I promised myself I'd find a way to begin this post with something other than the obligatory mention of how completely retarded the libretto is for La Gioconda.
But let's face it folks. It's retarded. Like, really really retarded. It's also really long--partially because of the 3rd act ballet featuring man-with-ass-of-chiseled-stone spinning very swiftly to the rousing tune of "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"
Remember on METropolitan OPERA's Opening Night® how you could hit the button on the Met Titles™ a second time and read the translation auf deutsch? I was a little bummed that feature was not active for last night's performance. I guess that was just part of the pizazzerie. It would have been fairly sweet to try to figure out Gioconda in German. I actually went in last night having spent only a marginal amount of time with the music, and clearly NO time with the libretto. Consequently, I spent most of Act III giggling (what with Gioconda astutely anticipating Laura's demise, and showing up with some of Juliet's leftover "deathlike slumber" potion).
Speaking of deathlike slumber--The Tylenol PM are kicking in. I really should say something of some substance pretty quickly here so I can get to bed.
So here goes. Violeta Urmana is completely genius. Her performance was basically flawless vocally--and surprisingly impassioned: reports from rehearsals led me to anticipate a perfectly sung, but potentially dry reading. Not so at all--she managed, pointless libretto and all, to evoke full sympathy, while never giving up her position as the absolute and only master of her own voice. I guess that is what most impressed me--there was never any worry that a/"the" note wouldn't be there, or that a phrase would end abruptly. She may be the reigning mistress of reliable excellence. The R.M.R.E.(?)
That said, I have been debating whether to say this...and this is coming from someone (me) who is flying to Chicago in a couple of weeks to see the Voigt Salome, but...based on last season's Forza, Tosca, Volpe ('member him?)Gala, and a couple shaky reports from San Francisco's Ballo, I am beginning to wonder if Urmana is in fact the one to beat. Not that such comparisons or musings are totally worth our energy--but seeing as Voigt is singing Gioconda chez Met in a couple years, it was on my mind last night.
As for the rest--Chilaquiles Machado's Enzo was less exciting than I had hoped. He sort of falls into the category for me of "acceptable-plump-italian-opera-singing-tenor". His voice has moments of exceptional focus, but it tends to spread a bit in the upper registers. His phrasing is largely mechanical and his stage persona very much of the "stand and sing" variety.
Olga Borodina, as expected, was totally wonderful. This is only my second time hearing her live (the first being her Dalila last season). She is such an impressive singer. And the sexy, rich tones in that voice...she's rapidly becoming one of my favorites.
Rounding out the ladies was Irina Mishura's Cieca. While it was most fun indeed to imagine Podles(!) singing the role, one could not help but be distracted from one's big Polish fantasy by the fact that Mishura was actually totally fantastic.
As Barnaba, baritone Zeljko Lucic was showing signs of wear and generally not my favorite. And Paata Burchaladze, whose massive bass never fails to impress, despite an increasingly wide vibrato, turned in an appropriately sinister and vocally solid Alvise.
Not knowing the score all that well, I am going to decline to comment in any substantial manner on Bertrand de Billy and the orch...but I will say that I was impressed with his energy--even having conducted the season prima of Faust the previous evening, he was among the most alert and lively in the room come curtain call.
Next up--possible Faust tomorrow night...er, tonight.