cast | synopsis | previous year's post: 2005
Tenor Joseph Calleja, soprano Ekaterina Siurina, and conductor Friedrich Haider made their Met debuts earlier in the season in Verdi's evergreen Rigoletto. Baritone Carlos Alvarez made his house role debut in the title part last Friday. So I caught these principals working for the second time together last night, in a big success.
Calleja is, I think, most interesting -- and possibly controversial. I have no idea how it comes across on radio, but his voice in person is a marvel. Effortlessly large but not weighty, it has an unmistakable throwback (to the era of shellac!) character featuring a prominent vibrato I could listen to all day. But it's not only the sound that recalls the golden age, but his control: he doesn't strain, and his phrases are built on a rock-solid sense of time that could be the envy of anyone. Between these and his masculine ease on stage I'm hugely excited for the future; never mind that the top notes, tonight, seemed not to fit into his production. Sound with this much character comes along so rarely.
Still, I see that he already has his share of detractors. I wonder if he, like the shamefully under-engaged Sondra Radvanovsky, has too distinctive a sound to be fairly valued by publicity-makers and the Met. Maybe being a tenor will help (though being a bona fide dramatic coloratura hasn't much helped Radvanovsky).
Siurina has potential but is at the moment less interesting. She has a fresh, pleasant sound through most of her range and decent vocal size; only the very top shows that Slavic edge. She certainly looks good: not unlike a several-dress-sizes-larger Netrebko. And she's willing to move, spin around in the middle of "Caro nome" (which was pretty well sung, despite a high note in the cadenza that literally didn't sound at all), etc. Siurina's Gilda was a convincingly eager young woman, but she didn't much sound the undercurrent of deep feeling that makes the character so memorable.
Alvarez had the biggest success of the night, and deservedly so. He's the first larger-than-life Rigoletto here in a long time, both vocally and in manner. He paced himself vocally through the first duet with Gilda, though with Haider's dragging tempo on the latter I'm not sure he could have shown much anyway. But after that -- from "Cortigiani" on -- he was really good. His Rigoletto was miserable even at home, as perhaps he should be: wracked with worries and hatreds, wound so tight that even courtiers fear him.
In the smaller parts, ageless Robert Lloyd (who, bizarrely, seems to be engaged as the Second Guard for the Met's kiddie Flute) and Nancy Fabiola Herrera did well as assassin and accomplice-sister, while James Courtney wasn't as authoritative a Monterone as he was last season.
Haider led a semi-"authenticized" version, with some traditional cuts restored and interpolated high notes axed. In his actual conducting, he did well leading a light, mostly-bouyant account of the score with clear textures from the orchestra, but seemed uninterested in the most important part -- maintaining the vitality, drama, and proportion of the Act I scene 2 duets between Gilda, her father, and her suitor. These private interactions (and Gilda's aria, "Caro nome", in between) -- by turns agitated, pleading, and rapturous -- define the characters and the intersection of their passions that drives the story; they are the heart of the opera. Sagging here is, unfortunately, also traditional, but the underrated Ascher Fisch did a tremendous job with the scene (and the rest of the piece) last year.
Had Fisch been in the pit, this could have been the event of the season; as it happened, it was "just" a fine evening of opera.