Thursday, May 05, 2005

Stumm, stumm

When La Clemenza di Tito was last in New York -- in a new production at City Opera -- it was greeted with much critical acclaim, but the current Met revival has gone relatively unremarked. Is there nothing to be said but enumeration? I myself have difficulty saying much of interest about the performance (of the opera, more later). Nevertheless, it was this season's most satisfying night.

Looking back, that NYCO run was interesting but flawed -- the star ill (with a cold, too, or was that a cover story?), the tenor persuasive but dry of voice and the Vitellia (understandably) overmatched. Not to mention less-than-spellbinding playing from the orchestra. Nevertheless, praise for the star -- Lorraine Hunt Lieberson -- carried the day. To my ears she communicated excitement but not the rapt concentration of her best work.

The Met run, while a revival, is in its gold-plated tradition and succeeds in almost every way. Frank Lopardo again actually sounds good in a thankless part. Ditto Melanie Diener, who shows off her beauty and full lower register, both pretty much new to me. Etc. etc. -- the cast is strong from top to bottom. (On a "maybe it is crappy acoustics" note, Sarah Connolly, whom I remember as a fine but barely audible Ariodante across the plaza, has no such problem here.) Levine is conducting Mozart better than he ever has.

What's missing? Some of that dramatic fire for which Hunt was praised last time (and which Susan Graham apparently provided the other day in London). Anne Sofie von Otter does anguished as well as any, but, in her pants roles at least, it's an adolescent sort of anguish -- there's no sense that the whole person is at risk. Fine for Octavian, not ideal for Sesto. "Parto, parto" she sung well, if perhaps not in as heartfelt a manner as Steve Williamson played the clarinet part.

Still, opera is not only the loud yell, climactic high note, and random display of temperament. It's also the joy of piano and legato and the classical aspects of this great humane (damn humane perhaps) work. If that appeals at all: don't miss this Saturday's broadcast.

UPDATE (5/12): Last night, von Otter's abject "Deh, per questo istante" was heart-wrenching. No objections this time.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.