Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Turandot, briefly

Turandot -- Metropolitan Opera, 01/04/10
Guleghina, Kovalevska, Licitra, Tian / Nelsons

It was no surprise to find, in last season's Queen of Spades, Maria Guleghina lacking in delicacy and romantic ardor. But to hear her in this performance having seemingly no high notes left, ducking loud climaxes, and otherwise short-changing the icy violence of the Princess Turandot was just shocking: Guleghina has always been, if nothing else, reliably loud and forceful. There was no illness notice -- did she sound like this in the moviecast?

Salvatore Licitra sang a pretty good account of Calaf, except... I wonder if his mistake was to try to sing all the separate syllables of "Nessun dorma"'s final "vincero". The big B came out quite poorly and the show went on after the aria with no applause whatsoever. Oops. Still, a decent night on the whole.

Maija Kovalevska -- a favorite at this blog -- was making her role debut as Liu. She certainly doesn't have as beefy a sound as her two aforementioned colleagues, but as ever sings with an eloquence neither can come close to matching. She got the only really enthusiastic response at curtain calls.

Kovalevska's (Latvian) countryman Andris Nelsons did a commendable job in the pit.

I have some thoughts on the piece, but they can wait for a better overall performance. Lise Lindstrom is scheduled for one more show in the title part at the end of the month: it's too bad I missed (from my own illness) her sole scheduled performance with Kovalevska last Saturday. Absent news that Guleghina was sick and is now quite better, I discourage seeing any non-Lindstrom Turandots.

Regular Ernst

Les Contes d'Hoffmann -- Metropolitan Opera, 01/02/10
Pomeroy, Lindsey, Held, Kim, Netrebko, Gubanova, Oke / Levine

In the end, among the ailing tenors, Roberto Alagna sang New Year's week (as Don Jose in the Carmen prima) but Joseph Calleja didn't (as Hoffmann in the final Hoffmann). Also sick from the bugs sweeping the city: me (resulting in delayed posts and a lag before I see the new Carmen).

The audience for January 2nd's run-ending performance was greeted, at the evening's start, by dreaded sign and program-slip: the star tenor was still out (as he had been Wednesday), unknown David Pomeroy was again in. But as if to taunt us still further, the show did not begin until some administrator (not Gelb) came out to announce that Pomeroy, too, was sick and desired leniency. In the old days, this is the sort of thing that might have started a riot.

I'm not unsympathetic, of course, being still in the midst of a long and unpleasant bout of winteritis myself. But Pomeroy didn't even actually need that announcement: he showed maybe a bit of cold-induced unclear tone, but on the whole his singing was reasonably good, certainly not a discredit to this or any other stage.

It was the rest that didn't come off. That the opera is musically Hoffmann's (that is, the character's) -- punishingly so -- reflects his central role in the opera's story and tone. The presence of this fictionalized real-life German Romantic (himself, incidentally, an opera composer) is what makes this a serious work and not one of Offenbach's satirical sallies: Hoffmann feels thoroughly and sincerely (if also a bit... inexplicably), and this central emotional core transforms the character of the hijinks around it, making them sinister instead of frothy -- a shift well emphasized by the current Met production.

Calleja isn't, to be sure, the greatest of actors, but his glorious instrument reaffirmed Hoffmann's place at the center of things every time he opened his mouth, greatly enlarging his unaffected communication of the poet's desire and hurt. And though one can't blame Pomeroy for lacking this advantage, this latter tenor's characterization seemed otherwise undeveloped as well. Even the small step of shaving off his beard (to match the Hoffmann doubles who repeatedly appear in the production) would have done much for Pomeroy.

In fact, as the evening went along I found Pomeroy increasingly credible -- but only when I closed my eyes. Even after multiple performances in the lead, his physical affect was not of the poet marked for greatness and suffering but some average regular Joe (er, Ernst) offering lines of passion without quite grasping (or succumbing to) their import. Nor was Pomeroy's Hoffmann on much of a journey: the epilogue version did not seem to have accumulated either hurt nor experience through all the previous episodes.

*     *     *

Without a compelling figure at its center, the show dissolves into a series of showpieces for the ladies. That wasn't such a bad thing here, as the evening found all in excellent voice, better than at the earlier shows I'd seen. Was Anna Netrebko perhaps sick at the start of the run? Her initial aria as Antonia was still not touchingly phrased, but this time was reasonably accurate, which one couldn't have said at the first performances. Kathleen Kim (Olympia), just back from her own illness, didn't hold her top note forever but was quite accurate and as strong as ever. But audience laurels went this time to Kate Lindsey (Nicklausse/the Muse), not least for being the sole character -- in this telling -- to register the entire story.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Ave atque vale (again)

If, City Opera's return notwithstanding, the current operatic season has seemed disappointing, it's not least due to the remarkable string of successes (and one awful half-success) that closed 2008-2009. Strong star turns from Angela Gheorghiu, Stephanie Blythe, Karita Mattila, Sondra Radvanovsky, Natalie Dessay, Renee Fleming, and Katarina Dalayman -- and that's only to name the women -- all, but for that one lapse, were given excellent, sometimes revelatory support both by cast and production. And the panoply of stars -- and theatrical styles -- assembled for the Met Opera's 125th anniversary gala in the midst of these successes was the near-ideal capstone.

But the most memorable moments of 2009 belonged, I think, to the low voices. Rene Pape gave his first full lieder recital anywhere at Carnegie in April, and it was as auspicious a debut as one could imagine -- including the finest live "Dichterliebe" I've ever heard. The success of this has event has, it seems, encouraged him to shift more of his career to recitals. Not too regrettable -- as long as he keeps returning to New York.

2009's central part was that of James Morris, more at home than ever in the Schenk Ring production that cannot but be associated with him. These performances were not announced as his farewell, and if that Cycle 3 Walk├╝re turns out to have been only Morris' final Wotan in this Schenk production (or perhaps not even that, as the materials are being preserved in storage) -- well, all the more fortunate we. What we heard last spring was not merely good considering the bass-baritone's sixty-odd years and thirty-nine seasons at the Met (twenty-plus as Wotan in this production), but an apt culmination: as if all that experience had weathered away all in him that was not Wotan, and left untouched all that was. Farewell, he sang, in every aspect at once, and even a return performance won't erase that event.