As you may recall, Alvarez took over in the fall of 1998 for the production-allergic Roberto Alagna, who with his wife withdrew from that first run of the still-current Met Traviata. (She finally will star in it this winter -- sans husband.) He was supposed to partner Renee Fleming, who herself pulled out -- to be replaced by Patricia Racette.
Alvarez had, fortuitously, just released his first album, and there was much hype in the local press. But both the album and the Alfredo showed him as good, well-schooled, but a touch boring. No star. One informed wag suggested that "Mr. Alvarez was making his Met debut a good five years too early." Maybe he was.
Subsequent appearances brought almost the opposite: a singer whose hamminess and tendency to push, though exciting, was compromising the lyric beauty of his instrument. What next? This year's Manon, it seems. His des Grieux was impassioned, tortured, and sweetly tender; vocally and physically both well-judged and intense. He and Fleming had two stars' easy rapport with each other and the score, only somewhat hindered by López-Cobos' bludgeoning accompaniments. But Fleming's virtues are not news.
Why the media laxness? Perhaps it was his (according to my friends) less distinguished first night, when critics showed up; perhaps an old face can't get a new hearing. Perhaps he'll be noticed in the spring. Whatever the case, Alvarez seems now the finest Latin tenor around.
Massenet's Manon itself calls forth many reactions, from wonder to disdain. What dangers it sees in love: this long, tortuous, colorful thing that one's perhaps never quite out of... Perhaps the run's empty seats show desire for a cleaner, more disposable view? Today we have trouble with Forza, too.