Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The hidden ball

Maybe it was the Pope. Salvatore Licitra spent last Saturday morning doing this

and returned to the Met that evening to headline a performance (of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera) that was, on the whole, more satisfying than the glitzy Fille premiere two days later.

Licitra's biggest trouble may be his own potential. When everything works, his spacious, strong sound and naturally ardent phrases make him a terrific Italian tenor, deserving much of the hype with which he first arrived. But even when he's off, he occasionally manages some remarkable little thing -- a diminuendo, an eloquent phrase -- that recalls his better form. This has the paradoxical effect of ruining my enjoyment of the evening -- mediocrity is OK until one's reminded of what's missing.

What I heard of his winter performances in Ballo was in this latter vein -- just skilled enough to be unbearable. But Saturday he was really good. Perhaps -- unless it was just temporary Papal inspiration -- he'll do well in Trovatore after all.

Unfortunately, he won't get to repeat the performance tonight, having cancelled. Ramon Vargas is substituting, and I'll save the rest of this review until I see this evening's show -- which I do recommend to anyone considering it.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.