Saturday, November 12, 2011

Becoming who they are

Anna Bolena - Metropolitan Opera, 10/28/2011
Meade, Costello, Abdrazakov, Gubanova, Mumford / Armiliato

Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Metropolitan Opera, 10/29/2011
Pogossov, Leonard, Kudrya, Muraro, Ramey / Benini

It's a treat to hear what soprano Angela Meade has become. I'd somehow missed her several Met appearances since the famous 2007 Met Council Finals that opened the door to the 2008 emergency substitution that launched her career here. At the time she was a work in progress, the impact of the sound not quite matching the dramatic coloratura repertory she would have to sing. Four-and-a-half years later and her voice is a formidable whole, totally focused and clear from top to bottom and a pleasure to hear at all times. Most impressive, to my ears: the absence of the typical young singer's reluctance to really sound chest notes. On the other hand, the top is nice but not (as with other singers) climactically outstanding, and the trills this time were rather fakey, but that's nitpicking. Meade can really sing any of these parts, and I'm looking forward to her run of Ernani (with, for three of six nights, last season's very good emergency tenor debutant Roberto di Biasio replacing the tragically dead Salvatore Licitra) in February.

Stephen Costello also first stepped on the Met stage in 2007, in his case as Arturo in the Met's opening-night debut of the current Lucia. His expressive middle voice made quite an impression that evening, and it again serves him well here. His high notes, however, aren't made of the same stuff, and we'll see if the early bel canto tenor stuff that highlights them will continue to be for him.

Bass Ildar Abdrazakov not only sang well but looked perfectly like Henry VIII, bass-baritone Keith Miller impressed again as Anna's brother, and mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova (as Jane Seymour) made a nice foil to Meade in this bigger chance than her debut as Giulietta. Marco Armiliato conducted, as ever, with a firm and helpful hand.

With all these really good voices present, it's either to the glory of this house or the absurdity of its and the opera world's casting system (and, to be fair, lack of feature parts) that the greatest, grandest sound and singing of the show was in the small if significant pants part of Mark Smeaton. I've known that young mezzo Tamara Mumford would be fantastic from the very first time I heard her sing, but whether she'd be recognized and allowed to fully show her talents -- that's still to be seen.

What did the evening lack? Drama, more or less. Donizetti and Felice Romani provide some charged scenes (of which the performers made much) but the whole -- basically another court cautionary tale -- doesn't hold together particularly well. It isn't helped by David McVicar's production. Unlike his bold and vigorous Trovatore, McVicar's work here is bland and monochrome: a more tasteful version of what Nick Hytner gave us in last year's Don Carlo. The fact that drives the story -- Bolena, in a classic tragic trope (see Simon Boccanegra, for example), is herself a usurper, as the chorus reminds us at the very start, and her downfall comes from and with regretting that initial choice -- is dulled and obscured by the all-too-tasteful (if also nicely girth-obscuring) costuming and absent character-direction.

*     *     *

The next evening's Barber was a similar tale on a lesser scale. Isabel Leonard's mezzo was more defined and interesting than I'd yet heard, and though she can't singlehandedly carry a Barber in the same way as, say, DiDonato she's definitely a plausible major-house lead. Debuting Russian tenor Alexey Kudrya has some nice sounds in the middle but the top is actually sort of a trial, making Rossini not the best fit. Whether Cessa piu resistere (the final-act aria, used to better effect by the heroine as Cenerentola's finale) was cut because of this or some other reason I'm not sure. Rodion Pogossov is a decent "busy" traditional Figaro (though, obviously, no Mattei), and I enjoyed the professionalism of Maurizio Muraro's comic work as Bartolo. Samuel Ramey is still trooping on, though at this point he sounds depressingly like the old version of Paul Plishka (who himself was rather better in his youth).

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.