Friday, December 02, 2005

Tragedy Loves Company

As I am hopping a plane to Chicago in 8 hrs, I want to share some quick thoughts about this evening's premiere of Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy.

This adaptation (and particulary this production) of Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel is, with few exceptions, riveting from the rich, tight harmonies of the opening chords to ending.

The score is terrific: alternating between exquisite choral writing, gut-wrenching lyrical passages, and balls out drama (speaking of balls out--there is a not to be missed Nathan Gunn in a late 19th century bathing suit. Like, even if you are deaf, see this opera.) There are a few moments that become a bit movie score-ish, but they are fleeting and quickly forgotten.

This is a truly A-List cast: Nathan Gunn, while not a powerful baritone per se, sang with elegance and precision. And he was of course appropriately sexy as the ill-fated charmer, Clyde Griffiths. Patricia Racette turned in a powerful performance as the naive, love-starved Roberta, alternating with ease between the lyrical writing of the sporano love interest and the agressive, pained writing of a woman spurned. Susan Graham is nothing short of perfect as Sondra Finchley. God, she is a mezzo to be reckoned with. She has a couple of arias in the first act that just leave you breathless. She has incredible control in all registers, and really sings WORDS. I love it. She is a real artist.

Dolora Zajick.

I will build a shrine to this woman. I mean Jesus Christ. Will someone explain to me why she is not a household name? Her voice shakes the walls of the Met and makes my palms sweat and my eyes tear up. The transcendence in some moments of her performance is preciesly the reason I go to the opera.

James Conlon allowed for real drama, which I appreciated. He seemed to really connect with this score, and certainly with the cast assembled under his baton. Kudos to him.

The production itself was, for the most part very enjoyable, and certainly a completely fresh idea. It doesn't all work but it's one of the most thorough yet relatively simple uses of the Met stage I have seen. I am not totally sold on the sort of Exorcist/Soprano Drowning in a Salad Spinner moment, but it was a neat effect, nonetheless.

Regardless of certainly differing opinions about the score and certain elements of the production, this assemblage of singers is simply not to be missed. If you are an opera fan to any degree, it will be a true shame to pass this one up.


yooperprof said...

About Gunn's "late 19th century bathing suit": is it topless? And will Tommasini describe him as "strapping"? Inquiring minds want to know!

Paul said...

Several years ago (2001?) I attended an "Aida" at the Met with Zajick as Amneris. She also sings that role on the Met DVD I won that features Domingo as Radames (not my favorite role for him by a long shot). I agree that she's much underused, under-covered and under-appreciated. She also makes a great Azucena.

Jonathan said...

I saw her sing Amneris several weeks ago as well. She is really terrific in that role, too. Definitely don't miss her in An American Tragedy. She is really in her element.