Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Very Nice Amount of Handel

On balance, a delightful Rodelinda last night...

First things first: extreme props are granted to Andreas Scholl in his Met debut. Quite simply, it is the most beautiful countertenor voice I have ever heard. Words aren't enough to describe the exquisite sound and painstaking artistry he brings to this music. It is a crying shame that his fach went out of fashion a few centuries ago, because I want to hear him in everything.

In fact, both J and I were hoping he would take over for Renaay. Now, when I say this, please know that I take no joy in hating on her. I really like believing hype! And I have heard and very much enjoyed her in the past, including Manon earlier this year. But she sounded like ass last night. It was like all of her most infuriating qualities on steroids. The most weak, contrived, covered sound you can imagine. Utter, baffling lack of precision (which is doubly inexcusable in Handel). Total sacrifice of any phrasing or larger line to trying, and failing, to make everything precious. Diction so wretched and lazy I spent the whole evening annoyed that I couldn't understand what she was saying. And I don't know a lick of Italian. And she seems to think the obligatory Beautiful Voice™ moment at the end of each aria makes up for the ten minutes of dreck that came before. I'm not buying it, lady. Hopefully this is just the worst possible music for her and doesn't represent total submission to her demons. Because it really, really sucks to listen to. And it double sucks to hear 5000 people hoot about it pretending like they don't have ears on their heads.

And especially a shame here considering how much the rest of the cast outshone their leader. Stephanie Blythe is such a joy. She takes Handel and makes something really rich and unique out of it. And the voice is just so big and deep and endlessly fascinating. Methinks hers is really what they mean when they call a voice Met-sized: every note just effortlessly cuts to the back of the hall. She's too classy to turn on the guns in Handel, but I have a feeling that when she chooses to sing really, really loud it is literally earsplitting. Christophe Dumaux, also making a debut, did very nicely as well. Ditto John Relyea.

And who couldn't love such a beautiful production? There's "whoa there's a courtyard onstage" and then there's "whoa what an aesthetically pleasing tasteful courtyard onstage". This was the latter. The scene conveyor belt thing was also very cool.

I don't know if I can say whether I necessarily like Rodelinda 'more' than other Handel operas, as it really does all kind of blend together after the fact. But I certainly am very pro Handel in general today. I don't have any huge beef with period instrument stuff, which I find perfectly enjoyable most of the time. But as a bid for Handel as living breathing opera it seems to me that the set up here is hard to beat. It's just a fact that there's a quality in Handel that is a bit beyond the veil of history for modern audiences. The corrective is here: fantastic singers really DOING the arias and with no apologies.

15 comments:

jfmurray3 said...

I saw Rodelinda last year, and I most remember Stephanie Blythe and John Relyea. They sang at the other Met a few weeks ago -in the Temple of Dendur. What sounds! Stephanie with crisp diction, enormous sound, steady breath support, agility, drama. There was nothing she couldn't sing (and she sang Brahms, Liszt, Verdi, Rossini, and a heart-breaking Cole Porter encore.) John Relyea is handsome, strong, dynamic, and his voice was clear and powerful. The highlights of their performance were some hints of a possible future Verdi Don Carlo - she sang an O Don Fatale that knocked the garter-fastened socks off of the geriatric audience.

straussmonster said...

My friend the hard-core Handelian finds this production too busy (as he says, why on earth do you need someone *gardening* during an aria?), but I found it overall pleasant when I saw it last year. Seconds on Blythe rocking in this rep, and I think I've managed to forget what Renee sounded like in it, except she likes the big exposed notes where she can be pret-tay.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm coming to NJ on the 17th and am probably going to the last Rodelinda, which is on the 19th. You are putting the fear in me about Fleming, whom I already detest. Love the opera, however! And can claim to have heard John Relyea when he was a new guy, singing Figaro as a member of the second cast in SF.

Maury D'annato said...

I think it is, yeah, the music that brings out the worst in her, though she does currently have the best trill in the biz.

Alex said...

Unmitigated ass seems quite a price to pay for a trill, no?

Maury D'annato said...

Hence my absence.

manprano (the former mezzogregory) said...

As a countertenor myself, let me just say that you're not the only one for whom it all blends together. It's not a matter of education/immersion. It's just a static form that singers and directors try to bring to life by...yes, gardening on occasion.

Andy Scholl is a great advocate for our voice type, though I wonder if the fach really went out of fashion a few centuries ago. Please say it didn't, because I don't do anything particularly well except sing like a girl!

GP

Alex said...

Just for the record, if there is any justice in the universe whatsoever, someone, somewhere, will make a TV series chronicling the lives of a clique of countertenors and call it "The Manpranos". The opening will still be the "woke up this morning got myself a gun" song, but rearranged with a kind of funky baroque feel, and sung, of course, by a countertenor.

I didn't mean "gone out of fashion". Maybe "retreated a bit". And hopefully a trend to be reversed soon. Countertenors are the new black, people.

Maury D'annato said...

See, I read the last sentence without the comma and it was quite confusing.

Jonathan said...

Me too!! I was like, ALEX I am all about irreverence, but you have crossed a line! heh.

Anonymous said...

"But she sounded like ass last night."

And not in a good way?

manprano said...

RE: TV. As long as your directing, I'm on board for "Manpranos".

Poor Renée. She's not the popular girl this week, is she? Ah, well. Here's to hoping the money soothes the pain. May
it one day for us all!

Henry said...

I too cannot understand why Fleming cannot sing the Mozart and Strauss she does so well. I've never heard a more sublimely-sung aria in opera as Renee's Porgi Amor in the Met's 1998 Figaro (the production w/Terfel and Bartoli). I'll never forget that moment as long as I live. (And I'll never forget my disappointment that she canceled her Strauss Last Songs in Philly a couple of years later).

But a few years back I left her Houston Traviata almost sick. Half the blame must be placed on her conductor for both that Traviata and this Rodelinda: Patrick Summers. As an HGO subscriber since 2001, I've found Summers usually very kind to singers, which I don't mind in most cases, but in Renee's Traviata his kindness turned to indulgence. The NY Times put it this way two days ago:

Given too much space and time to interpret, she tends to overload her performances with hesitating accents, surges of tone and other vocal ticks.

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