Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The clown

L'Elisir d'Amore - Metropolitan Opera, 2/1/2014
Netrebko, Vargas, N. Alaimo, Schrott / Benini

In a season with the profound pleasures of Frau and Falstaff, there's also been room for delicious guilty enjoyment. And as great as Hvorostovsky's "hey, I get to be ugly!" Rigoletto was in that vein, Erwin Schrott's work in Elisir deserves particular mention. He's been disappointingly empty or worse in dramatic parts, but between his masterful physical-vocal reactiveness as Leporello last season and his channeling of Johnny Depp as Dulcamara here, well... I'll recommend the Uruguayan bass in any comic role, no questions asked. (With luck, next season's new Figaro will leave room for him to indulge the ex-barber's farcial side.)

Schrott's predecessor, Ambrogio Maestri, was of course an indispensable part of Levine and Carsen's Falstaff triumph, but Maestri's humane forthrightness the launch this show a season ago was perhaps not exactly the best fit for the opera's nonsense. This time Schrott's wild Dulcamara provides contrast to the as-ever-heartfelt work of Ramon Vargas, who despite an announced cold made the show succeed. He has been around a while -- that 1999 Edgardo opposite Swenson's Lucia was the other recent sensation in that part -- but it was not, I think, until about that 2007 run of Onegin that Vargas really became who he is: not just a near-ideal phraser and characterizer in his lyric parts, but the colleague par excellence, who inspires his sopranos to their best, most heartfelt selves. And so, though Anna Netrebko is no longer a bel canto singer (and her assault on Adina's soubrette solos the least happy part of the evening), she was as alert, straightforward, and sympathetically honest here as she never was in the new Onegin.

As Belcore, Simone Alaimo's nephew Nicola blustered with more force than I remember his uncle ever having. A surprisingly successful evening.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.