Sometimes what I'm most grateful for is the fact that I've only been listening to opera in the way that deserves a DSM listing for twenty years, and apparently have no critical faculties whatsoever.
I've been reading in Parterre comments about how last night's OONY Adriana was a fucking shonde, a dark chapter in the annals of singing. Well, fine. Good to know. In my beatific dullardry, what I experienced was something like this: an excellent night of singing with, if you can imagine, a few flaws.
Yes, Kaufmann sometimes croons. It isn't my favorite sound, but it's about 1% of what he does. I suspect it isn't going to bother us much in the roles that will be his greatest; it certainly didn't make any appearance that I can recall in his Siegmund. His enormous program bio (OONY is generous--they all get like two pages and are not, let us say, edited for hyperbole) notes an upcoming Bacchus, in which I guess he'll croon where everyone else does, but it fits in differently there.
When he puts the pedal to the metal, more importantly, the sound is just glorious. I think there's a tendency in very slightly staged concert operas to receive singers' performances as fussy, because the fact that they indulge in some acting gestures means we can't quite forgive the futzing with the stubborn water bottle cap, and this extends somehow to vocal acting. The overly turned phrase that might go well with an overstuffed fainting couch can come of as tacky on a very well lit stage with everyone in tuxes.
Anyway, to my ear what he does in Adriana is basically very stylish and his delivery evinces a good deal of verismatic abandon, if not the ultimate degree. It isn't Corelli, but it's that kind of thing, and I don't say that lightly. He was the star of the evening, as far as I'm concerned, and gave a memorable performance, even a great one. The covered quality some note in his voice seems to me to be a thing that either goes away as he warms up or you stop noticing it. Its main effect may be that you think "my god, he's a fucking baritone--where are those high notes going to come from?" And then when they turn up after all, and are like a giant hammer of clobber-y-ness, there is a happy element of shock.
There are singers you love to hate, of course, but Gheorghiu for me has turned into a singer I hate to love. I don't find her scheduling caprices piquant, and I'm not interested in her love life and how it fucks with whether I'm going to hear her or not. For a while, when it was less constant, it lent a certain feeling of "oh, now I know how Stratas fans felt" but in fact, this is nothing to be nostalgic about.
But I wouldn't care, is the thing, if she weren't all the things she is: riveting; glamorous in a meaningful sense that has little to do with her intermission hairstyle change but still something, ok, to so with her intermission hairstyle change; and as we were reminded last night, a singer of extraordinary gifts, if not quite the ones we might have predicted at the beginning of her career. This last is to say: I haven't forgotten how small she sounded in, ugh, whatever run of Traviatas was the last one she didn't cancel.
Great news, though: when she decides to let 'er rip, she delivers. I'll put some of it down to good seats and the acoustics of Carnegie, but I do think this was a different sound from those Traviatas. Luxurious at times. And even when not, filled with the same plangent tone as before, moved around by the same finely calibrated dynamic sense. The intelligence--if that's the right word--of the musicality is, yeah, at odds with the somewhat idiotic public persona. This is fine by me, as we're not likely to be at the same parties.
Again, dramatically an awkward hybrid. I think it's not so long ago she did a staged run of Adriana, but I'll venture to say she didn't do a lot of brushing up, and if I'd been asked to guess at the plot just from watching, I'd say the main thing that happens is that Adriana is afraid Maurizio is going to leave her for the Princess, and Maurizio is afraid Adriana is going to leave him for her music stand. There was a little too much genuine comedy in the quick embraces punctuated by furious page-turning. But isn't that sort of the defining aesthetic of OONY?
The Phaedre scene was deliciously over the top. L'umille Ancella was an easy home run, and the death of Adriana was the kind of thing that's obviously camp but secretly a little bit moving at the same time. Best of all were moments of unison singing with Kaufmann, because both of them tore into it. (I remember from my shall we say not-for-Carnegie forays into singing that you can do things when someone else is singing with you that seemed difficult when you were singing alone.)
Anita Rachvelisvhili suffered from the same thing anyone but Simionato might about the Princess of Bouillon*, which is to say how are you supposed to march onto the stage and sing "Acerba Volutta" cold? Warmed up, she sounds like a major voice, and she has an interesting face. I missed the Carmen but hopefully won't miss her again. Ambrogio Maestri is a walking wall of voice, and also, one would venture, a solid artist, so really my impression of the whole evening is that it was whatever comes after a trifecta.
Adriana itself I'll put back on the shelf for a while, not out of indifference exactly but...it's like La Gioconda if La Gioconda were 3/4 as much fun as it actually is. There are parts I love and will tool around youtube looking for fun performance of, and there are even scenes that, divorced from actual stage action, strike me as dramatically interesting and strange. I'm not dismissing it as schlocky verismo, because schlocky verismo is obviously great or we wouldn't listen to it.
The thing is I don't need to hear it sung again until I can hear it sung as well as it was last night, and that seems like it won't happen soon. (Except of course that singers are good in direct proportion to how long they've been dead and last night was a fiasco et cetera ad nauseum ad mortem sacro fuoco Renata frickin Tebaldi.)
*famous for her tin-foil-covered soup cubes, and so beloved to the OONY weirdos who get both a meal and a hat out of the deal.