Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hooray! (You want witty headlines? Try The Onion.)

I don't know quite where to start in gabbing about how much I liked last night's Trovatore, and yes, that's your shot across the bow in case you listened (was it broadcast?), hated it, and are going to get the vapors if someone gets enthusiastic about it.

In fact, that's all that is, because I know exactly where to start: Sondra Radvanovsky! Who received quite an outpouring of audience love after D'amor, the only possible response to such an exquisite traversal. There are valid quibbles I don't happen to think were truly significant, yeah. The voice is utterly American; not Italian. It's lean, not Tebaldi plush. There is also the fact that her expression in phrasing tends more toward plain sincerity than abandon: on the Joan Scale she's further toward Fontaine than Crawford.* Some people need more thrashing about in their Verdi, so caveat auditor.

But to balance these, she's...just fucking great in this music is what she is, I daresay exciting. We all heard the run was going to be split with Fleming. Whatever she might have done in the role, her voice is about half the size of Radvanovsky's and her high notes, these days, not as secure, so that's a win. Ukh, the high notes. They're just massive, but also with a fancy fil-di-voce option, and not overused at that. And she did, if I'm not wrong, two verses of "di tale amor" as well as a passionate "tu vedrai," and some very game physical acting if Anna Netrebko hasn't completely worn us out on Jeritza-and-beyond singing in non-traditional positions.

The thing to remember is that for years, it almost hasn't mattered who sang Leonora, because whoever they were, they were going to get upstaged by the Azucena. I saw this happen with Diadkova and...I'm not certain who, and that's not a rhetorical forgetting. Timing-wise it may have been Crider. So take it as a sincere doffing of the cap to Radvanovsky when I say in no way was she sung off the stage by Zajick. Right, the Zajick who is an absolute monster (in the best way) in roles typified by Azucena.

Also the Zajick who is aging a little, but as with so many things, this has its advantages in with the bargain. For one thing, I think singing a wider variety of roles like Tammy Faye in American Tragedy has broadened what is generally an essentially nonexistent philosophy of acting. Zajick has found intermittent pathos here, viz: Ai nostri monti, utterly affecting with Mr. Alvarez. Meanwhile, she can tear you a new one with guttural lines like the almost George Crumb-ish dare to a mezzo that pops up twice in "Deh! rallentate, o barbari." An unwritten maybe C had to be rescued, but rescued it was. [ETA: well...salvaged. It didn't squeak to a stop and it didn't crack, but you couldn't say it was a good note.] The rest of the role she kinda stands there and sings like it's no fucking big deal. I have never been Zajick's #1 fan but in shit like this, c'mon.

Alvarez was not triumphant but, I think, successful. Not so much in convincing us he's a spinto now as in convincing us he can pull off a spinto role with some aplomb and no vocal mishaps. "Ah, si" was, sure, a touch cautious. Like any lyric flirting with spintery, he ain't got no trill, substituting an ornate little figure out of Couperin (with some very particular notation that looks like a fishing fly for catching trout) and the rest of the aria was similarly a little bit on eggshells, but then he went on to fare quite well in the barn-burner that follows, dropping out where it's traditional to do so and returning with a long, loud C with two syllables (even if they had the same vowel: al agua! I'm sure there is something deep in the psychic underworld of the libretto to explain his sudden urge to go swimming, if not his sudden change of nationality from libretto-Italian story-Spanish to Spanish through and through.) Okay or B if it was transposed. I'm not the person to ask. I think later in the run his often stylish way with a phrase is going to triumph over nerves. I hope to be there to find out. Also, whether you feel he's filling spinto shoes or not, he doesn't sound like he's beating his voice up, so at worst, we don't have to listen to him croaking stuff in five years he was booked for now.

Hvorostovsky needs little approval from me, house favorite that he is, and truth to tell, I had just slightly less approval to give than the rest of the house did. Obviously there were no major faults, because the man's a machine. He doesn't fuck up, or come close. Maybe here it was a matter of personality, too much Oneginly hautuer? Il Balen just didn't kill me, nevermind that I always think it's about whales. (Cetology joke, yo! What, I'm reading Moby Dick right now.)

Oh, you wanted to hear about the production? Well sure, I can do that, after a fashion. It's good news, lads and ladies. Neither radical nor ploddingly literal, it does what it needs to do. Makes some spatial sense of the world's least convincing case of mistaken identity, e.g. (It's so dark I thought you were a tenor! D'oh!) It, uh, needs a good healthy greasing of the loudly crunchy stage turntable, but then who doesn't love a production on a turntable? One thing the turntable does that I'm fond of is allow us to watch characters and supers whose act has ended exist for a moment more, giving something of a cinematic fade instead of curtain up, curtain down.

And yes, there's a fair amount of "I am grabbing your arm! Look in the other direction" bustling about, but certain crowd scenes work out well. As Will Berger's thoughtful essay-interview in the program points out, the production makes no foolish effort to pretend the anvil chorus is a naturalistic scene of great subtlety. It's the goddamn anvil chorus, so it's played for big, with wonderfully loud anvils whacked away at by some unapologetically cast slabs of man with all the stately grace of Olivia Newton John's video for "Physical." This is as it should be.

Shit, I almost left out Kwangchul Youn, because that aria always feels like, forgive me, the plot before the porn, but here as in Tristan, he's stylish and solid.

Seems like there was something else to say but if so I'll come back and edit. That's how I roll.

*For the record, 1 is Joan Sutherland and 10 is Joan of Arc as portrayed by Falconetti

Up next: Adriana, then the auditions.


La Cowntessa said...

Ah! Someone else who's seen The Passion of St. Joan. Some movie, isn't it?+

Maury D'annato said...

Hell of a movie, yep.

La Cowntessa said...

Did you see the version with the oratorio Einhorn composed for it? I've sung the Karitas bit, and it's lovely music all around.

Anonymous said...

I was there last night and agree with everything in your review. Great point about Leonora not being upstaged Azucena for once - I was thinking the same thing.

Anonymous said...

I listened to this on the radio and really enjoyed it, not least because of the extra momentum made possible by the loveable turntable. It did occur to me however that that the transition from Di Quella Pira to the start of Act Four feels a bit different now that there's no intermission there. The jumpcut from Manrico's utter heroism to Manrico's girlfriend outside of tower put me in mind a little of those movies where one character says to another "I'm sure we can reason with these natives." and in the next shot they're tied up back to back in a giant cauldron.

Anonymous said...

"...with wonderfully loud anvils whacked away at by some unapologetically cast slabs of man with all the stately grace of Olivia Newton John's video for 'Physical.' This is as it should be."

Now this is the type of music criticizm I crave! Nicely crafted, Maury.

(I agree with pretty much everything you say about Il Trov, although I am not as versed in the Joan scale - I have enough trouble with the Lydian mode.)

Anonymous said...

Il Balen about whales -- hadn't thought of that, but I will now, everytime I hear it!