I've heard it said that when Magda made her Met debut at age 104, as Tosca, apparently with the same delicious lack of subtlety onstage that marks her recordings, all the queens could say to each other at intermission was, "and then she saw the knife!" You can imagine the mix of adoration and ridicule, I think. Tosca, as a piece of theater, as a brilliant piece of crap, presupposes laughably outsize gestures. If you ask me, the one from last night that's going to get the most play is unquestionably the moment when Millo, having screwed her courage to the sticking place with a supersized swig of chianti, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and shook it dry like a quarterback chugging gatorade. Certainly for me this was the biggest laugh, and I saw a number of sort of vicious imitations of it after the fact. One wit added, bewilderingly but rather devastatingly, "like she just finished a goddamn pot of matzoh brei."
Well, I'm neither slain in the spirit nor wholly unconvinced, which is more than a little disappointing. I can't really trash Millo entirely or discount the enormous ovation she got, on account of she mostly didn't suck and did have moments of glory. The voice, at this stage of the game, is a rather ugly one with a few fascinating features I imagine have always been there and are the reason for all the to-do. The big, rich Tebaldi register is, I am forced to concede, quite unique on the opera stage these days, as far as I know. And as far as Italianate phrasing, when she's on, she's on, and I'm grateful to hear it. And when she's off, she sings like the rotting corpse of Maria Caniglia, to wit: much of Act I.
And the crazy thing about Villa is that he's a perfect tenor version of Millo. The top is loud and frayed and hints at unreliability but mostly makes it. The phrasing has its old school moments, very gratifying. I can't argue with his "e lucevan," though the rest of the evening his tone was wearying, like a long argument. Here perhaps I've overreached and the similarity ends...whereas his acting chops are a bit coarse, her basic manner of inhabiting a character is, in this opera about a bunch of Catholics, vulgar in a way I'd always associated more with Southern Baptism. And then she sings the beginning of the big aria with an exquisite line and I forgive her. And then (yes I know I'm going out of order--think of it as a postmodern narrative) she sings "egli vedi ch'io pianga" and though it's absolutely nothing special and owes much of the breadth of the "vedi" to the large breath before "ch'io pianga", her fans begin to applaud mid-scene with the inevitability of death and taxes, and I unforgive her. At least at this one, they didn't shoosh ovations for other singers, as I witnessed at the (vocally much more succesful) Fanciulla at OONY, where the overall concentration of mouthbreathers is for some reason always higher, a year ago.
I think the reason I never give the Millo a break is that her fans seem not to forgive her faults so much as to cognitively suppress them. In an OONY benefit concert in '99 at Alice Tully, Millo sang "Pace, mio dio" sort of well and ended it quite flat (as, in fact, she ended Vissi d'arte--the final note was, in horseshoes and hand grenades terms, close enough, but the one before it was...actually the same note, which it ain't supposed to be.) But then she made that gesture of snatching something out of the air which is international sign language for "applaud or I break your face" and the house exploded. Someone else has an off night, they get a slightly diminished ovation, you know? It happened to Heppner, quite recently. And while there was no snatching of invisible handkerchiefs out of the air tonight, there was so much swanning about with arms outstretched, at times I thought she might be about to pick a fight with Luana DeVol.
I'm done picking on Morris I guess, except to say RETIRE RETIRE RETIRE DAMMIT RETIRE. And if you're going to sing like that, try not to do it within fifteen minutes of Kyle Ketelsen, whose comparative freshness and solidity carry a doubltess unintentional subext of: RETIRE, BITCH. Tonight was actually better than the prima, but I despair of forever seeing the world's best entrance music lavished on someone who can't run with it.
And with that, except for a special event that's really its own self contained big deal, the Met season is over for Maury. My first season as a blower of hot air, a blogstress, a reviewer if to say so isn't grandiose. I've never had such a season, truly. I think I went to every production but two (Aida, Elisir), many on opening night with pen at least imaginarily in hand, some of them twice. There was filth and there was dementia, as Dickens once wrote, only I promise not to launch into a teary retrospective on you...
Next up and probably last for a while, though there is Caramoor over the summer: Volpedammerung.