Monday, January 29, 2007

Short late Traviata notice

On a friend's recommendation, I saw the Met's Tuesday presentation of La Traviata. Renee Fleming and Angela Gheorghiu aren't in it: the more modest casting that's dominated this production since those two cancelled its 1998 premiere is. But that has its advantages.

In Aristotelian terms, for example, Gheorghiu's portrayal offered a decent amount of terror but not much pity. One was impressed, stirred even, without being so touched by personal sympathy for Violetta's plight. Hei-Kyung Hong, who sings the part again this Thursday, reverses the balance. Neither voice nor stage presence dominates the stage -- it's what some might call a lack of star quality. But though the instrument lacks force and is going raw on top, the soft singing it produces is terrific, and perfectly complements Hong's utterly natural portrayal of the courtesan. The whole effect varies by act: the first takes too much vocal husbanding, though her body's illumination by love is priceless; the second with its extremes of emotion isn't as striking as it is for others; but the third act, with a letter-reading and aria (in only one verse, sadly) that in its touching believability puts her predecessors to shame, is Hong's triumph.

Whether by chance or to attract Korean crowds (if it's the latter, it worked), Hong was matched with debuting tenor Wookyung Kim. He seemed nervous at the beginning, but strengthed as the evening went on. (This run includes the sometimes-cut cabaletta to his Act 2 aria, "O mio rimorso".) His liquid, Italianate sound and basic phrasing is very appealing.

Another promising young singer, recent Lindemann graduate Charles Taylor, was the elder Germont. He has a big, enjoyable voice that was doing well until an oddly choppy and pinched rendition of his big aria ("Di provenza"). Taylor has had to cancel a previous performance in this run, so perhaps this poor patch was a fluke.

Carlo Rizzi got better sound than the orchestra usually produces for him, but had occasional coordination problems with a number of the singers. It's disappointing that the Met brought him back for this run, after a few years blissfully free of his routine.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.