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Come un bel dì di gennaio

I’ve always had a certain affection for Roberto Alagna. When I moved back to NYC in 2007 the first opera performance I attended was a Romeo et Juliette with Alagna and Anna Netrebko. That was the performance that got me back into being a hard-core opera fan.

Since then I’ve seen Alagna in just about every role he’s sung in New York, and he’s had his vocal ups and downs but he’s never disappointed me in the sense that he’s always given a committed, passionate performance. He’s also never cancelled on me. It’s just topping on the cake that he is one of those people who seems to genuinely love to sing and be onstage.

So this afternoon’s performance of Andrea Chenier (at Avery Fisher Hall, probably one of the worst halls for any kind of vocal singing) made me wonder whatever happened to Bobby.

The Roberto Alagna who showed up for today’s performance seemed ill-at-ease from his very entrance and never settled into the performance. He fidgeted nervously and his hands shook as he flipped the pages of his score. Right before his big entrance aria “Un di all’azzurro spazio” he got so out of sync with the conductor that he signaled for the conductor to stop completely. Singer and conductor talked for a moment before deciding to re-do the entire lead-up to the aria.

When he sang, he sounded fine, if a bit underpowered. At times he seemed to signal to the conductor to lower the orchestral volume. He didn’t really seem to know the role — surprising, considering it’s a very well-known role. But he completely missed the big blaring climaxes, the poetic sweep. It honestly looked like he was sight-reading.

Disaster happened again in Act Two. He completely missed his entrance and the bars of orchestra played in the background as he rushed onstage and the other singers exchanged awkward glances. Again, more fidgeting, he started drinking from a water bottle and then wiping his nose, and the whole time he had a worried, tense look on his face.

By the fourth act Alagna had a grim “let’s just get this over with” expression. His voice didn’t crack, the timbre was basically healthy, but again, he was almost marking certain points in the score, including the final duet “Vicino a te” and in a role that requires a good bit of tenor bravado, it was all very anti-climactic. He got a few boos during the curtain calls, and looked very unhappy. This was a very disappointing performance from him.

Kristin Lewis (Maddalena) has an attractive, high-placed lyric soprano voice with a secure top. The slightly smoky timbre and bell-like upper register reminded me a little of Leontyne Price. She doesn’t have the lower register for “La mamma morta” to make its full impact, and her rather mushy diction didn’t help. She was also singing a bit like a conservatory student—very prim, very lady-like, hands held together, and doesn’t really have the verismo style yet. But still, this is an attractive lady with an attractive voice and I look forward to hearing more of her in the future.

George Petean (Gerard) was the savior of the afternoon. A quick look at the provided biography shows that he’s been around for quite a few years without having broken into baritone-stardom. Maybe this performance will make the phones start ringing, because he displayed a velvety, secure baritone voice and brought some much-needed passion to the performance. “Nemico della patria” was outstanding and earned a noisy ovation. He was the only cast member to be awarded a standing ovation at the end of the performance.

The lesser roles were all professional. Rosalind Elias made a brief cameo as Madelon. She sounded somewhat croaky, but she was one of the few singers who seemed to realize that even though this is a concert opera, it’s acceptable to add a dash of theatricality to the performance. She hobbled onstage and offstage dramatically and was dressed in a black head-wrapping shawl.

Alberto Veronesi is very entertaining to watch, with his huge conductor mane and Lenny Bernstein-like jumping on the podium. He made Giordano’s score sound like movie music, full of bombast and ringing crescendos (accompanied by the requisite hand-vibrations). But his coordination with his singers was poor, and he knew two dyamics: loud and louder. It would have been nice had he toned down the orchestra when it was so obvious that Alagna was struggling. Oh well.

Let’s hope the next OONY performance is better.


  • 21
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    TURANDOT TONIGHT -- I have never heard such a sloppy Act II Ping-Pang-Pong ensemble. The baritone is not prepared or ill. Did he step in on a moment’s notice?

    • 21.1
      Camille says:

      Isn’t that good ol’ Dwayne you refer to? He still sounds sick. Sorry about that as I always kinda liked him.

      Well, where is Lise Lindstrom is all I can ask?

  • 22
    Donna Anna says:

    Thoughtful review. My first Alagna sighting was the video of the 1994 OH R&J with Vaduva. He immediately drew me in with his fully committed performance, singing with passion and often breathtaking phrasing. That he was a good looking, youthful Romeo was the proverbial icing. I looked for every performance of his I could find. His tendency to sing sharp was/is annoying but the tradeoffs were frequently riveting performances…well, maybe not Radames but certainly Werther, Romeo, Des Grieux, Rudolfo, Ruggero, Edgar, and Don Carlos were memorable for all the right reasons. Clearly he had a bad evening and if were genuinely ill, he did his colleagues no favors. He’s far from being washed up and I hope he’ll take care of himself so he can be onstage for at least another decade. Des regrets? Bien sur; je souhaite qu’il avait chante Hoffmann au theatre.

    • 22.1
      kennedet says:

      Years ago Alagna was known as the 4th tenor. N’est ce pas? Pavarotti,Domingo, Carreras were his rivals at that time. I have seen his Don Jose and he brings an exciting drama to that role which I enjoy. However, opera is very much about the voice and he is having problems vocally, especially on his high notes.He will never last ten more years if he fails to learn how to navigate a phrase from his lower register to his top notes without using the full resonance that is required. Crooning or Falsetto doeesn’t count.BTW, unpreparedness is inexcusable. That’s one of the first rules you learn as an aspiring singer(basic singing 99).

      • 22.1.1
        Porgy Amor says:

        I’m not sure he was “known” as the Fourth Tenor so much as marketed, optimistically, that way. *I* never thought of him as a rival to Pavarotti and Domingo, who were in the process of narrowing or changing their repertoire, respectively, as he was establishing himself on the international scene. In certain of their great roles, he was a worthier successor than most tenors who arrived in the 1990s and 2000s. But I never considered him either a voice or an artist on the same level. He’s good (in the class of, oh, Shicoff and Araiza); they were greats.

          oedipe says:

          Well, if your idea of French singing is that the least you hear it the better off you are, or, if you HAVE to hear it, it better sound like something you DON’T dislike, such as bel canto, or Wagner, or simply generic (with more or less accented French pronunciation, but without that undesirable “Frenchie” intonation), then Alagna’s artistry in French opera is meaningless to you.

          kennedet says:

          I’m sure your views are correct. The media can almost do anything these days (especially in the internet age) Pavarotti was always my favorite. The media overhyped his life…. along with his assistance,of course. It’s not common place to marry someone younger or the same age as your daughters. It almost over shadowed his most important contribution, IMO he had the most beautiful sound since Bjoerling.

    • 22.2
      Tifoso says:

      I’ve never understood the enthusiasm for Alagna. He’s just a beefier version of Boccelli, whose natural venue is Las Vegas not Lincoln Center. Alagna seems psychologically unable to be part of an ensemble. For example, in a 2010 performance of DON CARLO at the Met he did everything in his power, vocally and theatrically, to upstage both Poplovskaya and Keenlyside. (I think he had the sense not to try any tricks with Furlanetto, who would have relieved him of his cojones right there on the stage.) This typical behavior is not only unprofessional and disagreeable. It is unmusical, and that is an unforgivable sin for an opera singer. That huge ego would be at least tolerable if there were a voice to match it. But unfortunately there isn’t, and we were witnesses at Sunday afternoon’s Andrea Chenier to a combination of professional unpreparedness, egoism, and just plain bad singing. I hope that I never have to hear him again. I only went this time for the sake of the opera itself, which is gorgeous and too rarely heard. But thank God for George Petean, who is a *real* opera singer, with a voice to die for.

      • 22.2.1
        la vociaccia says:

        That’s extreme hyperbole. The Bocelli Romeo is a mosquito next to the Alagna Romeo. AB never had an affinity for languages, or breath support, or frankly anything operatic. Alagna has rough moments here or there, but more than a few times he has been astonishing.

        Listen to how rich his middle is!

        And there really IS something to be said about the way he treats the language, especially here.

        I won’t bother posting Bocelli’s ‘interpretations’ of these arias because this is an opera blog…..

          Tifoso says:

          Yes, the comparison with Boccelli was extreme, which I both knew but intended. Although I was speaking only in part about the voices, what I was really talking about is the attitude towards the music as well as towards the audience. Being enthusiastic about the singing isn’t the same thing as inhabiting the character. It just happens — and maybe I’m basing my judgments on the accidents of live performances — that I’ve never seen Roberto Alagna be anybody on the stage except Roberto Alagna. In that way he’s a little like Daniel Day-Lewis, who I quickly acknowledge lost himself in the role of Abraham Lincoln. There are a lot of nice things about Alagna’s voice, the middle in particular. On the whole, though, I continue to think he’s greatly overrated.

          Tifoso says:

          I don’t want to be tiresome about this, but both of these YouTube clips, while beautiful, don’t really negate my original point. “E lucevan le stelle” is a recording put onto a cinematic dramatization, in which the director had a big hand and Alagan could do it again and again. Furthermore, the aria was written for the middle voice — which he has in abundance — but really doesn’t go beyond an A at the top, hardly a stretch for an operatic tenor. The aria from Romeo e Juliette is the nicest singing I’ve heard him do — at the age of 31. He’s now 49. Furthermore, French is his native language, so it’s not asking too much to expect that he make something of it, which he does. My comments had to do with today’s Alagna — well, “today’s” meaning the 21st century.

          Donna Anna says:

          Oui, son ardeur est formidable ici.

  • 23
    marshiemarkII says:

    Did the gurls see this?

    It seems that Zach is most up to date with parrterreisms :-)

  • 24
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Vicino a te (performance)

    • 24.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Chenier and Roucher come to grief with certain measures, but Veronesi is not helpful in those places. It’s really not fair to judge from this recording, which is so badly balanced.

  • 25
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

  • 26
    Clita del Toro says:

    OT Help, can someone tell me how to do an *accent grave* on a Macbook Pro. I have managed to find the others for French and the umlaut.

    • 26.1
      manou says:

      The accent grave on my MacBook Pro is on the left next to the z -- press “alt ` end then type the “e”.

      • 26.1.1
        manou says:

        …”alt” ` and then….

      • 26.1.2
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        you simply press OPTION-grave (the first key just to the left of the “1/!” key then type e -- è the same is true for a à, u ù, or o ò as opposed to OPTION-´(which places the accute accent over various letters that follow, like é í ú. Since it’s inception Macintosh has been much easier to use diacritcals than windows computers.

  • 27
    bluecabochon says:

    Clita, I am on a Macbook, but in the uppermost left corner, under the Tilde, there is an accent grave.

    ~ = Tilde


    option/alt + ` = è

    Hope this helps.

  • 28
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Sheridan Archbold will rescue the next performance of Andrea Chenier

    • 28.1
      papopera says:


      • 28.1.1
        MontyNostry says:

        Is there possibly a little reverb added to the voice there? You can imagine a steely parent standing behind the camera, egging him on firmly. The weird thing is how resilient ‘Nessun dorma’ is. It always makes an effect. But it makes even more effect with the preamble that should go with it. (What, you mean there is something else to Turandot apart from ‘Nessun dorma’????)

  • 29
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

  • 30
    • 30.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      No! It could have been fixed on the fly without the embarassing and unprofessional train wreck. Rehearsal number 33 was the logical place to begin again (as they did). The measure of “ciel” marks the start of a transposition that was not taken and I think this was not properly explained to the orchestra because there’s still something wrong with the chord on beat 3 under the syllable ‘tar” -- which should have been cleaned up in the parts in rehearsal. Very awkward indeed. But I’ve heard much worse.

      • 30.1.1
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        Watched it again and the video description of what happened is correct except for the spealling of “beat” not “bit”. It’s all very bandista from the podium. Alagna even tried to fix it, but it was dead on arrival.

          oedipe says:

          It’s interesting that everybody assumed right away that it must have been Bobby’s fault, without a doubt. Had the same situation happened to Kaufmann, everybody would have instantly blamed the conductor…

          • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

            but the conductor never should have let it happen in the first place!

          • oedipe says:

            P.S. Look at some of the posts above: prejudice runs very very deep indeed. It is implied that Alagna, because he is French/Sicilian I suppose, has no discipline, can’t work with others (really? never any empathy or chemistry, right?), cannot possibly be intelligent and is always la q… à la main.
            All these posters consider themselves very rational and objective, of course.

          • manou says:

            oedipe -- I think your Alagnahateometer is far too sensitive. There seems to be general affection and appreciation for Roberto here and I really do not see any unfair criticism of him as there often is of several other têtes de turc (not in Italia).

            But of course it is nice to see you take up the cudgels on Roberto’s behalf, and I appreciate your stout defence of the French style. I just think a little understatement goes a long way (in good old British style).

          • MontyNostry says:

            manou, tête de turc is a new (politically incorrect) one on me. To judge by French Wikipedia it is more or less the equivalent of Aunt Sally. Correct?

          • manou says:

            Correct Monty (and probably more politically correct, too). (Cf

            Translation of idioms is sometimes surprising -- as in filer à l’anglaise meaning to take French leave.

          • oedipe says:

            Who, me British?
            You are right, as usual; but I am oversensitive to prejudice and I live by the dictum:

            “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!”

          • manou says:

            No -- me British. Well -- Brit-ish.

          • MontyNostry says:

            I first heard filer à l’anglaise at school, but I am always shocked to hear my French friends use the still-accepted expression for a ghost-writer.

          • MontyNostry says:

            This looks a bit silly on that expressio page,m manou:

            Scapegoat Souffre-douleur

            Bode expiatório Bouc expiatoire

            Mightn’t ‘scapegoat’ just possibly mean ‘Bouc expiatoire’ too???

          • manou says:

            Well Monty someone recently told me how shocked he was to be offered a dessert which is really (still) called “un [ghostwriter] en chemise”.

          • manou says:

   for the bouc, he should really be émissaire, and yes, it does mean scapegoat, but there is a difference in meaning as the scapegoat is sacrificed and takes on all the sins on behalf of the sinners, but a tête de turc or an Aunt Sally is someone who is the butt of abuse and ill treatment without any hint of redemption.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Well, the Austrians have a not dissimilarly named dessert, though the vocabulary is less offensive. As it happens, it’s one of the two Austrian puddings I don’t like too much. The other is Salzburger Nockerl.

          • manou says:

            If you look for the French dessert on Google Images, you will see a particularly egregious example of it (fourth picture).

          • MontyNostry says:

            Whoops, I see. The Austrian version is altogether heavier -- as you might imagine -- and eaten warm.

  • 31
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Fabulous Elias:

    Also very fine

    • 31.1
      MontyNostry says:

      Both very impressive (obviously in very different ways). Elias is terribly touching there and the voice still sounds under good control, while Petean seems to be riding the orchestra comfortably.

  • 32
    Chimene says:

    I am really tired of the dismissive comments about M. Alagna… He was sick, he had lost his voice for several days -- and yes he was under rehearsed, but everyone was using a score -- and of course he appeared to be nervous -- he didn’t know how his voice would hold up… and as usual everyone blamed him for the “interruption” -- but to suggest that he is vain, not a good colleague and is not serious about his craft and his career is just insupportable! He is the exact opposite of all the faults you have suggested…

    • 32.1
      manou says:

      “Apaise, ma Chimène, apaise ta douleur,
      Fais agir ta constance en ce coup de malheur,
      Tu reverras le calme après ce faible orage…”