Saturday, December 02, 2006

A leaner, meaner Mozart

Memorable recitals by its Ilia and Idamante made for anticipation for that side of the renewed Met Idomeneo. And there was fire from that quarter. But maybe most memorable on the night was the excellence of a much-maligned singer: soprano Alexandra Deshorties.

I don't think any fan has forgotten the infamous booing incident four years ago, where a heckler was tossed from the Met, apparently for expressing his displeasure with Deshorties during a performance (of Mozart's Abduction). The incident has stuck, in part because the suspicion (fair or no) that the guy might have had it right was never quite dispelled by subsequent outings.

For this reason I was actually surprised to find her still on the Met roster, and maybe she's one of the singers rumored to have been axed by Gelb for future seasons. But however such things may be, it's fortunate that James Levine (or whoever it was) kept engaging her through this Idomeneo.

The technique-in-progress seems finally to have worked itself out, with no pitch issues, odd breaks, or much to complain of past an occasional constriction in the upper register. (Actually, this seemed to afflict a cross-section of the cast this Wednesday.) And what's revealed? A lean, Mozart-weight but hefty voice over a large span, with flexibility and a bite that encourages -- not offends -- the ear. The dramatic sensibility and convincing fire-eating manner were always there, but are sharpened to an amazing point with everything else working. (And it's not just forward motion -- her mad scene was the most uncannily self-aware version of unhinged-ness I've seen, and in the best way.)

Both fast and slow, angry, dreamy, and disintegrating, in this impossible part she was one of the finest Elettras, period. Enough of old stigmas.

*     *     *

That, obviously, accounts for "meaner". "Leaner" was in the other new principals: Magdalena Kožená and Kobie van Rensburg. Both aurally and... ocularly, they broke unmistakably from their predecessors. The bad? Neither commands the sort of luxuriant sound that Kristine Jepson and Ben Heppner can produce. And Rensburg took stage responsiveness a bit too far, wiggling along to "Fuor del mar" so as to almost spoil his virtuosic account of the music. The good? Everything was quicker, fleeter, more energized. Rensburg isn't a veteran Wagnerian tenor with a huge following, but then again he isn't a tenor who's been singing Wagner for decades and Mozart not in a while. Kožená...

If Hollywood made a movie of Idomeneo, Kožená herself might well be cast as Idamante (beating out Orlando Bloom and Jude Law). It's uncanny how well she fits as the young, impulsive Cretan prince, bright youth against the darker experience of Dorothea Röschmann's Trojan princess Ilia (who is clearly the elder in this incarnation of the relationship). In a sense, it's simple hair-color-coding, but it adds up. Kožená's singing is still not luxuriant -- though the range of sound and color widens over the evening -- but it's dynamic in a way that jolts awake the previously-somnolescent first act, even inspiring Levine. That's not what matters to everyone, and some may find her acting less detailed than Deshorties' or even Röschmann's (the latter is terrific naturally, but given only one note to work with by stage director David Kneuss and the revival crew), but that's to quibble. You have to see her.

I feel I've recently gone over my quota in praise for Dorothea Röschmann, so I'll leave that to Maury this time.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.