Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The gypsy queen

It's hard to say what was representative after a performance of Carmen (Saturday evening's) in which the star -- Olga Borodina -- injured her foot at Act I's close. (She missed the subsequent curtain call, delayed the next act's curtain, and had management offer an explanation after the second intermission.) How much did this affect not only her performance but the rest of the cast's? Hard to tell. So take the rest of this post with salt.

That said, Borodina's Carmen is pretty surely not for everyone. The wild sensuality that makes Acts I and II go is not exactly her thing: her voice has huge sensual appeal, of course, but always noticeably in hand with a control that complements her naturally imperious stage manner. (The pleasure in listening to Borodina is not least in her pleasure at showing off this masterly control: this is why, perhaps, evidence of fallibility -- like her recently-fraying top -- disproportionately spoils it.) So even on two good feet I've not seen her push the wildness of the character, the rhythmic or dramatic excitement by which less vocally-endowed mezzos make their impression in Bizet's big hits. The dark reflectiveness of her Act III solo calls for less of this; it suits her strengths well, but in this case not necessarily the audience's.

For this seemed to me the greenest audience I can remember at the Met, with a palpably large contingent of novice or infrequent attendees who -- though not ill-behaved or anything -- were apparently trying to figure out what the heck was supposed to be going on in all of this. Was the impact of her glorious sound lost on them? Would they have been happier with a different sort of protagonist? Again, hard to tell.

Tenor Marcelo Alvarez, who had a big triumph his last time at the Met, seems to be in a transitional phase. We got this Carmen because he dropped Hoffmann from his repertory, and his beefed-up voice, at its best both forceful and seductive, doesn't at the moment seem to have the free top notes that he showed, e.g., in that 2005 Manon. Still, the utterly specific pathos and derangement of his Don Jose in the final act was a marvel.

Lucio Gallo was a mediocre Escamillo, with little to commend him besides fairly loud high notes (audibility elsewhere wasn't so good). That said, he hardly deserved the boos some wretched ass gave his Toreador song. (And note: I'm generally pro-booing.)

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume did his job with some energy and generally good ideas -- the non-singing portions were very snappily handled -- but was too often an inconsiderate accompanist. He led, on the whole, a surprisingly incoherent evening music-wise, which one can't entirely blame on the hodgepodge performing edition.

Finally, if you haven't already seen the show you've missed an almost revelatory Micaëla from Maija Kovalevska, whose character shines through Zeffirelli's production static as prominently as her voice now cuts through the orchestra. I like Stoyanova -- the alternate Micaëla -- but Kovalevska's the best in at least a decade.

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I see that Borodina has cancelled tonight's performance, presumably due to the injury. My apologies for not getting word of the possibility out sooner, as I'd meant to.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.