Some nights are; some nights aren't. Last night was, and there's no way around it.
The strangest piece of commentary I have to offer on the Met's new Don Pasquale, unveiled to roaring approval last night, goes something like this: Anna Netrebko is now, in the way of Margo Channing, a Star. She will never again be anything else. Her natural charm and comic flair on the boards of the Metropolitan were so great, so conquered was I by them, that I will go see pretty much anything else she's in. Not since Bartoli's staged opera debut in Houston in what I'm remembering as 1993 have I seen such natural comedy and joie de chanter. Her voice fills Sybil's Barn with gratifying ease. And I still don't like her singing.
What's an opera queen to do? I'm happy enough to live with contradictions. I really do want to go see her in almost anything (I keep qualifying because she's on for Romeo et Juliette next season and I really don't think I'm up for that particular trudge again.) I was a little in love with her by final curtain. But the voice itself remains, to my ear, ugly, and its production still a little unsubtle. I can't think of another singer I've felt this way about: I can imagine attending her career for the next may-it-be-many years and never wanting a recorded souvenir. I'm sure I'm in the minority and I don't begrudge anyone their more total enjoyment of her. My heart lept up at her mid-act applause after "So anch'io la virtu magica" and stayed with her the whole evening.
It's not even a matter just of being funny, though it's a pleasure to hear a full house laugh rather than giggling on cue [oh, there's the punchline. must produce laughter.] I think what it is above all else is the privilege of watching someone capable of producing deeply convincing spontaneity onstage. Or watching someone who acts with apparent affection for/generosity toward her colleagues. Or watching someone who can act with her feet. Or even just someone who wears clothes that fucking well. Anna Netrebko could bring out the vicarious drag queen in anyone.
I mentioned her chemistry with her colleagues, and it is only moral to mention that each and every one of them responded with what surely was his own estimable best. If I've seen a production where the average level of performance was so high, I can't think of it. My warmest approval goes to Barry Banks. If you haven't read another write-up already, you're thinking: Maury is hitting the bottle again. Barry Banks was not scheduled even up to the last minute. In fact, up to the last scene. Before his services were required, Juan Diego Florez gave a performance of such vocal radiance I had to stuff tiny metaphorical sunglasses in my goddamn ears. I don't know Don Pasquale particularly well, but I kept hoping for the scene where Ernesto and Norina would interact more, because the thought of that pooled wonderfulness was intoxicating. It didn't really happen.
Several people left as soon as the words "Juan Diego Florez has had an allergic reaction" were out of Joe Volpe's mouth. Imbeciles. I was in a good mood anyway from the rest of the opera, plus I had a positive association with the name Barry Banks from somewhere (was he on that jaw-dropping clip from Ermione La Cieca posted a while back? With Pendatchanska @ NYCO?) and had a hunch this might not be a bad thing. Well, I'm not just patting the underdog on the back here. Ernesto's last act aria and the duet with Norina that follows were a triumph of vocal security and loveliness by the brilliant Barry Banks. He sings with an ounce less sweetness than Florez, but a marvellous plangency and, at risk of leaping head first into judgement after a short sing, artistry of the first order. I really may go stand for his one-off later in the month. Bear in mind a week or so ago the best I could come up with to say about Don Pasquale was "it's shite!"
I guess I don't have as much to say about Simone Alaimo and Marius Kwiecien or else I'm afraid of sounding like I was on ecstasy last night and am just a fount of indiscriminate praise. Alaimo was quite funny and idiomatically very connected to this music, perhaps a little moreso than Kwiecien who nonetheless was extraordinarily appealing. At the end of their duet, they stood, back to back, at the edge of the stage, pumping out rapid-fire Italian patter. It was just wonderful is all. I'm sorry to be such a sap.
The production itself was a realist Otto Schenk affair, heaps sunnier and better than the other Schenk productions at the Met. I don't feel I ave anything particularly enligthening to say about it, so I won't.
Ridiculous as it is, I'm going to mark my last comment with a spoiler alert, because the thing I want to describe, the thing that sealed the deal on Netrebko for me, looked so spontaneous I hate to ruin it for you if you go, even though we all know it wasn't an act of invention by Trebs. So stop reading if you want to be delighted by it without forewarning. This was I guess right at the end of the opera, and it was just a little trick of staging: what she did was she came all the way forward, almost to the very edge, and then crouched on the prompter's box to sing the end of the scene. Sounds inconsequential. Go see it and tell me if you agree.
Oh and p.s. April Fool's, they all sucked.
And p.p.s. no of course they didn't; could I fake that kind of enthusiasm? Answer: I could not.
Edit, added later: I've only read a couple of reviews by others in the blogosphere/opera-l-osphere and it appears I may be alone, or in any case alone plus the thousands of people screaming their fool heads off last night. Strange feeling.