Macbeth - Metropolitan Opera, 9/24/2014
Lucic, Netrebko, Calleja, Pape / Luisi
This was, despite what seems to be generally positive press, a dispiriting night at the Met. It hasn't been that long since Anna Netrebko was the wonder of the Mariinsky's 1998 tour, a bel canto soprano of limitless beauty and promise (as one can hear from Gergiev's Bethrothal in a Monastery and Ruslan & Lyudmila recordings), but that silver-voiced singer never really sang with this company -- at least not past her official debut in 2002's War and Peace. Netrebko returned in the late-Volpe/early-Gelb era a different woman, having found her stardom and characteristic manner in the 2005 original Salzburg run of Decker's (abominably bathetic) Traviata: now not only beautiful but glamorous, getting lead roles at last, and still performing bel canto... but with ever-more-coarse acting and singing that was at odds with this repertoire. This is the form in which most recent operagoers know her.
Now, after almost a decade of that Netrebko, the new rep and blonde wig of this show seems to announce her third incarnation, one where she's finally embraced what the previous one was becoming. And that is... well, Maria Guleghina, basically. With the visibly-accumulated years and pounds Netrebko's visual appeal is no longer significant; there's no false pretense of refinement whatever; and the ambitious force of sound and person that underlay these trappings is thus now foregrounded. So points for honesty! But Lady Macbeth isn't quite the ideal fit for her either.
No one quite fits the brutal Verdi part comfortably. In this case, what was Netrebko's outstanding strength when she was trying lyric roles -- force and volume -- is, in this more demanding part, insufficient: the first act finds her top uncomfortably pressed and wobbly. Like most of her predecessors, she fares better vocally in the latter acts, particularly in the soft end of the sleepwalking scene, but her need always to do something as an actress is unvarying and offers no contrast between the conscious ambition of the start/middle and the subconscious revelation of this end. Not intolerable, on the whole, but not really an improvement on, well, Guleghina.
The years have also brought change for Netrebko's male colleagues, who dominated the 2008 revival of this very show. Superstar bass Rene Pape is now 50 and his physique too looks finally to have been affected by middle-age bloat. The voice isn't quite dimmed, but neither was it, on this occasion, the revelation it was in that initial Banquo (or, in fact, in his 2013 Gurnemanz). Perhaps he was preoccupied by last weekend's solo recital. Tenor Joseph Calleja (Macduff), on the other hand, may be going through a vocal transition of the sort Netrebko has completed. The naturally fat, golden, effortlessly expansive tone with which he announced his arrival has become more standardized, less vibrato-driven, as has his formerly old-school swashbuckling with the bel canto phrase. Perhaps the latter more shows the difference between James Levine and Fabio Luisi, and perhaps Calleja too how has other concerns than a one-aria outing now that his world career is established, but I feel that as he enters the back half of his 30s (he turns 37 in January) we do not quite know what the mature Joseph Calleja will offer, whether he'll fulfil his promise as Netrebko has not. The spring run of Lucia, which four seasons ago showed him in masterful form, will tell much.
About Zeljko Lucic and Fabio Luisi there is rarely doubt. Both were very good, and the sometimes inappropriate not-quite-hardness of Lucic's onstage character more or less suits Macbeth. 2009 Met Council finalist Noah Baetge made a nice impression as Malcolm. That said, as the foolish booing of Adrian Noble at curtain call confirmed, this is a show for the low-information operagoer.