Thursday, February 03, 2011

Twice briefly (without Vargas)

Simon Boccanegra -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/20/2011
Hvorostovsky, Frittoli, De Biasio, Alaimo, Furlanetto / Levine

Half the success of this show was made in advance when the cast was assembled. But while Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and James Levine were predictable successes, the other leads weren't. Scheduled tenor Ramon Vargas was ill, and replaced by Met debutant Roberto de Biasio. And soprano Barbara Frittoli, after an auspicious start in the house in the '90s, has never really satisfied since.

That an emergency replacement tenor can be as good as de Biasio is a happy sign of the times. The Sicilian tenor not only has a strong and pleasant voice but showed a fairly well-developed musical sense despite the likely lack of rehearsal. I did miss Vargas' recently unerring sense of character (again, no knock of de Biasio, who had little chance to develop a rapport with the rest of the cast), but most of the crowd seemed to be buzzing about the need to see the new guy again. I agree, though the field these days is strong.

Frittoli, meanwhile, sounded much refreshed after her poor vocal showing a year ago as Micaela -- which, at the time, seemed to be part of a larger and more disturbing vocal trend. I'm not sure where her voice will go from here (and reports since this revival debut seem to be mixed), but her clearly produced and phrased performance here was a most welcome surprise.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky sang the eponymous former corsair beautifully, but I'm not convinced that Boccanegra plays to his real strengths. For all his exquisite shape of phrase, Hvorostovsky is most compelling when some dangerously strong emotion (usually rage) explodes from his usual civilized surface -- witness his Onegin, or di Luna, or Renato. Boccanegra, for all his pride and checkered past, spends most of his onstage time conciliating passions, not indulging them, and only his reminiscence of the sea near the end seems to engage Hvorostovsky in full.

An excellent night for Verdi singing and playing.

*     *     *

La Boheme -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/31/2011
Kovalevska, Phillips, Beczala, Mattei, Scheunemann, Shenyang / Armiliato

What a relief to be in the reliable hands of Marco Armiliato after Roberto Rizzi Brignoli's misguided overconducting! Not to say that Puccini is obvious or easy or does not reward refined conductorial touches: Nicola Luisotti's runs of Boheme and Fanciulla showed the power of a great baton. But though the ever-solid Armiliato doesn't make the show (as Luisotti did), he doesn't ruin it either (as Rizzi Brignoli was coming all too close to doing). The change in the pit is for all remaining performances, so perhaps Gelb (or the musicians) had had enough.

Piotr Beczala's Rodolfo is new to me. He lacks refinement here but sings with the familiar middle-European tenorial ardor that makes for a fairly appealing character . Like remarkable debutant Yonghoon Lee (in Don Carlo), Beczala is strong in shaping the full span of a phrase to where it should go -- though he doesn't, of course, have the Korean's overpowering spinto ring.

Peter Mattei is as excellent a Marcello as one would expect, mellifluous and personable but with flashes of his Don Giovanni darkness. Sopranos Maija Kovalevska and Susanna Phillips are (also expectedly) good, though without yet finding the complete magic of their last Bohemes together.

I may end up catching another of Beczala's performances, but I expect the Vargas shows at the end will be the more interesting -- if he stays healthy.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.