Some time before the earth cooled, I remember a conversation with Dawn Fatale in which I mentioned I was going to hear Aida because a mezzo who was rumored to tear the place up was singing Amneris. Wise as the Norns, Dawn said to me only a little wearily "I'd really like to stop going to Aida to hear the Amneris."
Perhaps he need not anymore. Since that conversation, the Met has mounted Aida exactly seven thousand times, with stars (in my experience) ranging from competent to quite good, without ever finding someone excitingly well-matched to the role. Latonia Moore, in for an indisposed Violeta Urmana, made a debut this afternoon I feel I will endure only moderate hounding from the golden-age bitterati for calling exciting and maybe even important.
Ms. Moore is not unknown in these parts. It was only a couple of years ago that she turned in a very glamorous reading of Hortense or whatever the heroine of Edgar is called with OONY, also then in the company of Marcello Giordani. Still, she isn't a marquee name, if that exists in opera, and it seems fair to guess from a gracious shout-out on Sondra Radvanovsky's facebook feed that the Met would have liked the Radvan to hang around for the broadcast.
She didn't, and the Met went with the actual cover, with extremely satisfying results. Ms. Moore showed signs of nervousness, of course--here a phrase got away from her, there a portamento seemed intended but didn't quite happen. The overall impression, however, was one of a highly qualified Aida. Vigorously mark off on the checklist: radiant tone, a Met-sized voice, and most importantly, deeply musical phrasing and her own distinctive vocal stamp on the role. Moore, through instinct or study--I can't know, has a fine understanding of that elusive shape that makes a Verdi phrase ring true, and she largely has the goods to back it up.
In the interest of full disclosure, I don't know how the biggest moment went--during "O Patria Mia" there was some sort of distressing medical emergency in Family Circle. (And here we salute the staff of the Met who somehow took care of it without bringing the performance to a stop.) I can say, however, that "Ritorna vicintor" was fully realized, with all the thrust that heaves utterances like "struggete!" across the footlights and to the back of the house, and tenderness and regret where you'd want them.
The Act II showdown found her holding her own against Stephanie Blythe, which should tell you plenty (if I were Aida and heard Stephanie Blythe call me "vil schiava" I would just go right ahead and bury myself because it's pretty clear who's going to end up getting crammed up a Sphinx's ass.) In the triumphal scene she stood out well from the chorus, and in the tomb scene, she sang with delicacy and poise.
Moore makes differentiated and appropriate use of chest tones, which I know is of great concern to many, and sprinkles her phrases judiciously with hints of glottal attack. With experience I think she will dispense with some vagueness that haunts a certain small range in the middle of the voice. She has a run of Aidas coming up in Dallas this fall. Meanwhile, she was rapturously received at the Metropolitan.
And what of the Amneris? Blythe is an event in her own right, undeniably a house institution. Sometimes I've understood this--she was every ounce the poet in Gluck's Orfeo and an elemental presence as Jezibaba in Rusalka--other times, less so. Amneris is not a contralto role, per se, but it received a contralto reading here, with mixed results. Even from Zajick I never heard such belting, and it's certainly a thrill, but after four acts, it began to feel like vulgarity, and not the best kind.
The Act II smackdown was quite thrilling, but came on the heels of the least seductive reading "Ah, vieni, amor mio" I can recall. It's not that the top was an effort. High notes aren't everything, and in fact she dutifully produced every last one of them. It just felt like a peculiar choice for Blythe, obviously a very valuable artist in the company's roster, at this stage of her career. Let's have more Frickas and the like, things she's currently peerless in, and maybe leave off with this kind of thing.
[Perhaps it is worth noting briefly that Blythe apparently makes a hilarious "back the fuck off" face when Aida holds up a decoration to be presented to Radames, I am told. There was a ripple of laughter, though I could see nothing from the fringe of standing room.]
Marcello Giordani was at his best and his worst, by turns. The Nile Scene found him alternating between the kind of singing you feel you can almost physically sink your teeth into and leather-lunged shouting (which is hardly the worst thing from an Italian tenor, but Giordani can and frequently does do better). Celeste Aida mostly worked; the final duet had more than it needed of strangled soft notes. Probably the less said about the rest of the gentlemen in the cast, the better.