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Elina Garanca

Saturday, June 24, 2017


My Classical Notes

June 6

Mozart and Vivaldi, as performed by Elina Garanca

My Classical NotesOn this recording, Elīna Garanča performs music by Mozart and Vivaldi. Mozart: Deh, se piacermi vuoi (from La clemenza di Tito) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Temerari!…Come scoglio! (from Così fan tutte) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Se l’augellin sen fugge (from La finta giardiniera) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Và pure ad altri in braccio (from La finta giardiniera) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Ah, scostati!…Smanie implacabili, che m’agitate (from Così fan tutte) Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Ch’io mi scordi di te?… Non temer, amato bene, K505 Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée Vivaldi: Quel ciglio vezzosetto (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi E bella Irene (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Non ho nel sen costanza (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Ah disperato Andronico! (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi La sorte mia spietata (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Lascerò di regnare (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Spesso tra vaghe rose (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Coronata di giglie e rose (from Bajazet) Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi Performed by Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano) Elīna Garanča’s velvety, versatile voice makes her one of the outstanding singers of the present day, of that there can be no doubt. She followed up her international breakthrough at the Salzburg Festival with two celebrated CD releases in 2005 that laid the foundation of her rich discography: a Mozart recital and the world premiere of Vivaldi’s opera Bajazet. The present album combines the loveliest moments from these recordings. Listen now as Ms. Garanca Sings two arias from Mozaer’s nozzle di Figaro:

Joe's Concert Reviews

May 15

Metropolitan Opera – Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. May 13, 2017.

Cinemark Theaters, Hazlet, NJ.  Theater 11 (Seat C9, $28.22). Story.  See previous post.  The only thing I would add is Act 1 is devoted to describing the love affair between Octavian and the Marschallin, and the conflict the latter feels as she realizes she is aging and must let Octavian go. Conductor – Sebastian Weigle.  Octavian – Elina Garanca, The Marschallin – Renee Fleming, Baron Ochs - Gunther Groissbock, An Italian Singer – Matthew Polenzani, Herr von Faninal – Markus Bruck,  Sophie – Erin Morley. This series of performances was to be Fleming’s last in her role of the Marschallin, and all of the performances were sold out, which is to be expected.  I didn’t want to pay a ton of money for one of the last remaining seats, so buying a Met: Live in HD ticket seemed to make good sense.  Anne was away with a church group, so I went to this screening by myself. Inside Cinemark Theater 11 in Hazlet, NJ. We saw this in December, 2013, and I called it “too much of a good thing.”  It was a double-header Strauss day for us, as we also had an afternoon concert with Ein Heldenleben in the program.  Today’s experience was much more enjoyable. This is a new set, with all scenery based on this corner of a room.  The other set began its service in 1969, so it was time for a replacement.  I don’t remember much of the old set, but my blog seemed to indicate it worked reasonably well.  I am not sure this set has that many new aspects to truly amaze, the only “razzle-dazzle” was when the pictures turned into moving figures.  The old set depicted an opulent Vienna, the new setting is around 1911 (when the opera was written) so there is a heavy military theme to the costumes.  All good, and I suppose the large expenditure must be in part driven to make this a splash farewell for Fleming.  Of course, the last time I saw this the opera had a 30-minute delay because they had trouble with the set. The music was much more accessible to me this time around.  I could appreciate how the orchestra worked with the singers in one integrated production.  A vocal technician may appreciate how the different singers performed, I just hoped they tuned the mikes to pick up more of the vocal lines.  I have appreciated Fleming more in other roles she played.  One bright spot was Erin Morley, she depicted well Sophie as a defiant girl who wanted to find her own way.  I had seen her a few times before, including as Sophie, and she didn’t sound as good or convincing in those instances.  The role of Ochs required quite a range (low C to G#), I didn’t catch all the instances when those notes were sung, but the couple of times I caught a low note (E perhaps) they sounded very weak. I complained that I found the Act 3 three-women trio very confusing in the 2013 performance.  I am happy report it was much clearer this time.  I still have to learn to appreciate how it is “a gorgeous blend of female voices that is among the supreme accomplishments of lyric theater.” Polenzani had a cameo role as an Italian singer who serenaded the Marschallin for a few minutes.  His voice clearly stood out.  He was also the host during the intermissions.  I caught a few minutes of his interviews with the cast, and that’s where I learned about Ochs’s range and Morley doing a more dependent Sophie. The theater has these comfortable reclining chairs with full-length footrests.  My seat was in the third row, so it was very close to the screen.  Two problems.  One is that I had to tilt my head back even with the seat reclined.  The bigger problem is there is too much detail in the close up shots.  A diplomatic comment would be “I could see the stitching in the costumes.”  A less diplomatic one would be an even bigger suspension of belief is needed if the Marschallin is to be thought of as 32 years old. The New York Times review is one of the longest I have seen, and other than a small pan here of there, is effusive.  There is also an article on Fleming's final curtain call.  Other reviews are equally enthusiastic. Most operas I have seen were live performances, and they do feel different.  A clear example was people just walked out after the screening, there was no way to show appreciation to the singers.




parterre box

May 14

The frailty of everything earthly

If everything you see is great, you are either new to opera or chronically easy to please. Neither condition is anything of which to be ashamed, but the development of standards over a period of years is something to be embraced. Standards make it mean more when something really is worth raving over. No matter how much you see, if you go back often enough, you will have one of those evenings (or afternoons, as the case may be) when all the stars align, the right people and the right work come together at the right time, and the result lives up to or exceeds every reasonable expectation. You feel happy to be alive and going to the opera at the time the performance took place. The Met HD of Der Rosenkavalier on May 13 was a high-inducing performance. There have been equally good performances in this decade-long series, though not many. There has been none better. Director Robert Carsen‘s view of the 1911 Strauss/Hofmannsthal evergreen has not changed greatly since his 2004 Salzburg staging. Although he has different designers this time (his Falstaff team of Paul Steinberg on sets and Brigitte Reiffenstuel on costumes, replacing Salzburg’s Peter Pabst), the outer acts look very similar. Details of the direction have been retained, such as Annina’s larcenous revenge on Ochs at the end of the second act. Siegmund Freud has been replaced by some military medics following the “duel,” among other minor differences. New choreography for the Presentation of the Rose, while elegant and lovely in itself, seems to be in this production solely because Mr. Carsen wanted to work with the worthy Philippe Giraudeau again. In a broader sense, Mr. Carsen has been consistent in his approach and his focus. This is Rosenkavalier as a response to its own era. The director has set the opera in an increasingly decadent Vienna on the eve of the Great War, and emphasized humor, sexual politics and the twilight of an era. My colleague Christopher Corwin‘s comparison to Renoir’s La Règle de Jeu, in his review of opening night, is apt. In the recent parterre box video overview, I commented that Mr. Carsen’s Salzburg Rosenkavalier was “funny, sexy and thought-provoking.” I left it implied, in the context of various productions discussed, that other Rosenkavaliers have tugged harder at the heartstrings. All of this remains the case. It was the performers and their circumstances that supplied a new emotional dimension at the Met on May 13. Two of our great stars, Renée Fleming (the Marschallin) and Elina Garanca (Octavian), were performing for the last time roles in which they have been good, and roles that have been good to them in return. Beyond that, we had the unusual situation of an HD broadcast of the final performance in a series, rather than, say, the fifth of eight. There was perceptible electricity in everyone’s work, the adrenaline that comes from the finish line being in sight, with no need to save anything. I have not heard the Met’s orchestra sound better in the 2016-17 season than it did today under the leadership of German conductor Sebastian Weigle. His reading was “deliberate” not in the sense of unusual slowness (the maestro did allow his Marschallin to milk), but in an insistence on the precise articulation of phrases, and in the elucidation of fine details within the blend. I often have complained that the in-theater sound of the Met HDs prioritizes voices to the point that the orchestral contribution is distant and soupy. Even the sound balance seemed improved today. Maestro Weigle replaced the originally scheduled James Levine, who withdrew at the time he relinquished his position of music director more than a year ago. If anyone missed the guiding hand of the venerable music director emeritus this afternoon, I feel it would have to have been on grounds of sentiment. There was nothing to regret in the response of the orchestra, and Maestro Weigle can come visit New York anytime. There were two utterly spectacular, golden-age performances, and the opera’s title character, Octavian, seems an obvious place to start. As transmitted to movie theaters, Ms. Garanca’s voice now sounds huge. She commented in her intermission interview, with regard to changing repertoire, that for so long she has played a young boy chasing girls; now it is time to let the boys chase her. On today’s evidence, she is putting away childish things at the right time, while leaving us a parting gift to savor. Lyric mezzos long ago absconded with a role created by a soprano (Eva von der Osten, an Isolde). We should be so lucky as to have mezzo Octavians of Ms. Garanca’s caliber as the norm. The Latvian’s upper register encompasses Octavian’s higher-lying writing without a hint of strain (near the end, “War ein haus wo” was so juicy and full that I looked forward to Amneris cursing the priests). The bottom is rich, warm, resonant. There was a point at which I was startled by the beauty of the singing in a most unexpected place—the apology to Faninal (“Ein muss mich pardonieren”) came out in lines of such beautiful continuity and evenness that it seemed a fragment of a lost Schubert lied. What Ms. Garanca did on the stage in this production is a forceful rebuttal, or at least a stiff challenge, to any description of her as a “cold” performer. This was a truly heroic Octavian: upright, suave, thoughtful. We can see why the Marschallin will feel his loss, and why Sophie is so lucky to have him enter her life. The operatic stage features no more beautiful face, either as boy or girl, and the mezzo’s Marlene Dietrich impersonation for Mariandel’s Act Three mischief was limber, funny and extremely sexy. The troublesome stretch of Act Three prior to the Marschallin’s arrival, which passes like a sentence of hard time when director and performers are not up to it, has never been more entertaining to me. Nearly matching Ms. Garanca was Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs. I first saw this promising portrayal in Harry Kupfer‘s wistful Salzburg production of three summers ago, and it has matured wonderfully since then. Again Mr. Groissböck is a highly plausible Ochs of a superficially desirable type—young, tall, athletic and handsome—but repellent in words and behavior. Mr. Groissböck expertly delineates Ochs’s journey through Carsen’s inversion of the third act, one of the production’s masterstrokes. Ochs is forced to assume “the defensive position” he had smugly regretted was the lot of women. He finds himself fending off the sexually voracious Mariandel, and when depravity is revealed all around him, and it is beyond his control, he wants to flee a hell of ironic punishment. Mr. Groissböck’s mellow, colorful instrument is most at ease in the Baron’s higher-lying writing, of which there is a great deal in this long part. If there are lower notes he sounds happy to greet and leave, he cheats nothing while making his rounds. His is a highly musical reading of a part in which many a bass has gotten by on desiccated parlando shtick. Just as Ms. Garanca had me anticipating future Amnerises, Mr. Groissböck’s cries of “Mord! Mord! Mein Blut!” and his yelps of pain made me think of Boris Godunov haunted and expiring. I join Our Own JJ in looking forward to much more at the Met from this performer, who first created a stir by making an incestuous Water Goblin riveting, and now has twice made Baron Ochs improbably likable, in two very different productions. It seems there is not much beyond him. Sophie von Faninal is the hard-luck assignment of the four principals, the shortest part and the one Hofmannsthal gave the fewest facets. Once in a while you read appreciation for some soprano who was “unexpectedly” feisty in the part, which shows how challenging it is to review singers in certain roles, because anyone who knows the libretto should expect Sophie to be feisty with Faninal and Ochs. It would be unexpected if she were other than feisty. What was unexpected to me in Erin Morley‘s Sophie for Mr. Carsen was a certain sophistication and precocity. In a lesser production, this might have seemed an off note, a 36-year-old soprano playing a 36-year-old Sophie. Here, it works well. I could imagine this was a Sophie who learned from plays and literature how worldly women spoke, behaved and moved. In a later era, such a young woman would be influenced by ladies of movies and television. Ms. Morley spoke of loving to sing “high, floaty stuff,” and such writing does show her to best advantage. The middle voice is more nondescript and projects less strongly. She looked lovely, creating beautiful stage pictures in scenes with Ms. Garanca, but also establishing a connection that was both emotional and sensual. Carsen’s very physical staging of “Ist ein Traum” thus paid off. Ms. Fleming has done some of the best work of her career in Mr. Carsen’s productions (Alcina, Rusalka, Capriccio and a revival of Eugene Onegin that was overseen by others). She has named him as a favorite director, and it was at her request that he returned to Rosenkavalier at the ROH and the Met in 2016-17. It seems fitting that “the people’s diva” and “the diva next door” is taking her leave of “mainstream” opera, as she calls it, as a good team player. Ms. Fleming must have been aware of the filmed Salzburg Rosenkavalier with Adrianne Pieczonka, and thus must have had an idea that Mr. Carsen’s would not be the most Marschallin-focused Rosenkavalier possible, even within strictures of the characters’ respective stage time. It is to Ms. Fleming’s credit that she wanted to be part of something good, a strong production of the opera under consideration, rather than a personal showcase. At moments on Saturday, one could feel that the clocks had stopped. Ms. Fleming’s high notes still sound with remarkable beauty (the earliest evidence was “Das möcht ich sehn,” the Marschallin’s vow of immovability), and no part of her range has suffered in accuracy of pitch. Inevitably, her seniority and long service were detectable. Broadcast conditions mitigated audibility concerns that might have been an issue in the house in less congenial passages, but microphones also highlighted a growly quality from the lower middle down, where the grit and grain have collected. Ms. Fleming sang parts of the role on Saturday with obvious emotion, and twice I was aware of her reining herself in, guarding against being overcome. She sang as though holding on, not wanting to let go of a departing friend, which just about sums it up. This was not the best-sung Marschallin of her career on technical grounds, but I do not believe anyone went in expecting that from a 58-year-old soprano on an emotional occasion. I could criticize her on some expressive levels—sometimes I wished for a lighter touch, a wider palette of irony, sharper contrasts that really never have been hers to command. It is to her credit that such thoughts did not come to me often. Ms. Fleming admirably played her role in the production, and in the opera: the one character of the five major figures whose aspirations are in the past. Unlike Octavian, the Baron and both Faninals, the Marschallin is never excited about something yet to come. She looks back wistfully, considers the future only with anxiety, sings of wanting time to stand still. No wonder she has been, from the beginning, the favorite of opera audiences. I will not comment on every member of the large, generally good supporting cast. Matthew Polenzani sweetly sang and amusingly acted the Italian tenor’s brutally difficult number. He was done up as a white-suited faux Caruso, as Piotr Beczala was in Salzburg, but Mr. Polenzani sported the iconic moustache. Markus Brück was a rather blunt Faninal, with more voice than some (albeit with a quaver that may or may not have been a character touch), but not finding the humanity of the best. Bass Scott Conner, in his first Met role, was a Police Commissioner to notice. Twenty-four years into his Met career, tenor Tony Stevenson appeared to be having a great time with the Innkeeper’s drag act. The production received a mixed response on its opening night last month, and I doubt this greatly troubled Mr. Carsen. He is a savvy professional who has worked all over the world for 30 years and has heard it all. His Eugene Onegin was savaged by many here 20 years ago, and was cherished by the time of its replacement. I predict his Rosenkavalier will settle in nicely and that new casts will welcome its opportunities. Staging a work such as Rosenkavalier means making choices, and Mr. Carsen and his team intelligently met the challenge here, delivering something valid, entertaining and worth discussing. The premiere cast brought that work to life on the stage and created the illusion of life being lived on the stage. This happens less often than we might hope. I hope Mr. Carsen returns soon and often. If Peter Gelb would like to contact me privately, I will supply names of three repeatedly engaged directors whose future workloads can be lightened to make room. As everyone notes, Rosenkavalier is a “bittersweet” opera, and I was keenly aware today of how that bittersweet quality can be found all throughout it. I suppose we all have realized that the accompaniment to “Nein, nein” (Mariandel’s coquettish vow not to drink wine) returns as the beloved trio’s climax. The frivolous and the profound both are part of life; there is no separating them, and one may even lead to the other, Strauss seems to be telling us. The ridiculous Ochs’s visit prompts the Marschallin’s reverie, and everything that follows. It had never hit me before Saturday afternoon that even one of the most musically joyful moments in Rosenkavalier has a darker tinge. “Bleiben?” Sophie asks in the second act; “…was sie Ist!” replies Octavian. His love is predicated on the keeping of an impossible promise, that this young woman remain exactly what she is on the day he met her. Did the Feldmarschal once have such an expectation of Little Resi? But we do not see things clearly at 17. I also thought about the people around me at the HD screening. It was a senior-heavy crowd, as they usually are, and I overheard some conversations, initiated some others. I heard of a Rosenkavalier a woman attended 40 years ago with her now-late husband, and of favorite singers, favorite operas, memorable performances. I heard much appreciation for the HD series. I talked with a woman from Germany who was seeing and hearing Mr. Groissböck for the first time, and adoring him (she approved of the cast’s pronunciation in general). I heard prolonged applause at the end, for singers and players unable to hear that applause. These operagoers are more than just the canes and walkers and oxygen tubing we notice first; they are an awesome repository of life experience and wisdom. They are still showing up for something new, and many of them are taking it on its terms. We often hear fretting along the lines of “What if this were someone’s first Rosenkavalier?” or “What if this were someone’s first opera?” What is less often asked is “What if this were someone’s last?” Some of the people around me Saturday will not see another Rosenkavalier. Indeed, I may not; no one guarantees us any number of years. If I never saw any other opera, I would feel I went out on a high today. There is a long list of things in life that time erases and memory mocks. Great performances such as Saturday’s will never be on that list. There are no further live performances of Der Rosenkavalier at the Met this season, as the 2016-17 season is now part of the theater’s glorious history. The HD broadcast will receive an encore presentation at most participating theaters on Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Eastern. Check local listings, and if you did not go on Saturday, do not miss a second chance. Photo Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera.

parterre box

May 8

Fifty shades of gold

Anticipation of events like the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th Anniversary bash turns me back into the newly opera-soused kid who begged his parents to let him watch the highlights of the Bing Gala on the family color television since the little black-and-white set in my bedroom just wasn’t good enough. (They agreed!) Since becoming an “adult” I’ve been lucky to attend a bunch of these aria-and-ensemble parades and remain besotted with them despite their usually being both wonderful and terrible, too much but not enough, exhausting yet exhilarating. Sunday’s Met extravaganza was all of these things but also unusually thoughtful and moving. Although most of my gala-going has been at the Met, the first one I attended was the concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Since it was taking place on my birthday and Chicago is in easy driving distance from Ohio, how could I not go? As poor college students, we got the cheapest seats in that cavernous place and I got to hear Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Alfredo Kraus, Leontyne AND Margaret Price for the very first time. And it proved to be the only time I witnessed Jon Vickers, Carlo Cossutta and Geraint Evans live. Still being pretty green, I realized only in retrospect that the most special part of that afternoon were the retired artists who introduced each musical selection—great singers whom I never could have heard perform—Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Bidu Sayão, Eleanor Steber, Leopold Simoneau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (yes, even her little speech was terribly mannered) and more. During the long drive home, my head was spinning! I probably didn’t even know what opera was when the closure of the old Met in 1966 was commemorated by a star-stuffed occasion. By 1983 though I had already attended a few performances at the Met when the colossal all-day Centennial Gala took place and I sat transfixed in front of my television that entire afternoon and evening. I moved to New York in 1990 and although these events don’t occur all that often I didn’t have to wait very long. The Met celebrated the 25th anniversaries of the debuts of Freni, Kraus and Ghiaurov with a lovely and touching gala in March 1991. A number of my fellow standees were audibly sobbing during the final portion of that afternoon when Freni sang Butterfly for the first and only time on stage—just the third act unfortunately but we were all grateful to be there. Since then I’ve attended the marathon Levine Gala in 1996 (so enervating that when I jumped into a cab at 2AM I could scarcely remember my address), the Volpe Gala a decade later and then in 2009 Peter Gelb’s first big Met wingding, the ambitious but uneven 125th Anniversary Gala. The latter was directed by Philem McDermott and co-directed by Julian Crouch who also designed the sets. Crouch was invited back to be the sole producer and set designer for Sunday’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the opera house at Lincoln Center and it was his contribution in particular which made this long evening such a success. Rather than the usual format of singers parading in and out in concert dress performing in front of sets drawn from the Met’s repertoire, Crouch placed each number within a particular design conceit drawn from productions seen at the Met during the past 50 years using a few traditional set components but mostly filling the stage picture with eye-popping projections. The “set” for the big chunk of the first act of La Boheme for exampled looked remarkably like the long-familiar Franco Zeffirelli production. Crouch, in collaboration with the projection design team 59 Productions and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt beautifully evoked August Everding’s Boris Godunov and both Marc Chagall’s and David Hockney’s Die Zauberflöte as well as Otto Schenk’s Tannhäuser and Don Pasquale among many others. This often astonishingly effective use of technology made one wonder why the Met doesn’t make more use of it. In addition, nearly all of the performers wore costumes designed for the “production” in which they were appearing (presumably Kevin Pollard supplied amended designs for costumes that no longer exist in wearable condition). The odd exception was Renée Fleming who sang her selections from Le Nozze di Figaro and Thaïs (where she was joined by Domingo in black tails) in a striking black gown with red highlights and long black gloves that jarringly had little to do with either Mozart or Massenet. Looking thin and a bit wobbly, Dmitri Hvorostovky also arrived in concert dress to sing an excerpt from Rigoletto. Needless to say, his brave appearance introduced by Peter Gelb was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation that clearly touched the ailing baritone. After a dazzling montage relating to the opening of the Lincoln Center house, fascinating film clips mostly devoted to that topic were scattered throughout the event, beginning with a short interview with a radiant looking (and sounding) Leontyne done several weeks before her 90th birthday earlier this year. The most delightful and surprising segment told the story of the accidental creation of the design concept behind the Met’s glorious signature chandeliers. During the final number from Aïda s shower of black-and-white images of nearly 80 of the greatest performers from the past 50 years (listed in the program) cascaded behind the six soloists and full chorus in ersatz-Egyptian costumes from the current Sonja Frisell productions. I spotted Mignon Dunn, Martina Arroyo and Justino Diaz among those attending the performance. The excerpts from a number of James Levine interviews and footage of him at work with the orchestra and various singers shown just before his entrance late in the gala was apt and effective and not too hagiographic given the Met’s recent annoying tendency to describe its past Music Director in only god-like terms. A most arresting transition from film to stage came after remarks delivered by then President Dwight Eisenhower at the ground-breaking for Lincoln Center about the power of the performing arts to transcend international differences. Perhaps not by accident, immediately thereafter beaming Mexican tenor Javier Camarena entered to sing an astonishing “Ah mes amis” from La Fille du Régiment to an ear-shattering ovation (but no encore). Some Gelb-haters decry him as a marketing man rather than as an artistic leader, and it must be said that the 50th anniversary gala had some canny planning behind it. Putting on a pleasing chunk of Adès’s The Tempest might encourage some to attend next season’s The Exterminating Angel. The printed program included asterisks next to the name of singers who are scheduled to appear in their roles in future Met seasons. So it was pleasing to learn that Pretty Yende will be singing Norina, Camarena Tonio, Elina Garanca Dalila and Angela Meade and Michael Fabiano Giselda and Oronte in a revival Verdi’s I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata. However, anticipation of a Kristine Opolais Tosca, a Diana Damrau Violetta and an Eric Owens Porgy proved more a cause for real distress based on their alarming performances on Sunday. As it seemed that most of the opera-loving world listened in to the Met’s streaming audio of the gala (I saw no cameras so I doubt there will be a video of the event), I will try to briefly note some responses to the performances in the house. Domingo’s Gérard sounded better than any 76-year-old should sound (although still nothing like a baritone) but his Athanaël just didn’t work and one is grateful that Gerald Finley will instead be singing the role in next season’s revival. Piotr Beczala, Susan Graham and Zeljko Lucic were in as good a form as I have heard them recently (and a shout-out to Matthew Polenzani for learning Énée to beautifully partner Graham in a marvelous Troyens duet). René Pape, having pulled out of an excerpt from Boris Godunov at the 125th Anniversary Gala, redeemed himself with a powerful “mad scene.” I usually love Joseph Calleja but his Rodolfo was sadly prosaic and relentlessly forte and was shown up by Sonia Yoncheva’s ravishingly poetic Mimi although I remain troubled sometimes by her tight high notes. Wagnerian Michael Volle showed impressive Mozartian ease as the Count, less so as Papageno, while Joyce DiDonato’s doleful Werther aria was more impressive than her dramatically commanding but vocally mannered “Bel raggio.” As I missed Vittorio Grigolo’s Roméo earlier this season, I was grateful to hear his “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” (replacing an ill Juan Diego Florez) as well as a preview of his Cavaradossi, but he remains a far too self-aggrandizing artist for my taste. Revisiting the past can be a chancy thing but to my surprise Stephanie Blythe sounded lovely in the duet from Handel’s Giulio Cesare with David Daniels with so spellbound the audience at his Met debut in 1999. He was in better voice than the last several times I’ve heard him but it was very fragile and careful. Dolora Zajick never sang the Principessa in Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met but memorably did so at Carnegie Hall with Opera Orchestra of New York in 2002. Although less free and opulent than Jamie Barton in her rendition of the aria at this year’s National Auditions Finals, Zajick, with reduced resources at age 65, still packed a punch. James Morris, whose recent performances have sometimes verged on the unpleasant, appeared refreshed in an intense Philip-Grand Inquisitor scene from Don Carlo alongside a more and more impressive Günther Groissböck who had stepped in for an absent Ferruccio Furlanetto both here and in the inescapable Lombardi trio (also featured at the closing of the old house and at the Levine Gala). Fleming whose final Met (and last ever?) Nozze Countess occurred in 1998 returned to it for an excessively morose and slow “Porgi amor” which was otherwise quite lovely, as was her plaintive Thaïs. If there was ever any doubt that Anna Netrebko is queen of the Met, there wasn’t after she literally crowned herself during the extended scene from Macbeth that ended the first half. Many singers have sung that demanding music with more accuracy but her flamboyant abandon was mesmerizing. I was less convinced by “Un bel di” which began badly but rose to a powerful climax. I’m always reluctant to revisit audio recordings of Netrebko performances that I have attended in person as the flaws in her singing, notably the wayward intonation and increasingly gusty style, bother me less than when in her galvanizing presence. I expect that next season’s Tosca will be one of the most essential—and controversial–events of next season. The heroic conducting duties of the over five-hour show were shared by Levine, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Marco Armiliato. Except for a bad stumble in the Troyens excerpt, the indefatigable orchestra played splendidly and the chorus and its director Donald Palumbo earned their well-deserved applause after a stirring “Entrance of the Guests” from Tannhäuser vividly conducted by Nézet-Séguin whose sensitivity and dynamism throughout boded well for the Met’s future. Armiliato was a surprising choice for Mussorgsky and Handel but acquitted himself decently. Levine didn’t seem to really be on his game particularly in the Lombardi trio which plodded despite David Chan’s bravura violin solo. All in all this was a well-planned and -executed evening that despite some really dicey moments exceeded my inevitably unreasonable expectations. I expect that more than a few opera-lovers remain disdainful of this sort of fancy circus, but I’m already wondering what will be the next big Met event—Domingo’s 50th (due in 2018) or Levine’s 50th (due in 2021)? A final urgent question: should one say “gay-luh” or “gal-uh”? All photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, except Jonathan Tichler for Aïda.



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