Thursday, November 08, 2007

A return to form

Remember this statement from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

"...when a recent edition of Playbeing magazine headlined an article with the words 'When you are tired of Ursa Minor Beta you are tired of life', the suicide rate there quadrupled overnight."

Maybe you weren't geek enough to have read The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. That's possible, too.

When you're tired of Traviata, you're probably also tired of life, or at least of opera, as Traviata kind of is opera. Um, but I'm really, really tired of La Traviata. So this is going to be a simulacrum of a review, written by me pretending I care more. The truth is I spent a lot of time keeping a mental scorecard, which doesn't happen when I'm truly engrossed.*

It's been a long, hard road for me from die-hard Flemingian to disciple of that Cassandra of the ether known to you and me as La Cieca. "Why is La Cieca so mean?" I would sit and wonder, fanning myself with a program from RF's jewel-like Arabella in Houston, long about 1998. And then there were a number of excruciating outings in a row, my personal low point being Manon with Alvarez, and these days I go in with a sense of trepidation if not dread. I think I'm not alone in this dreary progression, and La Cieca must be feeling awfully vindicated.

People can always surprise you, you know. While I'll note with some dismay that the voice is at times during the first act so small as to occasion questions about the appropriateness of the Metropolitan as a venue, the overwhelming impression of last night's Violetta was one of relief and admiration. Here again was the singer who (was it only six years ago?) sang a Desdemona in Chicago of such purity and grace as to largely excuse her Handel outings, otherwise a one-way ticket to art hell. "E Strano"--potentially the staging ground for her most indulgent cooing--was done 98% straight, though with evident joy and introspection. The flights of coloratura that followed in the aria were wholly flawless, from my vantage.

As the evening went on, the sound grew and the vocalism remained impeccable. Yes, for me it lacked some of the glamor of Gheorghiu, and the last act aria (both verses!) was more accomplished than moving, but from start to finish, this was Renee Fleming demonstrating why she's famous to begin with, and neglecting to demonstrate why lots of people think she's overrated. Report card moments such as "Amami Alfredo" were absolutely lavished with voice, and "Dite alla giovine" took me back to Houston and Arabella and the moment during the duet where I was conscious only of the music and the slowed passage of time.

Now, I mostly went, it must be said, to hear Polenzani, lately the Met's jack of all trades, master of most. And though I've heard him do other things better, his Alfredo was certainly a pleasure. This may be the first time I've ever heard a tenor do much acting in the role; utterances like "O ciel! Domani!" were sung with actual "o ciel!" in them. I wish I had been more conscious of him when I went to Troyens or maybe just more familiar with Troyens. I daydream about what he must have done with "O blonde Ceres." Feel free to tell me, if you recall it well, or just send an mp3.

Dwayne Croft continues to sing with great dignity, but I wish he didn't always punch at the beginning of every note. It tramples the legato, or so think I.

'at's about all I got. I'll say this though: several people I talked to at intermission expressed something like horror at this production, but I gotta say: as heavily doilied productions go, I think it's a keeper. The second set is gently atmospheric in the kitchen-sink mode, and the stage elevator moment in the last act strikes me as a little moment of absolutely viable theater magic. Right, yes, the big party can only be described as ongepotchket, but if I were sneaking around the warehouse with a can of kerosene and a book of matches, this one wouldn't be high on my list of targets.

Next up: Norma

*Know what, that's a big lie. I always keep score. It just isn't the main eveny under ideal conditions.


La Cieca said...

But you left out the most important point of of all: at Flora's party, cow ladies or no cow ladies?

Chalkenteros said...

LOL La cieca

Maury: Don't feel bad: Traviata, like, *never* does it for me. You may now revoke my "operaphile" card.

Loves me the Polenzani, as usual, but I must say I prefer Netrebko's live Vienna performance to what I heard last night.

Chalkenteros said...

Salzburg, soorrrrryyy

Anonymous said...

Polenzani was awesome in Les Troyens a few years ago - I saw it twice, and his high notes (including a high C, I think) in O Blonde Ceres was crystal clear. It was such a touching reading - the first night I sat in a box near the stage, and my friend and I noted how much LHL and BH seemed to be in heaven listening to his serenade.

Les Troyens remains my all-time, kick-ass, lyric-epic, favorite opera.

I've mixed 2 performances onto my iPod - Deborah Voigt's Cassandre (saddled with Gary Lakes so-so Enee) for Acts I, II. Then Michelle de Young/Ben Heppner with a delicious Toby Spence as Hylas for Acts III, IV, V. I just listened to the whole thing on my way to Rome last week (I find it to be the best opera to listen while journeying to Italy and to "Rome immortelle".) Of course, while there, I spent every day listening to, and salivating for, Norma.

Joe (jfmurray3)