Sunday, April 16, 2006

Introducing... (!?)

Those who recall the dull and unfortunately acid-toned soprano who marred Charles Mackerras' 1999 stab at an "authentic" Lucia may be shocked by the Met's current run of Figaro. Its star has the same name, same attractive face, and yet sounds entirely pleasant as Susanna -- and better than that, even, in "Deh vieni". Could this be the same Andrea Rost?

OK, enough of that: yes. Rost turns out to be pretty good -- her main failing is occasionally singing too soft-grainedly to be heard in ensemble -- and contributes much to the successful and moving revival I saw last night. Still, I'd put her as the least of the featured "new" performers.

Alice Coote, the Cherubino, debuted just Wednesday. The sound is pleasant and strong but straightforward -- a bit plain. (Imagine Susan Graham with a lot less height and a touch more hip...) As an actress she was thorough and serious, wholly in the character but without much of a smile. (A valid choice.) She seems to be doing quite well as a recitalist, so perhaps I'll catch her next solo appearance here.

Most interesting, I thought, was conductor Mark Wigglesworth. Having debuted at the Met this fall, he still doesn't naturally get the best textures from the Met orchestra, particularly its strings. Still, his phrase and rhythmic senses were really something -- I most look forward to his return engagement.

But the evening was about something else: the trials of the opera's noble couple, often an afterthought. On this night, with Soile Isokoski and Peter Mattei more emotionally volatile than the usual Countess and Count -- in a convincing, superbly-sung way, of course -- audience focus couldn't help but be on them.

(Or was it John Relyea's fault for playing the title character as a charmless ball of resentful insolence? Again, valid choice. But not particularly enjoyable.)

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.