Monday, September 22, 2008

The Met season ahead, part III -- the men

(Part I - Part II)

While -- with some exceptions -- the female half of this current Met roster is dominated by the talent of the (later) 1990s, the men's portion is more newly arrived. The most prolific lead (by production -- I haven't had the patience to count actual evenings) this season will be tenor Piotr Beczala, who made his debut less than two years ago as the Duke in Rigoletto. (I only caught that run's other tenor, but Maury was impressed.) Beczala stars in Lucia, Onegin, and Rigoletto again (though this one just for one evening), making it quite likely that I and a whole bunch of other Metgoers will see him this time around.

Now some of these performances may have been substituting for Gelb favorite Rolando Villazon -- who returns from a long hiatus in January -- but he himself didn't debut here until 2003, becoming ubiquitous on his return two years later (also in Rigoletto). Villazon's is certainly one of the stories of the season: whatever you make of his vocal chops, it's hard not to like the man, and the personal-vocal crisis (from which he may or may not have emerged) that felled him last year is a terrifying thing indeed. Whether or not some drama with her contributed to the crisis, the January performances of Lucia -- in which Villazon sings Edgardo -- will be not only his first since at the Met but his first since with Anna Netrebko. Afterwards he's scheduled for L'Elisir d'Amore.

Also scheduled for Elisir (though only one performance) is another young tenor who may already be the man to watch: Joseph Calleja. Calleja, who debuted here in 2006 in -- what else -- Rigoletto, will have turned 31 by the time he reappears in Rigoletto -- and that one Elisir -- next April. His instrument's combination of easy spaciousness, bel canto control, and a throwback vibrato-bearing timbre must be heard -- in person! -- to be believed: I don't want to jinx him, but to my ears Calleja seems by far the most talented Italian-rep singer since Pavarotti.

Last of the doubly-engaged young tenors is Giuseppe Filianoti, who shares Rigoletto with Beczala and Calleja before singing in La Rondine. He impressed in his 2005 debut as Edgardo, but a medical crisis and consequent surgery left his singing somewhat forced and unbalanced on his return in the same part in last season's new Lucia production. With luck, he will return to his debut form, though the increasing heaviness of his repertoire is a worry.

Incidentally, Villazon, Calleja, and Filianoti were all winners in the same year at Placido Domingo's Operalia competition: 1999. They were then 27, 21, and 25 respectively.

*     *     *

Of course, more veteran stars haven't all been put out to pasture. Domingo himself sings two roles -- Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur (his debut role four decades ago) and Siegmund in Ring Cycles 2 and 3, as well as having some presumed part in the company's 125th Anniversary Gala that also honors his 40th season. Ramon Vargas, whose performances last season were among its highlights, sings two-thirds of opening night and an entire run of La Boheme. The workmanlike Marcello Giordani seems no longer to be the Official Tenor of the Metropolitan Opera, but does star in the new production of the Damnation of Faust and part of the Madama Butterfly revival. And, rounding out the tenors, Roberto Alagna sings some of his wife's performances of La Rondine before returning for the tenor leads in Cav and Pag.

Low-voiced men's maturation cycles make it unsurprising that familiar names recur in that part of the roster. Thomas Hampson, for example, appears in opening night, a new production of one of the few operas where the baritone is the leading man (Thaïs), and perhaps the most promising of the season's revivals (Onegin with Karita Mattila and conductor Jiři Bělohlávek): one can as well say the season is to be his as anyone else's. (As I rather like his current grittified incarnation, I think this is a good thing. Others seem to disagree.) Elsewhere one can hear Dwayne Croft twice (opening night, Butterfly), John Relyea twice (Damnation of Faust, Cenerentola), Rene Pape as King Marke (Tristan) and two different Ring roles, Mariusz Kwiecien twice (Boheme, Lucia), and basses Kwangchul Youn and James Morris in seemingly everything under the sun. Ring Cycles 1 and 3 feature what may be Morris' house farewells to a signature part he's sung for decades -- Wotan/the Wanderer.

But even among the low-voiced one sees new blood multiply engaged. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov, a.k.a. Mr. Olga Borodina, has shown himself a fine singer since his little-noted 2004 debut and will, after subbing for James Morris in last Thursday's Verdi Requiem, sing one performance of Leporello in Don Giovanni along with a bunch of Raimondos in Lucia. Even more prominent is baritone Željko Lucic (a debutant two years ago in Gioconda), who will accomplish a Verdi trifecta by singing Germont (Traviata), Rigoletto, and di Luna (Trovatore).

*     *     *

Actual debuts are to be made by quite a few leading men. Perhaps most momentous is tenor Christian Franz as Siegfried in Ring Cycles 1 and 2, though tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko's debut opposite Renee Fleming in Rusalka won't be small. Other debuting men, in more or less substantial parts: Finnish bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo plays Jokanaan opposite his countrywoman's Salome; Don Giovanni brings the debut of not only Australian bass-baritone Joshua Bloom (Masetto), but later tenor Pavol Breslik (Ottavio) and golden-voiced Lindemann bass-baritone Shenyang (also Masetto); baritone Vladimir Stoyanov sings Enrico in the early Lucias before returning for a smaller part in Queen of Spades; Eric Owens debuts as General Groves in Doctor Atomic and then sings Sarastro in the kids' Magic Flute; baritone Gerd Grochowski sings Kurwenal in the Barenboim-led Tristan; veteran Italian baritone Alberto Mastromarino comes to the Met as Tonio in Pagliacci; and the Ring cycle concludes with another debut in Götterdämmerung -- bass-baritone Iain Paterson as Gunther.

*     *     *

Despite this litany of names, some true established stars only appear once and thus have yet to be mentioned -- Matthew Polenzani (Don Giovanni), Ben Heppner (Queen of Spades), Juan Diego Florez (Sonnambula), Bryn Terfel (only appearing, bizarrely enough, as Dulcamara in Elisir), and too many others to list.

A contrasting pair is at the center of Don Giovanni, which besides a weak production (its Zeffirelli predecessor was much better) and a slew of big names in the supporting parts features two rather different singers in the title role. First is Erwin Schrott, whom we -- thanks to his association with Anna Netrebko -- are bound to see more of, for good or for ill. Sonically, as last year's Figaro showed, there's little reason to complain, but he seems inclined enough to character-busting overacting that following her example any further could make him just unwatchable. On the other hand, Don Giovanni is a narcissistic, sociopathic cad, so a lack of humanity might work. To a point.

The other Giovanni -- Swedish baritone Peter Mattei -- is something like the platonic ideal of the traditional Don previously embodied by, e.g., Ezio Pinza. His charisma and vocal command are as seemingly effortless as his handsome appearance: for this Don Giovanni seduction is natural, and villainy is something he occasionally deigns to indulge. It's a conception perhaps closer to the heart of a more Romantic age, when Don Giovanni was almost (or more than almost) a hero... (These days one's more likely to squirm at his abuse of position and the unwillingness of his peers to think badly of one of their own.) But with Mattei the embodiment rings strongly true in any context, and every operagoer should see him in the role at least once.

*     *     *

In a sense it's not a huge surprise, given this season's repertory, but the absence for a third full season of the singer who had the most astounding and successful house debut of the age -- receiving the endless shouts, floor- and wall-pounding, and thunderous applause of those who knew they'd seen a glorious, paradigm-shattering event that "success" barely even describes -- is little short of disgraceful.

Where on earth is Klaus Florian Vogt?


  1. Another MET debut is that of Tenor Colin Lee as Arturo in "Lucia" opposite Netrebko and Villzon. Albeit a small role, watch out for this amazing tenor, who easily can give Florez a run for his money!

  2. Thanks for the heads-up. Arturo has been a pretty auspicious debut before.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.