Sunday, February 28, 2010

The 2010-2011 Met season announcement, annotated

Like last year, this post lists the productions and main cast lineups for next season at the Metropolitan Opera. Operas are listed in the order of their first appearance.

Das Rheingold (new Robert Lepage production)
Terfel, Owens, Siegel, Croft, Selig, König, Blythe, Harmer / Levine (opening night through October; March-April)
The Met's first new Ring in decades -- a big event even if Lepage's tech tricks prove to be as soporific as they were in Damnation.

Tales of Hoffmann
Filianoti, Lindsey, Abdrazakov, Christy, Gerzmava, Borodina / Fournillier (September-beginning of October)
Filianoti, Lindsey, Abdrazakov, Mosuc, Gerzmava, Borodina / Fournillier (October)
When I last saw Filianoti here last year, he sounded not yet recovered from his illness-prompted vocal issues of the year before. Let's hope his big engagement here is a sign there was no permanent damage. Patrick Fournillier debuts in the pit, and Mr. and Mrs. Olga Borodina seem a fine fit for their parts.

Ataneli, Schäfer, Meli, Silvestrelli, Surguladze / Arrivabeni (September-beginning of October)
Gagnidze, Schäfer, Meli, Silvestrelli, Surguladze / Arrivabeni (October)
Alvarez, Machaidze, Calleja, Kocán, Chávez / Arrivabeni (January)
Lucic, Damrau, Filianoti, Kocán, Herrera / Luisi (April-May)
Young Italian tenor Francesco Meli (who sang this last year at Covent Garden) makes his house debut before more familiar Dukes take over. Also debuting: soprano Nino Machaidze and conductor Paolo Arrivabeni.

Boris Godunov (new Peter Stein production)
Pape, Antonenko, Semenchuk, Nikitin, Balashov, Petrenko, Ognovenko / Gergiev (October, March)
Pape, a bunch of Russians, and an impressive-voiced Latvian (Antonenko as the False Dmitri) try Mussorgsky. Note that Pavel Smelkov is conducting one performance each in October and March, the latter without Pape in the lead.

La Boheme
Kovalevska, Grigolo, Opolais, Capitanucci / Rizzi Brignoli (October-November)
Stoyanova, Calleja, Dehn, Capitanucci / Rizzi Brignoli (December)
Kovalevska, Beczala, Opolais, Mattei / Rizzi Brignoli (January-February)
Kovalevska, Vargas, Opolais, Mattei / Rizzi Brignoli (February)
Four remarkable casts, though unfortunately Kovalevska (peerless today as Mimi) and Calleja don't sing together. Having Peter Mattei as Marcello for the third and fourth iterations is serious luxury.

Il Trovatore
Racette, Cornetti, Álvarez, Lucic / Armiliato (October-November)
Radvanovsky, Zajick, Álvarez, Hvorostovsky / Levine (April)
As good as Racette is, florid Verdi isn't her strength. Still a promising alternate fall lineup, though, before April's not-to-be-missed premiere cast reprise (this time with Levine!). Note that Julianna Di Giacomo (heard this season in Stiffelio) will do one Leonora on November 11.

Don Pasquale
Del Carlo, Netrebko, Polenzani, Kwiecien / Levine (October-November, February)
I loathed this production when it opened, though Del Carlo did do much to make it work in his sole performance of the run. And Netrebko's bel canto outings since then have only grown more vocally iffy.

Garanca, Jovanovich, Cabell, Relyea / Gardner (November-December)
Vizin, Jovanovich, Cabell, Relyea / Gardner (December 9)
Aldrich, Alagna, Kühmeier, TBA / Gardner (January)
A reshuffling of this year's Joses and Carmens, though the conductor and Micaelas aren't as exciting. It will be interesting to see how Garanca and Alagna fare in this without Nézet-Séguin.

Cosi fan tutte
Persson, Leonard, Breslik, Gunn, de Niese, Holzmair / Christie (November-December)
From Sophie to Fiordiligi? Holzmair at the Met? With Christie in the pit?
So many oddities, it almost has to work.

Don Carlo (new Nicholas Hytner production)
Poplavskaya, Smirnova, Alagna, Keenlyside, Furlanetto, Halfvarson / Nézet-Séguin (November-December)
Poplavskaya, Smirnova, Lee, Keenlyside, Furlanetto, Halfvarson / Nézet-Séguin (November-December)
The Met is scrapping its finest Verdi production to bring over Hytner's cheesy Lego sets? With a great Francophone conductor and tenor and it's still in Italian? What a waste.
That said, it'll probably still be really good. (But still a waste.)

La Fanciulla del West
Voigt, Giordani, Uusitalo / Luisotti (December-January)
Luisotti in the pit again is a treat, but the onstage lineup isn't exactly Destinn, Caruso and Amato.

Pelléas et Mélisande
Kožená, Degout, Finley, Palmer, White / Rattle (December-January)
You'd be crazy to miss this. Probably will sell badly, though, despite Rattle and the amazing cast.

Magic Flute
Phillips, Miklósa, Thomas, Gunn, Robinson / Nielsen (December-January)
Like this season's Hansel&Gretel, this is a really good cast for a kids' version.

La Traviata (new Willy Decker production)
Poplavskaya, Polenzani, Dobber / Noseda (New Year's Eve through January)
Poplavskaya, Meli, Dobber / Noseda (January)
Decker's famous Salzburg Traviata arrives -- minus the stars (Netrebko and Villazon) who made it famous. This may be for the better.

Radvanovsky, Álvarez, Struckmann / Armiliato (January)
Urmana, Licitra, Morris / Armiliato (March-April)
Wouldn't have imagined Urmana as Tosca myself. Radvanovsky, yes.

Simon Boccanegra
Hvorostovsky, Frittoli, Vargas, Furlanetto / Levine (January-February)
The men's names speak for themselves.

Nixon in China (Met premiere with Peter Sellars production)
Maddalena, Kelly, Fink, Brubaker, Kim, Braun / Adams (February)
Ahh, the days when John Adams realized he needed an actual librettist.

Iphigénie en Tauride
Graham, Domingo, Groves, Hawkins / Summers (February-March)
Kitschy, over-the-top production + excellent music = ?

Fleming, Brownlee, Osborn, TBA, Banks, van Rensburg / Frizza (February-March)
Most of the same players from the Rossini show that will premiere later this spring.

Lucia di Lammermoor
Dessay, Calleja, Tézier, Youn / Summers (February-March)
Dessay and Calleja should provide fireworks. Stephen Gaertner does one Enrico on March 12.

Roméo et Juliette
Gheorghiu, Beczala, Boulianne, Meachem, Morris / Domingo (March)
Undeterred by his inability to draw audiences from the pit in this season's Stiffelio, the Met saddles yet another impressive cast with Domingo's subpar stick work.

The Queen of Spades
Mattila, Galouzine, Markov, Mattei, Zajick / Nelsons (March)
Yet another incredible cast you'd be crazy to miss.

Le Comte Ory (new Bartlett Sher production)
Florez, DiDonato, Damrau, Resmark, Degout, Pertusi / Benini (March-April)
Don't know the piece, but the cast is certainly something.

Fleming, Kaiser, Braun, Rose, Connolly, Larsen / Davis (March-April)
The Countess is a tricky part, particularly for one of Fleming's instincts. But she did eventually make a success of the Marschallin...

Goerne, Meier, Skelton, Siegel, Fink / Levine (April)
I believe this will be Goerne's first appearance at the Met outside Papageno's bird suit. But even he, Waltraud Meier, and James Levine will be hard-pressed to sell out Berg's early modernist masterpiece.

Die Walküre (new Robert Lepage production)
Voigt, Terfel, Westbroek, Kaufmann, Blythe, König / Levine (April-May)
Again, an event no matter what.

Orfeo ed Euridice
Daniels, Royal, Oropesa / TBA (April-May)
Kate Royal debuts as Euridice. Countertenor David Daniels, though not lacking for fans, is vocally all wrong for the lead part.

Ariadne auf Naxos
Urmana, Kim, DiDonato, Smith, Allen / Luisi (May)
This season's revival was surprisingly good (more on this later), but Luisi in the pit adds another dimension.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The last modernist

Attila -- Metropolitan Opera, 2/23/10
Abdrazakov, Urmana, Vargas, Meoni, Ramey / Muti

There were a slew of non-singing debuts in this house and company premiere of Verdi's 1846 opera on Attila the Hun -- not least the opera itself, here in Pierre Audi's new production -- but the most notable was conductor Riccardo Muti. Deposed five years ago from La Scala, he still retains iconic status in the opera world. Last night was the first time in many years that a conductor of comparable long acclaim and stature has stood on the Met podium in James Levine's absence.

Muti has the power and inclination to command. Like the first and greatest modernist conductor -- La Scala and Met legend Arturo Toscanini -- however, he quite publicly puts this at the service of the score, the composer's work as written. The most notorious result of this is that all unwritten high notes are suppressed in a Muti-led performance, and last night's Attila was no exception. But that hardly constitutes his aesthetic viewpoint: better to note the serious, fiery, and ever meticulously held and balanced musical execution he gets from his ensembles in both opera and concert.

The orchestra, of course, played well for Muti, with clear textures throughout and (for example) stupendous soft string sound at the beginning of Act III. Donald Palumbo's chorus, an essential (if ever hat-switching) player in this early Verdi drama, sang with similar skill and gusto. The cast, too, was strong top to bottom in the best Met tradition. And yet...

*     *     *

The program note (written, I believe, by the editor of the new critical edition used in this production) helpfully observes that Attila is something of a high-water mark in Verdi's use of the cabaletta, the (usually -- and in this piece, always) quick, rhythmic, excited, and often virtuosic section following the slower "cantabile" section we often think of as the aria proper. More specifically we might say that Attila is a high-water mark in Verdi's use of the cantabile-cabaletta (slow-fast) double aria structure itself, which he goes to again and again here, providing equal interest in each part without messing around with the structure or balance as he would in later pieces.

But this cantabile-cabaletta setup is no modernist invention; it is the foundational building block of all bel canto -- that is, Italian romantic -- opera. And in this work Verdi is clearly using it (over and over) to his romantic aesthetic end.

The opera begins with Attila at the height of his power, being praised by the Huns for having just conquered the (northern Italian) Roman city of Aquileia. The prologue introduces the other three leads -- all Roman -- in succession: Odabella, Ezio, and Foresto. Each appears dispossessed, far from her or his much-desired goal -- Odabella needs honorable vengeance against Attila for her father, Ezio personal glory and power, and Foresto happiness (married to Odabella) in his now-wrecked homeland. Attila, of course, wishes to complete his conquest of Rome, and he does not get his big solo set piece until late in Act I -- when this great goal is, for the first time, in doubt.

The world can't accommodate all these desires at once, of course: not only is it Attila vs. the Romans, but -- as we see later in the story -- the particular Roman plans clash, though not quite so fatally. But each character, as he or she moves to enact his or her particular wishes, gets to take the stage for a solo sequence. First -- in the cantabile -- we hear the inner stirrings at length, pained or sublime or some combination of the two. Then the cabaletta, and what is that but the delighted roar of that individual's subjectivity as it attempts to become the world?

The protagonists of Attila are all confident in pushing their particular selves and visions forward in this way, which is no surprise given the chronology of Verdi's operas. We see an advance from 1844's Ernani, where all characters and singing (slow and fast) express, essentially, the same thing -- a glorious fatality -- while yet being leagues away from, say, Verdi's later masterpiece Don Carlo[s], in which the characters chase and express their wants ever the more mightily because it is so clear that all are beyond earthly reach. (Not to speak of Aida, where dramatic impulse has receded to a trickle before the immobile pageantry of ancient Egypt, and the cabaletta form appears transformed, at the end, in the slow (!) motion of "O terra addio" as the main couple's lives ebb away with romantic opera itself.)

And yet never in these main-career operas (one might regard Otello and Falstaff, written long after Verdi's post-Aida "retirement", as as proto-modern -- partly explaining their outsized 20th century esteem) is the musical-dramatic sense apart from these chained solo and ensemble outbursts: the later methods of, for example, through-composition or symphonic forms or an ever-acting and -commenting orchestra don't yet bring a conflicting truth against them. When a character takes the stage for a solo, the stage is his. Equality is seriatim, as each main character gets a turn -- or, perhaps, an interruption. (Even when, as in Don Carlos, Verdi inserts external comment on the action, it takes the form of such an interruption, on par with any other vocal bit.)

So the opera Attila is a confident Verdian glory of romanticism, the process by which European art proclaimed and elaborated first the infinity and then the infinite uselessness of human subjectivity and individuality. Attila's own course shows a not-yet-nihilistic form of the latter: humbled by Pope Leo's divinely-backed admonition at Act I's close, he veers to seek a sort of equality rather than complete dominion. But this is not, cannot be enough: the other characters have goals that demand complete victory for each of them, and Attila is opportunistically beset until the one for whom he sought most complete equality -- Odabella, his bride -- kills him. Just before the murder Attila, musically backgrounded after his great Act I revelation (he wished, after all, no longer to compete and squash), again attempts to reassert his self-suppressed ability to dominate, launching into a solo of accusation and outrage -- but his lone complaint is broken into by the other three leads, igniting with their interruptions the final quartet of Attila's doom. The musical form perfectly embodies the dramatic.

*     *     *

But Muti is a modernist, and for all his musical understanding of Italian opera and its construction, his ear and brain gravitate to the objective -- not to the orderly riot of subjectivity that is the aesthetic essence of early Verdi. The score provides a measure of objectivity -- of course -- but it is deceptively flat, gives no special clue of the dramatic truths unleashed by having one singer grabbing the stage solo after another.

A modernist aesthetic in the pit does well for certain elements, and Muti is particularly fine in these: we hear all the various voices and harmonies clearly, phrasing is precise and appropriate, and, as mentioned above, the whole thing is based on a score restored by scholarship to a more Verdian state. Further, as one can hear from any Toscanini recording, modernism isn't incompatible with drama. But it's a peculiar kind of drama that's encouraged: with the composer's score at the center, it's the personality or ideology of the score's central, commanding interpreter -- the conductor himself -- that is ever more unitarily felt. This makes ever more sense with later, more modernist works, as the action shifts to the orchestra and the argument gets both longer and more abstruse -- or centered on a single character. Nevertheless it leaves precious little air for the multiple and various natural egoisms on which early Verdi -- like romantic opera generally -- depends.

So the characters of Verdi's Attila here appear a little shrunken, a little overzealously limited by Muti's baton and impressively accompanying orchestra. As modernism was born when individual subjectivity was sharply put in its place (e.g. "enough with the high notes!") -- replaced as the organizing basis of art with some new objective principle -- it can hardly be expected to display the thing with quite the unimpeded gusto of the romantic original. For all Muti's famous (and famously insightful) hands-on work with the individual singers, it simply does not come out the same. One sees Attila and his enemies a bit like the lions of a zoo, slightly depressing, no longer quite kings of the jungle-stage even if they are all kept in good trim.

*     *     *

Not to take away from the singers, all of whom have shown plenty of personality in other, more expansive settings and actually do a good job here all around. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov (Attila) continued his string of strong outings outside the shadow of his wife (Olga Borodina); mezzo-turned-soprano (her last Verdi here was, I believe, Eboli) Violeta Urmana (Odabella) was strong and focused if not Italianate -- and did a decent try at a trill; meanwhile tenor Ramon Vargas (Foresto) did surprisingly well in rearranging his sound a bit to more heroic effect. Tenor Russell Thomas, who will sing Foresto in one of the later performances, also sang strongly in the smaller tenor part of Uldino, and Sam Ramey was authoritative in his few lines as Pope Leo the Great. But the big surprise was the unscheduled early Met debut of baritone Giovanni Meoni (Ezio). Meoni showed a layered, full-size instrument -- joining Željko Lucic as perhaps the only full-blown "Verdi baritone" on the roster -- while not eschewing (as Lucic does) the nasty and villainous side of his character. In fact he seemed to embrace the crueler bits -- phrasing his part with spirit -- while retaining a certain charismatic integrity. Add these up and: more Verdi please. Di Luna, Rigoletto, Renato...

*     *     *

The production got a fair amount of hype before the premiere, but turned out to be not much. It's far from the other premieres this season has seen: Tosca, From the House of the Dead, Hoffmann, Carmen -- all closely-directed, psychological shows with fine attention to character. This show appears not to have been directed at all, with some nicely textured but basically flat scenery acting as pretty backdrops to a stand&sing -- yes, a throwback to the bad old days, though in an updated primary-color palette. Miuccia Prada's costumes were low key for the chorus, a bit more elaborate for the principals. Attila and Odabella got tall headpieces: his an amazingly silly silver feathered helmet that sat atop his head for additional height (and was mercifully soon removed), hers a tall Marge Simpson hairdo. The Roman men got shoulder guards, I assume to show their military status, while Attila's slave Uldino was in a bulky snowsuit-looking thing that made him look sort of like a Krogan. (I'm quite sure, mind you, that Prada wasn't inspired by a video game.) The Pope was in a reasonably Pope-like plain outfit of white with red accents.

The two men (whoever they were -- was this the team of Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron?) who came out to take bows for the production were booed, though not with the fury one heard at Zimmerman's Sonnambula or Bondy's Tosca. In fact I thought it was quite acceptably mediocre: the physical elements are attractive -- and acoustically friendly -- enough, the chorus is conveniently segregated into a bottom space and isn't made to run around, and perhaps on revival some assistant stage director will actually come up with nontrivial stage direction. Not worth a cheer, but not worth a boo either.

The show, however, is quite worth seeing and cheering, an unfamiliar but real example of Verdi's genius. I don't suppose next time could have Levine, Radvanovsky, and Calleja though...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New season, new production

I'll have a post on the Met's 2010-2011 season announcement after tonight's house premiere of Verdi's Attila. Not many surprises for those who'd followed Brad Wilber's collations.

The song of Carmen

Carmen -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/21/10
Garanča, Frittoli, Alagna, Kwiecien / Nézet-Séguin
Carmen -- Metropolitan Opera, 2/9/10
Borodina, Kovalevska, Jovanovich, Rhodes / Altinoglu

Thirty-four-year-old French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, though much praised in this Met debut run, deserves, I think, even more. It was his electrifying work in the pit that drove the first performances of this new Richard Eyre production from Carmen's exhilaratingly-taken prelude to its gripping, devastating end, allowing the singers to excel -- perhaps even beyond their everyday capabilities.

Everyone who's interested has, I think, actually seen this first cast live or at the movies, so I'll be selective. Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca, for all her attractiveness, isn't a natural for the seductive and charismatic Carmen of the first acts. But she is game, and that counts for much: even though the public vamping of Act I is a bit overdone, her effort keeps the energy level high. And she is responsive to direction and characterization -- not least in the arc of Act II.

Carmen before this act has been all self-possession and bravado: her impulsive move for Don Jose was... what? A quick fancy, or perhaps a calculated show to get herself out of jail? Both, surely, but at Pastia's when she hears that Jose's just gotten out of the brig, she reacts strongly: other men are sent packing, and the smugglers are put off for the night with Carmen's not-quite-believed declaration that she's in love. Finally alone, we see Carmen finally drop her guard, anxiously attending to her toilette as she's caught up in unfeigned anticipation.

So of course she has a fit when Jose tries to cut their rendezvous short with his talk of the curfew -- it's the lover's natural hurt vanity and pleasure upon the fast ruin of a date. Garanca embodies the quick progression of these moods well, so that we feel with and for Carmen up to Jose's impassioned response in his Flower Song. And there -- at the point where Jose has made the heartfelt case for his love -- is where, at least in Eyre's production here, it all goes wrong for the two of them. Justified pique should have been melted by the Flower Song, and yet some daemon in Carmen rises up and will not have it. No, mere devotion isn't enough, she needs a bigger victory -- to take him wholly from his life. It can't end well, even if the production (nicely) adds a bit of Jose/Carmen love in a Christopher Wheeldon ballet number preceding Act III.

Garanca is a clear vessel for this drama, and again impressively energetic and responsive in Act IV's climax, but her real success is musical. She has an A-grade voice, but it's not one that overpowers on sheer sound. Instead Garanca's instrument handles well: between her and Nézet-Séguin, the rhythmic command and energetic phrasing of Carmen's dance-inflected music is terrific.

Tenor Roberto Alagna is variable and I don't know how he was for the moviecast, but on this night he was, as so often in French, mesmerizing. Yes, he pushes a bit for the bigger-voiced part of Don Jose, but it's still musical -- and quite of a piece with his overpoweringly intense portrayal. By Act IV he was so convincingly unhinged that I was glad he wasn't (as originally scheduled) on stage with the woman who actually had just left him.

As Micaela, Barbara Frittoli was impressively convincing in devout goodness and moral courage despite not really having the top notes any more. Very good performance, iffy sing. Similarly Mariusz Kwiecien has the physical swagger and charm of a good Escamillo but was too soft-grained in sound to make a similar vocal impact. They, like Garanca and Alagna, did -- as appropriate for a new director-focused production -- maintain the dramatic thread throughout.

*     *     *

That was the original cast. February's performances featured a complete turnover among the leads, including the conductor, and offered an entirely different experience. Those looking for the dramatic snap for which this production was praised in the press may have been disappointed -- even though every single lead singer had a better voice than his or her predecessor.

Olga Borodina's voice has its limits these days, but Carmen's not a part to test them. In aural luxury, if Garanca's is an A, Borodina's instrument is an A+, layered and seductive, with the I'm-not-sure-what that makes it, I think, the class of this great mezzo generation. But... well, she's not exactly bored, as she sort of seemed last time (the new production seems to prevent that), but Borodina doesn't really do energetic physical acting. It's not really because she's less svelte than Garanca -- Borodina just doesn't seem comfortable doing all that movement, or in fact anything much beyond standing (commandingly) and singing (even more commandingly). Therefore she dominated and illuminated (as even Susan Graham had not) the season's earlier revival of the Damnation of Faust -- which threatened to shrink its singers into invisibility -- but in this show Borodina's old-school monumental style turned the newfound particularity and dramatic liveliness of the premiere into a standard (if dramatically lit) Carmen revival.

And yet it was, as noted, quite a well-sung revival. Besides Borodina (whose opulent instrument must have been a revelation for the surprisingly novice-filled audience even if the drama wasn't), Brandon Jovanovich, whom I first saw in City Opera's 2007 Cavalleria Rusticana, made his Met debut in this run as Don Jose. He has real spinto tenor force, very nice sound, and a surprising amount of finesse -- very promising. He sang with real fervor, too, but without the full-contact physical interaction of the original cast's Act IV, it was hard for his non-vocal dramatic side to get full play. Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska absolutely stole the show in Borodina's last (2008) Carmen and she comes close to doing it again, with the largest ovation and the best-defined character. Finally Teddy Tahu Rhodes, though not much bigger-voiced than Kwiecien, brought off a larger-than-life Escamillo thanks partly to his larger-than-life frame.

If Nézet-Séguin was the conducting find of the season, another Francophone conductor, French-Armenian (by way of Turkey) Alain Altinoglu was "merely" very good. He, too, offered a nice snappy prelude, but over the course of the evening wasn't quite as live and attentive as his predecessor, perhaps at times letting the singers slack a bit on rhythms. Would Nézet-Séguin have made a less conventional evening out of the revival, or did the casts simply find suitable conductors for their sum tendencies? Who knows -- though I'm curious to know how Viktoria Vizin did replacing Borodina for the first two Altinoglu/Jovanovich performances.

*     *     *

Two more performances remain -- April 28 and May 1. These were supposed to feature Angela Gheorghiu, but she eventually dropped even these Alagna-free performances. I'm sure Kate Aldrich will be fine as a replacement -- and probably closer to Garanca's take than Borodina's -- though I'd hoped to hear Tamara Mumford, on whose strange relation to the femme fatale I've already posted.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Grand Old Men

Simon Boccanegra -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/25/10
Domingo, Pieczonka, Giordani, Morris, Carfizzi / Levine

The last Met revival of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra was an exquisitely-felt enactment, driven as much by Angela Gheorghiu's luminous Amelia -- one of her finest parts at the Met -- as Thomas Hampson's eloquent old rogue of a Boccanegra. This revival is less thoroughly emotive, but a success nonetheless.

It is not, this time, particularly about the young lovers who survive the story's civil strife. Adrianne Pieczonka, meltingly warm and winning as Sieglinde last spring, finds less success as Amelia in this Verdi piece. In Wagner her expressive middle voice showed well, but here Pieczonka's less steady top is too exposed even as it improves through the evening. More troublesome is her expression of time: even -- or, rather, precisely -- at its most rapt Verdi's music demands a better-defined sense of the underlying beat than is offered here; again Wagner has different demands. Pieczonka doesn't ruin the show, but she isn't its heart either, as Gheorghiu and Karita Mattila were in the last two revivals.

Gabriele Adorno, Amelia's lover, is the part in which I first heard Marcello Giordani over a decade ago. I expected a big Met career then, and indeed he's having one... but more as a workhorse than as a superstar. He's had some great nights, but this revival is pretty much what you'd expect: professional, with nice Italianate ardor, but hardly able to drive a love scene on his own -- or shed much light on his character's personal grudge against Boccanegra.

*     *     *

It's the old men who make the show, and their less romantic concerns that therefore take center stage: the pains and labors of fatherhood and statescraft. Between them Placido Domingo and James Morris have eight decades on the Met stage, and each unmistakably shows his authority.

Domingo the tenor singing the classic baritone title-role is, of course, the story, but it might not be for one not listening for it. The part of Boccanegra sits surprisingly -- or not so surprisingly, given that he started out as a baritone, had a relatively dark timbre, and always had issues with tenor top notes -- well in the older Domingo voice. In fact, my real gripe is that he sounds too conventional: Hampson's not-quite-Verdian instrument reminded us that Boccanegra is an outsider, a sort of usurper to the throne who pays for this ascension with his life. (He is poisoned by the intriguer whom he allowed to make him Doge -- though Boccanegra himself, of course, only went along with it to get access to his beloved.) Domingo's still-lush, familiarly forceful singing doesn't. But it is a grand treat.

It's Morris, in fact, who has more audible issues with the range: a number of his character Fiesco's key phrases end on low notes he, as a bass-baritone and not a bass, doesn't much have. But Morris' overall vocal authority is as strong as I've heard him outside Wagner in years, and the craggy, bitter, and yet noble character suits the old Wotan-singer well.

*     *     *

A drop of quicksilver passion in the lovers could have ignited the evening to yet greater heights, but the old-style display of grand singing was still much. In Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo, the villain) and Richard Bernstein (Pietro) the Met had, with Giordani and Pieczonka, a supporting cast to make all the signing of a strong piece with the veterans' efforts. And the third, perhaps most important grand old man was in the pit: James Levine, himself taking the big objective view of Verdi's late-revised masterpiece while coaxing glorious playing from the third great instrument on display -- the Met Orchestra.

This Boccanegra is the sort of thing Verdi should be, though not everything Verdi could be. If you haven't, see it tomorrow at the moviecast.