You know, before I even get going, I'm wondering if I can make it through this review without using the word italianita. I bet you I can't. If I do, you owe me a dollar. If I don't, you can have Franco Farina. Aw, hell, why don't you go ahead and take the little fella and, just, do me a favor--don't let him out for a couple of weeks.
I think I said I was blogging Parsifal next. As a matter of fact, I went to the Tosca prima on an absolute last minute whim, third row standing downstairs. I was having thoughts of going to the Voigt/Villa Tosca, second to last in the run, because I had some non-specific memory of a Farina fiasco that kept nagging at me. Aida maybe? I mean, you've been reading me, perhaps, and know I'm actually not that quick to slag on a singer. And though I was star-struck by the Met itself and New York the first time I took in an opera there, I seem to recall he was a pretty good Lenski somewhere in the vicinity of eighty years ago, in my youth.
But I didn't wait for Villa's turn in the role, and must report that what sounds to have been, in better days, a big, pretty voice, with the added attraction that he's not shy about hanging on to a high note, is now severely worn and sports a vibrato as big as all outdoors. It is impossible to speak about his pitch; one must write instead about his pitches. As the New York Times, in one of their better hatchet jobs, once said of Tori Spelling, "[His] every entrance is cause for regret." The opera houses of the world seem to disagree with me...he gets a lot of work. But really, the thought of his Pollione is not a nice one. Happily enough, the New York public agrees with the opera houses of the world, and gave him a nice ovation. I'd rather someone like his singing so I don't have to try.
Voigt had kind of a strange evening. All but three and a half minutes of her singing made a fine case for her as a singer who, by virtue of general vocal splendor and a newly vigorous stage presence was going to overcome a fundamental lack of...oh wait, I wasn't going to use that word...wasn't going to let her much stronger affinity for a Teutonic line keep her from a truly appealing Tosca. It's a minor shame, not for her, but for me, that she's not instead a temperamentally Germanic bass singing Scarpia, or I could have ended that sentence with something about wresting success from the jaws of Fafner. Ok, no, not such a shame after all. (Sometimes you have to type these things before you know.) Her chest voice is resoundingly present and the middle has the right oomph for Tosca.
The rotten part is that those three and a half minutes were, as you may have guessed, "Vissi d'arte." There's no explanation for the total inconsistency that makes sense to me except she started with a dry throat, or swallowed a bug or something. She rushed past the conductor from the first phrase, and then had drastic support problems that made of the last note something quite desperate. It was like watching a good friend fall down stairs, I'm afraid. (Though let's keep everything in perspective...a short flight of stairs, and in the past one's friend had achieved deserved renown in climbing the world's staircases.) I hope hope hope it was a one-off. I guess the other possibility is some of these roles really just aren't for her, and there's still a lot of jugendlich dramatisch stuff she's peerless in. But then what explains the solidity of her recent Leonoras? Anyway, as it is now traditional and right to add, she looked really nice, and though it's hard to say a lot about theatrical subleties from standing spot 89, the murder of Scarpia came off well, and her header onto the sidewalk looked like a real jump. (The river, it has been pointed out to me, is far enough away she'd need a jet pack, and then the opera would end quite differently.) It is also, I might add, rather a thrill to hear one's name shouted from the stage by Ms. Voigt.
You know, if one were to indulge in a revisionist Tosca of the sort that makes everyone get all misty for the days when opera didn't ask any questions, wouldn't it be funny to let the air out of everyone's deeply cathected curiosity and have her jump off a transparent parapet so we could see: where does she land? Is there a mattress? A trampoline? How far does she have to fall? Sorry, these things pop into my head unbidden when I'm hearing Franco Farina sing "E lucevan le stelle." Think of it as a defense mechanism.
I know a lot of people love James Morris. I never have. Still I'm pretty sure I'm being fair in saying it's time for him to enjoy his place in opera history from somewhere other than the stage. It's just too hard to get properly creeped out by a Scarpia when he's such a compromise in one of opera's great entrances, and follows up accordingly. We size up the mettle of opera heros and villains a fair piece on the vocal strength of their proponents, don't we? Voigt could just too clearly kick his ass. It just doesn't work.
One line shout out to the muscular voice of Kyle Ketelsen, an up-and-comer spotted here as Angelotti.
So just for the hell of it, and just to show I'm open-minded, I'm now toying with dusting off my tinfoil hat (to fit in) and taking in the Millo outing, especially if I can get the Wellsungs in on the act. In part, I've had to question how much of my indifference to Millo is in response to her minions after some riveting excerpts posted elsewhere on the occasion her birthday. In part I'm curious to see this whole routine where she crawls around in circles licking the floor or whatever it is she does after she whacks Scarpia. So look for me there, I guess--if I'm really managing to pass, I'll be the one with the glassy eyes and a perm, muttering to himself.
p.s. I think I'll experimentally turn off comment moderation (because it's a pain in the ass) with a polite request to the person known as Marschallin not to post here. I'm sure you're lovely, but your internet persona seems to be that of shit-stirrer and I'm just going to delete your comments.