Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Before I forget: The class of 2005

The Magic Flute -- Metropolitan Opera, 9/30/2009
Phillips, Klink, Maltman, Miklosa, Zeppenfeld / Labadie

The Marriage of Figaro -- Metropolitan Opera, 11/30/2009
Oropesa, Pisaroni, Dasch, Leonard, Tezier / Luisi

I suppose that after the movie more people know about the 2007 Met Council Finals than any other iteration of the event, but to my mind it was less memorable than 2005's version. Two of the 2005 winners starred in the Met's Mozart revivals this fall, with generally happy results.

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No longer new, Julie Taymor's production of the Magic Flute has worked through its early issues to become a well-functioning Mozartean machine, quite capable of entertaining the Flute crowd without any notable stars. That September's revival had a reasonably good and interesting cast was almost incidental.

Sonically, the night took a while to get on track. Though 2007 winner Jamie Barton blended nicely with veteran First and Third Ladies Wendy Bryn Harmer and Tamara Mumford, the prince they were rescuing wasn't such a prize. Matthew Klink, who made his debut earlier in this run, was certainly audible and professional, but he lacked grace and control -- basically a drag as Tamino. English baritone Christopher Maltman, on the other hand, sang well enough but was a glummer and less comically commanding Papageno than one would have wanted. Even veteran Queen of the Night Erika Miklosa was off her usual high standard in her first-act aria.

Things improved, however, for the latter part of the show. The Sarastro -- Georg Zeppenfeld -- was the best of the male singers by far, impressing in his own debut run with the company. (He's not yet up to Pape, Moll, or the like, but certainly deserves a return engagement.) Miklosa eventually reappeared and nailed the Queen's second aria. Meanwhile, Kathleen Kim was luxury-cast as Papagena and Susanna Phillips brought some heart to the show as Pamina.

Phillips, who has since won the Met's own Beverly Sills Artist Award, made her post-Met Council debut the season before as Musetta, but of course Pamina is a much different part. There's very little showiness: a lot goes on inside her, but there's not much actual action. Phillips here not only sang beautifully but brought an appealing (neither delicate nor fire-eating) and ever-visible interiority to the character in her woe and happiness.

After last season's poor efforts in Don Giovanni, Bernard Labadie's direct and well-breathed conducting was a relief. He showed well in both the opera's expression and its gravity, not allowing Sarastro or the crowd scenes to get bogged down in over-solemnity. A good evening -- despite the Tamino.

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As well as Labadie did, however, Fabio Luisi's Mozart conducting a few months later put it and other recent non-Levine efforts (in Mozart, at least) seem pedestrian. From the overture onward, the stick of the now-Principal Guest Conductor (a position he was announced for only after Levine's spring injury -- interview here) brought not only energy and clear textures but a rare vitality to every phrase. Though I still wish Pierre Boulez could have been convinced to do Lulu (the Boulez-conducted Carnegie Hall concert just after the last spring performance had the Met Orchestra playing better than I've heard since Levine took the Boston job), Luisi's four productions in '09-'10 were all carried off pretty admirably.

The cast was a mixed affair, with the servants doing well and the aristocrats not. The latter first. Ludovic Tezier has been a fine Marcello, but as the Count he lacked the charisma -- either vocal or personal -- to make the character's sordid lechery count for much. His wife this time was the debuting German soprano Annette Dasch, whose apparent European success I can't understand. Yes, she is attractive, has a substantial enough sound, and was certainly game and responsive in acting the Countess, but she simply could not sing the arias (or her part of the Letter Duet) in tune, coming to grief in every exposed slow part (and yes, that's most of the role). Perhaps she'll turn into a decent Wagnerian or something, but as a Mozart singer she was a flop.

Luca Pisaroni and Lisette Oropesa made a much more pleasing pair, he an earthy but musical force as Figaro, she perkily charming and able to project her personality much more strongly than in her surprise Met Susanna two years earlier. It wasn't the revelation of Oropesa's Lucia last summer in Princeton, but it was a promising indication of her delicious light lyric voice's ability to carry a lead in the big house. (If Dessay's vocal trouble continues, the Met may need a substitute Lucia...)

Also very good was Isabel Leonard, a gangly but ardent Cherubino who didn't quite eclipse recent memories of Kate Lindsey and Joyce DiDonato. Luisi and the cast made the ensembles seem effortless, making for pure pleasure outside of the Count and Countess' solo struggles.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.