On the off chance that the other person that reads this blog, the one that isn't my mom, is the usher on balcony level, house left, I'd just like to say you have pried the "Maury's Least Favorite Usher" trophy from the doubtless talon-like clutches of the mean one downstairs that looks like Cher's older sister. You know the one I'm talking about, right? The one who really seems to enjoy fastening people into standing room with the velvet rope of doom? Well she's my pal now, she is, compared to her buddy upstairs. She and I have a standing date for tea.
I lived #7 on the list of opera queen nightmares (below the thin white slip in the program announcing Madame Voigt is indisposed and will be replaced by Jane Eaglen and above sitting beside the chatty couple who have never been to an opera and think it's ok to continue the conversation through things like recit and overture) this evening, the one where you realize, just as the lights are going down that you have to, yes...well... piss like a racehorse. I made it, uncomfortably, through Ecco and Largo--respectively: surprisingly only fine, and superb--and headed for the door, thinking I'd just come back in at the scene change.
Only the Met doesn't do that. Which isn't the usher's fault. He's just the messenger. But I'm standing there in the doorway trying to figure out what to do, thinking maybe I can hear a little of Una Voce before I meet with the fate of Tycho Brahe. And girlfriend, wanting to go back and watch and not risk me loudly opening the door, says to me, he says, "You have to make up your mind." Fine, I made up my mind: you're a bitch.
So I watched 45 minutes of this evening's prima from List Hall, with other people betrayed by their bladders, I guess. And people who are late to things, the horror.
I saw the rest, though, so sit back and put in your earplugs and smile while I tell you about it. Starting off with the lukewarm news, the production is inoffensive in the word's fullest range of meaning. That is to say I can't imagine it pissing anyone off, though there were boos at the production team's curatin call, but I also can't imagine anyone feeling stirred by it or indeed remembering anything but the singing a month from now. There are several very funny bits of stage business, foremost among them Florez at the harpsichord during the lesson scene.
The design is in that grey area, not ploddingly literal but not set at a rodeo or in Darfur or anything. There are all these doors, see, and they move around a bunch. Oh and if you're allergic to whimsy in the form of staged overtures, take your benadryl. Figaro's entrace is rather large-scale and makes use of livestock, which always gets applause for some reason. I guess for New Yorkers any animal that large that isn't a subway rat is a true novelty.
Speaking of the lesson scene, though, can we make a hasty return to the era of suitcase arias? It could be because my first Barbiere was with Bartoli in Houston and when she got to the lesson, she sang "Tanti Affetti." The two-octave ascending-then-descending run near the end was so poised, so lilting, I'm surprised nobody lept from the balcony to land at her feet. But "Contro un Cor" just leaves me cold. Damrau used it to get in some spectacular tricks, and was in fantastic form all night. I do like her somewhat better as Zerbinetta, and I'm concerned there may be some nascent Fleming futzerei going on with the frequent dynamic changes, but for now she's terribly impressive and sings with a sense of fun.
Which does not begin to cover how Florez fared in "Cessa di Piu Resistere." I don't want to sound ga-ga. Rossini tenoring is something I find thrilling but never moving, and I was here only thrilled, but of its kind, this was singing of the very, very highest caliber. It was sweet and fleet and secure the way death and taxes are. It was astonishing, and the house went mad. I've never heard such a pre-curtain ovation.
Still if the evening had a hero, for my money it was Peter Mattei. He is [hang on, digging in bag of cliches] the whole package, but really. As you know, he is for one thing hot. I think they secretly abort anyone with the ugly gene in Sweden. But his voice has its own thing going on, some mix of tonal luxury and swagger, and his acting is casually quite wonderful, and bless his heart, he doesn't try to come up with his shtick for the whole "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!" extravaganza, like singing the last "Figaro!" up two octaves in falsetto or whatever, because when you do, you make that the center of the aria, and that's just dumb and boring.* I want to hear him as...ok, hang on, started typing that just because the paragraph felt like it needed another sentence. Oh god, I know. I want to hear him as Onegin. Right now, please.
He has the patter-song element of that aria down cold, and I'm guessing his part of the "Dunque io son" was great fun, only it was kind of hard to judge in List Hall plus I think I was having some kind of PTSD opera-on-tv flashback involving David Letterman. [Jonathan von Wellsung opines, and I cannot help but agree, that there was something offensive about the way they kept announcing "Dustin Hoffman! Jamie Oliver! and the Metropolitan Opera!" They didn't even introduce the damn singers. Oh, don't mind them, they're just The Opera.]
I'd say Bartlett Sher did Wendy White no favors since it is common knowledge that Bertha's little nothing of an aria can actually be a cameo in the best sense, a star-turn in miniature, and she certainly did nicely by the music. I like to imagine Podles in her dotage doing the role but I imagine she'd scoff. Or maybe kill me with her hands for suggesting it. I can kind of picture that, too.
Ramey was lots of fun but is really starting to sound like a good candidate for the old Countess in Pikovaia Dama. John del Carlo I couldn't really make up my mind about, so I'll have to give him another shot on a Joyce di Donato evening. And on that evening, I'm bringing a stun gun for the ushers. Bzzzt!
*Oh, nothing. It wasn't important.
Look for reviews at Wellsung and An Unamplified Voice. I can attest to the presence of both blogsterinos at last night's shindig and will make sad faces at them if they remain silent. ETA: AUV now reviews the production in a detailed and thoughtful way I'd rather just refer you to than try to emulate. If you need hare-brained nattering about the singing and hard-won advice about whether to go to the men's room when in doubt, you know who to call.