Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. I don't agree (although I am a devoted follower of your blog). I was also there, and Pomeroy was not ok (and not just because he wasn't Calleja). I started with the view that he was doing his best, but as the evening progressed I began to sense that he was barely trying. He was just standing around -- totally uninvolved in the opera.
    Among the least of his iniquities was his terrible French.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.