On the street and the subway this evening, as I left the office and headed to the Met, I listened to Rolando Villazón's recording of arias by Massenet and Gounod -- a fine disc, and one that easily claims a spot on my list of "Top Ten Recordings That Didn't End Up on My TONY Top Ten List."
Little did I know that this was to be the only Villazón I would hear tonight.
Mindful of Anne Midgette's nice recent Times article on operatic covers (which isn't available for free any more, thus no link), it's got to be a hellish gig. So kudos to tenor Raúl Melo for hanging tough tonight in front of a crowd primed for the Second Coming. His opening "Questa o quella" sounded constricted and boxed-in, but he warmed into the role as the evening progressed... mostly. Melo's initial scenes with Gilda were fine, as was his "Ella mi fu rapita" and each reprise of "Questa." On the other hand, that sinusoid tightness returned in the Duke's brief soliloquy following his posse's brag of Gilda's kidnap -- a passage that earned Melo's sole boo, from a single audience member.
Of the rest, all I can think is that my revelatory initial Rigoletto -- the Houston Grand Opera performance I've mentioned in previous posts, with a reckless young Marcello Giordani, an ineffably lovely Maureen O'Flynn and a magisterial Leo Nucci -- might actually have been more accomplished than I reckoned in my utterly benighted newbiedom. I say this because despite Carlo Guelfi's exemplary acting, I felt a lack of vocal oomph at center court. (And then remembered feeling exactly the same way about his Iago, opposite Ben Heppner and Barbara Frittolli last year.)
Moreover, despite Anna Netrebko's obvious beauty and unquestionable agility -- both physical and vocal -- I didn't buy her Gilda until the final act. Bravas rang out at length after "Caro nome," but for me Netrebko didn't hit the mark despite directing her opalescent instrument toward Verdi's targets and striking most of them squarely.
This isn't the first time I've felt ambivalent about Netrebko; it was quite in keeping with my response to her debut CD. As I left the Met, I was disposed to reject the hype altogether. But in my virtually inevitable post-Lincoln Center visit to Tower Records, the canny classical jocks were spinning the new Netrebazón recording of La traviata... and I found myself thinking that there's still almost certainly something there -- just maybe not in the Rigoletto pairing. Even so, I'm positive that I'll tune in for the broadcast this Saturday, and will likely try to catch the show on stage in '06, just to see if this pairing is more than the sum of its parts.
Meanwhile, back in the big house, when's the last time you caught a Rigoletto in which the most gripping performer was the Sparafucile? I add this because it's true, and also mindful of what Maury -- or "Maury," as birthday-celebrating JSU would have it -- said. Eric Halfvarson was the unquestionable center of gravity every time he entered a scene. Nancy Fabiola Herrera's hesitantly slutty Maddalena was another brief but telling highlight, although one more physical than vocal. Asher Fisch steered a solid-enough performance despite a wobble caused by the tenorial rent at center stage, then knocked further askew by the collective gravity of expectation.
Oh, yeah, I also saw An American Tragedy again last night, as promised. And that's about as far as my reliability will extend this evening. No post, because the conflicts raging in my head -- which have less to do with the piece than with my continued, even exacerbated unease with the consensus of my professional caste -- demand more reflection. I get the sense that there may be a serious blurt coming just after TONY closes its doors for the year late next week.
Still, lest my hesitancy cast me among the disapproving crits, let me state for the record that I believe Picker has created a seriously effective piece of music theater, and more surprisingly one in which both operatic neophytes and sophisticates will find much to enjoy.
And one with legs, I'll wager... assuming it isn't strangled in its crib.
Joseph Haydn - Symphonies Nos. 82 and 83 - Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt (DHM)
Felix Mendelssohn - String Quartet in E-flat (1823); String Quartet in E-flat, Op. 12; String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80 - Pacifica Quartet (Cedille)
Dave Douglas - Keystone (Greenleaf Music)
Rolando Villazón - Massenet/Gounod Arias - Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France / Evelino Pidò (Virgin Classics)
Giuseppe Verdi - Rigoletto - Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, La Scala / Tullio Serafin (EMI Classics)