Monday, December 19, 2005

In The Bleak Midwinter/A Revelation

Inspired a bit by Alex Ross' brilliantly titled (if we do say so ourselves) piece in this week's New Yorker, and bummed out by the relative dearth of potential operatic bliss in the coming month or so, I am inclined to look back on the first Autumn of what A and I call "The Revelation".

The Revelation is a very simple concept. It is the the realization on our part that we may in fact NOT be opera fans, rather, we have become rabid fanatics.

It happened, appropriately, in the Fam Circ chez Met. Earlier in the week, we had casually decided to grab tickets for the Thursday, September 29th performance of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. The only one in the brilliant cast singing that night who I was truly familiar with was Susan Graham. So, after her very solid Act One performance in one of the more thankless of the major roles in that opera (The Composer), I was basically waiting and earnestly hoping to be impressed. Neither the tremendous Violetta Urmana, nor the thrilling Diana Damrau had enough to do in Act One to fully win me over. Boy did that change quickly--Urmana's performance brought wells of tears, while Damrau's brought one of the longest post-aria ovations I have ever witnessed (Alex (Ross): I was surprised she was not mentioned in your round-up. Are you less of a fan?). She, very sweetly, had to shush the audience after a few minutes so the opera could continue. It doesn't get much better than that. And that was it--simple as that, The Revelation. The Season continued...

October began with Renee Fleming and Marcelo Alvarez in Massenet's Manon. Fleming delived, Alvarez outshone. He is the real deal (talk about "Ping"...christ). What ensued was an ongoing effort on A and my part to count the number of times des Grieux wails "Manoooon!" throughout the opera. I am guessing it breaks 100.

The month wore on...I took in a Carmen and an Aida, to hear Ruth Ann Swenson and Dolora Zajick, respectively. That was all well and enjoyable, if a tad predictable.

In our continuing adoration of Bryn Terfel--Alex, Karen and I attended (on the stormiest night of all time--ever!) a Wednesday evening Falstaff. I don't totally get this opera. Not a score I love...but there was some great ensemble work and Bryn was terrific. And a nice preview of what Patricia Racette can deliver. Also, there was a unicorn.

A sublime mid-week Cosi Fan Tutte finished off the month. This caused a mini-revelation of sorts. I realized I had perhaps never heard (live) a Mozart opera performed to its full potential. I was riveted. Barbara Frittoli and Magdalena Kozena were consistently exquisite--and Levine proved himself a Mozart master.

An unseasonably warm November began with an unexpectedly hot turn from a previously little-known tenor: Giuseppe Filianoti. DAMN. This man can sing. Every note of his Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor was fodder for a vocal wet dream. I can hardly stand 2.5 hours of Donizetti yet seriously considered going back for more. I *may* even drag myself to a L'Elisir d'Amore later in the season--if only to beg him to sing something worthy. Elizabeth Futral was solid, but not overwhelming (and I maintain had slight but bothersome pitch issues.) And Edoardo Müller clunked through the already disjointed score a bit stodgily for my taste.

On to a bit more Mozart. A Friday evening Le Nozze di Figaro proved lovely on all fronts. The Opera Hot Italiano Luca Pisaroni turned in a unusually sexy if a bit dry Figaro. Hei-Kyung Hong and Joyce DiDonato as the Countess and Cherubino, respectively, were the stars of the evening for me. Wigglesworth handled the orchestra well if not astonishingly, and Jonathan Miller's smart production holds up well.

On to one of the season's main events, and by many accounts, biggest disappointments: The new production premiere of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Oy. This production was conceived around Natalie Dessay, who was a no show on opening night. Consequently, the troops were a bit restless before the evening even began. Regardless, audiences were less than thrilled with most aspects of this new, "celestial" production (though I maintain I quite like the Act IV floating bed.) And evidently Dessay did not make enough of a difference to save the sinking ship. I'll be back to see it in February, with Dessay,some perspective and without the pressure of wanting to love opening night.

Caught a total snooze-fest mid-week La Boheme, again to see Ruth Ann Swenson. I feel as her last living fan, I have a responsibility. Still, most boring evening at the Met in memory. NEXT.

Brrr. December began with, what was for me a truly singular experience. The cast assembled to sing the world premiere of Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy is a true gift to this city. The talents of Nathan Gunn, Susan Graham, Patricia Racette, William Burden, and Dolora Zajick are, under the very capable baton of James Conlon, used to their full potential. I also happen to think much of the opera itself is quite beautiful (Graham's two big Act One arias, and Zajick's tremendous turn in act two, specifically). A second viewing on the 16th affirmed my admiration--and introduced us to mezzo Kirsten Chavez who, as Graham's cover, sang a rich, sultry Sondra (and acted the hell out of it, to boot). Brava to her.

The first half of the season came to a close (unless, against my better judgement, I attend Die Fledermaus) with three much anticipated, sold-out performances of Verdi's Rigoletto, starring the opera hot duo of soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon. The duo lived up, with Trebs emerging as the real star of the evening. Sadly, Carlo Guelfi's Rigoletto was a poor showing, and often dragged down the scenes with Gilda. Their duets, often so beautiful, were ploddy and unfocused. This was reaffirmed while listening to the first live broadcast of the season this past Saturday afternoon.

In the interest of...well...interest, I will not go into detail about the many worthwhile evenings over at NYCO (A disappointing Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, a terrific Mines of Sulphur, a boring Turandot, the über Mark Lamos Tosca and Madama Buterfly all topped off by the unfortunate The Little Prince)

This Fall was also, of course, the inauguration of the Wellsung blog, which has certainly added a new texture to my and Alex's days. What this blog really *IS* is very much in flux. Most importantly, it's proven to be an always goofy and often effective venue for us to work out our thoughts and opinions about this wholly insane and wonderful art form in a surprisingly safe setting. Your continued comments and encouragement are outrageously appreciated.

On to a VERY exciting spring---get your typing fingers ready. There will be much to discuss.


yooperprof said...

In the words of the immortal Oliver, "Please sir, I want some more." More dish, more gossip, more on staging and costumes, more on the audience, and more on those fabulous divas who we love to love.

Henry Holland said...

While Mr. Ross took the title of his New Yorker piece from y'all, he was less than impressed with Alex' ringing defense of the classical tradition.

I get the impression that he and Douglas Wolk just. don't. get. it. re: A's comments about pop music. I thought it was a straightforward observation that I, someone who loves rock and opera equally, know from experience: that snobbery, thinking their genre is superior etc. *isn't* limited to classical/opera fans, that it's just as prevelant in the pop/rock field. It was, in my view, a perfectly sensible thing to write, but Wolk especially seems to think that was a heretical idea, that rock music is this egalitarian free-for-all. Odd.