Wednesday, November 15, 2006

They sang, too

The second real surprise of Friday's new Barber was that the most impressive singer -- Peter Mattei -- isn't really even a Rossini singer. He gets through the divisions well enough, it's true, but unlike his co-stars he'll never be booked for coloratura facility alone. Good thing he has good looks, better sound, and the ability to dominate the stage...

The other principals did pretty much what was expected. If you like them, you'll like them, which I do -- with caveats. Juan Diego Florez, for one thing, began the night with his seemingly-customary bout of pitch issues, though this did eventually settle. As usual, I found his refinement, fluency, and control admirable, while not being able to shake memories of Vargas-as-Rossinian. To my ears, Florez's sound is pleasant but unremarkable and somewhat lacking in masculinity. (Yes, there are women who disagree -- strongly -- with this assessment.) Diana Damrau, whom perhaps only I faulted in last year's Ariadne, was just as fluent-but-heartless here. But though her control reigned throughout, actual tone on the acuti varied quite a bit.

The lineup sort of echoes the spring's Don Pasquale, which I found such a trial. A great baritone, Florez, and an uncharmingly attractive female lead, plus a low-voiced figure of fun. But that's not entirely fair. For one thing, John Del Carlo was an excellent Don Pasquale in his lone evening last season -- infinitely more human than the first-cast Alaimo, if less vocally clear -- and he does similar work here. For another, Damrau hasn't been encouraged to chew scenery quite as uninhibitedly as Netrebko did; her outbursts come mostly in the form of semi-appropriate flamenco posturing. It still reeks of sitcom, but the antics have moved up from sidekick (total nuttiness) to lead (must leave room for romantic subplot).

I suppose the third surprise was how lively and un-routine Maurizio Benini's conducting turned out. After some really unimpressive Met outings, last spring's Luisa Miller and this Barber may constitute a more promising trend.

*     *     *

So how does it add up? It depends, I think, how much you like the current cast. The production's no draw. If you're neither a Damrau nut nor a Florez completist, I suggest waiting for hugely talented American mezzo Joyce DiDonato, who might give the whole proceeding a more human kick. It could use one.

(That is, I suppose I agree with all the negative bits from here, here, here, and even here.)

I promised thoughts on Butterfly, but that will have to wait.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't absolutely crazy about Damrau's Zerbinetta because I wanted her to stop mugging goddammit and be less cutsey.

    And as I'm out of town both now and probably around March, I'm happy to hear that DiDonato is worth hearing.

    (here from Maury's place, natch)


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.