works' relative unpopularity in ambition-mad New York.

Each of the three shows the troubles of [a] protagonist[s] in a different social place. Riccardo/Gustavo is almost absolute ruler, and remains sublime even to the fatal end. (One can hear as much; his character infuses the whole opera with an Olympian composure.) On the other hand Alvaro, though half-royal via his Native American mother, is situated far too low in the Spanish world to enact any of the wild ambitions his father intended for him, or even marry the woman he loves. But he's a soldier: it is still left to him to defend his honor, to fight, to slay his enemies, and (in the -- superior -- original) to die. (One might regard Leonora's church adventure as a counterpart to this.)

In Don Carlo[s], chronologically last, all are in between, with the worst of both: high enough to be oppressed and indeed undone by realpolitik demands of duty and state, but not high enough to do much about it. But oh, how eloquently they suffer... It is the longest and darkest of these operas, dark enough that the (non-Schiller) ending on which Verdi settled essentially shows him throwing up his hands in despair -- O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!

Which is all by way of saying that when an excellent, well-cast production like the Met's current one plays, it's sad that the only after-matter it spawns is nit-picking of singers.* The rest is not news, yes. But it's still a pity.

(* Which I'll probably do, in the next post.)