Friday, February 25, 2011

The gift

Lucia di Lammermoor - Metropolitan Opera, 2/24/2011
Dessay, Calleja, Tezier, Youn / Summers

To be present when a person does anything as well as tenor Joseph Calleja sings Edgardo in the Met's revival of Lucia is one of the great joys of life -- and not least of the reasons we bother with opera. For over time, as the tale finishes unfolding, opera is largely about man's limits and fragility... but in time, for the duration of any particular moment or breath or aria or even evening, it can become the space of the opposite: man's magnificence, his mastery, his spirit that doesn't need more than the brief span it's given.

Calleja sounds great -- the characteristic quick vibrato is currently less forward, more the ground of his voice, aiding his sound's depth and fullness in a fascinatingly still-buoyant way -- but he basically always sounds great. No, it's the particular lines and phrases of Donizetti's greatest hit that demand and reward the bel canto mastery with which the tenor once made much of a single aria in Macbeth. Here, Calleja makes Edgardo's difficult music seem utterly simple. The wonder isn't that he nimbly passes the purely vocal hurdles that smashed Rolando Villazon's career just two years back, but how thoroughly Calleja's senses of proportion and detail (well-assisted -- as didn't happen in Boheme -- by the conductor, here Patrick Summers) make a profoundly simple whole (or a series thereof) of his evening's sing.

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Just three seasons ago at its premiere, it was of course Calleja's current costar -- French soprano Natalie Dessay -- who illuminated and justified this production, giving explosive humanity to the show's modern-flavored taxonomizing of Lucia's disintegration. That was a triumphant return after vocal distress and then surgery, but her troubles returned after a time, costing Dessay basically all of 2010. That she's again returned to headline this show is much, but over time, as I've said... The original success, in any case, is not yet again hers.

Make no mistake: it's no slackening in spirit or understanding, and those who haven't before heard Dessay's vision of the role will find much to appreciate. But though she can -- a single balky high note in the middle notwithstanding -- again basically sing the part, the marginal erosions of firmness and ease since her last good run just put her sound on the wrong side of beauty. (The Mad Scene now seems to sit as uneasily in her voice as the first two acts always have.) More importantly, they've correspondingly eroded the range of her vocal expression, so that this time she couldn't again stretch Lucia's psyche as excruciatingly, unprecedentedly far as she did that first opening night.

If Dessay's voice firms up, the will is still there for a magnificent success. If if stays in the same shape, it's still an account worth seeing. And if it markedly declines... Well, I'd hope for an interesting replacement (Lindemann grad Lisette Oropesa was stunning in a smaller theater), but fear Gelb would turn to one of the chilly Euro-sopranos who've already failed here as Lucia.

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Patrick Summers, as mentioned, does a nice job in the pit, providing his usual fleet and firm accompaniment with a fair amount of inflection. Korean bass Kwangchul Youn is true luxury casting as Raimondo, giving the part far more gravity and pleasing vocal heft than usual. And French baritone Ludovic Tezier, who's been up-and-down here (Marcello quite good, Figaro Count quite bad), is a nice fit both in voice and temperament; he plays more of a haughty Enrico, not as prone to rage as Mariusz Kwiecien's production original.

There are six more shows, culminating in the March 19 moviecast. See as many as you can.


  1. Ah, I can comment now:
    So I say your first paragraph here is beautiful!

  2. Thank you. But please try to be someone besides "Anonymous" (use the "Name/URL" entry)!

  3. I found her to be exquisite on the Première, much better than the 2007 première (as for the middle register especially, the high notes are more effortful) got it all recorded and keep listening to it, confirming my live impression :) maybe you were too stressful :)
    Anyway i'm happy to hear she keeps it up for the other performances, hope she'll be on top for the broadcast!

  4. Well, her voice definitely sits lower now, but she's never had or going to have the stimmdiva lyric ripeness to make the lower-lying Act I a highlight the way Sutherland or Swenson did. So Dessay's key is really the Mad Scene, which needs the free top...

  5. right about the 1st act but it's a LOT better when you don't have all the problems she had in 2007 when changing from medium to high register.
    Because of that I liked the ardon much more than the 2007. The spargi, though, was better in 2007. Can't have it all :)


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.