Funny, but I was just telling the story this afternoon about how, in grad school, I was in a choir that performed shouty Siberian folk music, and our director (who, among many other qualities that made me want to kill him, made us dress up in Siberian peasant costumes) would do this spiel between songs about how the minor second is a a consonance in this kind of music, and I don't know, I just kind of thought of it when Rolando Villazon was up there experimenting with intervals nobody else has ever tried in the end of Act I of Boheme.
I can joke about this comfortably because Villazon reminded us all of something kind of reassuring: if you're a certain kind of wonderful, you can fuck up repeatedly and still run off with everyone bravoing themselves hoarse. And yeah, part of the frenzy of braying was because everyone paid rather a lot to hear Opera's Best Marketed Platonic Couple and were there for the event as much as anything. Nothing wrong with that, though it can be annoying. But there was a lot of worthwhile noise, too.
As you've read or heard, they did a chunk of Boheme, a chunk of Manon, and a chunk of L'elisir d'Amore. Early on, it was apparent something was going wrong, wrong, wrong for Villazon. Not all-over-the-place apparent but like, on an early high note, or maybe the climactic note he cut off early with that noise Michael Bolton made at the end of "Pourqoi me reveiller" on his opera album, My Secret Passion. (Not secret enough.) This noise I think exists as well in Arabic. One textbook describes it as "the sound of incipient retching." Then there was some tentative singing, and some other minor bits of Arabic, and in fact the note one comes down to from the biggie on "Che gelida" also kind of caught in his throat. And at the end of the act, as many of us were wondering if he'd take the gentleman's option and not howl a C or whatever they'd transposed to with the soprano, it became evident that he intended to take said option, but wasn't sure how to do it.
Let me think about solfege for a minute. I guess the non-chivalrous version goes:
sol miiiiiii, do laaaaaaa, laaaaaaa [portamento hook please] doooooooo.
and the chivalrous:
sol miiiiiii, do faaaaaaa, faaaaaaa miiiiiiiii.
and the Rolando experiment:
sol miiiiiii, do faaaaaaa, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa[ruh roh]aaaaa.
So what's fa on do? I guess it's a nice normal fifth, but in context it could only be described as jazzy.
Anyway he did his usual high quality thing throughout in terms of perfectly charming acting that almost wiles away the torment of one more slog through the Benoit scene, and relentlessly musical and intelligent phrasing. And Netrebko did the same, without the vocal mishaps, because this is her best rep, and in it, she is worthy of the hype.
Manon was the same, taken to extremes. The vocal-cord shredding at the top of "Ah, Fuyez!" was absolutely harrowing. And he just kept right at what he was doing, which was a stylish, impassioned reading of the scene that could scarcely be bettered except for yeah, the hideous noises he made here and there. I'm pretty sure I got aesthetic whiplash. Trebbers in this sounded lush and comfortable, but there was a question of whether she was going for laughs with the acting, which seemed to have been coached with Miss Piggy. I don't mean to sign on with the hardcore Fleming-bashers, but I'm going to go ahead and say AN's take on the music was quite refreshing. And of course she looked like sin waiting to happen. (I think they disposed with some of the insane costume business where she does what amounts to a laborious striptease--either La Cieca or Dawn Fatale once quipped she looked like Super-Manon.)
L'elisir was when it all came together. Villazon's vocal troubles apparently vanished, and Netrebko sounded about the best I've ever heard her. I'm no singer (as my shower curtain would attest, if it could talk, after it had stopped crying) but I am sort of shocked to think that the vocal demands of Bellini are so very different from those of Donizetti. What else, though, could explain how Trebs is so amateurish in Puritani (minority opinion here, obviously, but seriously...) and so deft in this stuff. It almost made me like Elisir. "Una Furtiva Lagrima" was most noted, this evening, for its solidity at the end of a bumpy night, but here again the elegant line and emotional transparency were the real selling points.
Admirable assistance came from the likes of the venerable Mr. Ramey, Monica Yunus, the excellent Patrick Carfizzi, and audience fave Marius Kwiecien.
Next up: possibly Cesare, for my sins.