Cher Public

Out here in the dark

We have voices now.This is the tenth season of the Met’s HD broadcasts, not that I would know it. In New York there was no real reason to go, and since moving across the country altogether, I had only gone once, I think because attendance is too explicit an admission that I’m no longer a Met regular.  

Besides, the one I did take in (Robert Carsen’s handsome Falstaff with the magnificent Ambrogio Maestri) left me cold. Here we are in a mall in Emervyille (which is almost redundant), me and my fellow geriatrics, listening to opera at 10 in the morning and wondering whether to clap at the end of Nanetta’s aria when, whether or not you believe in fairies, Lisette Oropesa can’t hear us.

I decided not to go to another. On the whole, I thought, I’d rather watch at home on YouTube if I’m going to take my opera canned.  What yanked me off the couch and out from under the cat this weekend despite this decision was Anna Netrebko singing the role I had most dreamed of hearing her in. The knowledge of her singing it three thousand miles away was going to torment me one way or another, I figured, so I might as well have a good wallow. “Get me a bromide!” I considered wailing to the ticket-taker, “and put some gin in it!”

This one felt less remote than my first. It helped that I had heard two of the singers in their roles and seen the McVicar production (the first Trovatore the Met has had in an era that doesn’t somehow up the WTF factor). It was still jarring to walk out into a cineplex lobby at intermission, to posters for Oscar season weepies and the overwhelming smell of fake butter, but a good deal of the time, I felt almost like I was at the opera.

I will say, right off, that the HD experience made it hard for me to size up a voice not well known to me—Yonghoon Lee is probably the best Manrico this production has seen, but I just found it hard to know what I was hearing… and his stage acting is, as they say, made for the radio.

Anyway, one benefit of the tsunami of self-pity I rode in on was a good, weepy reaction to the offstage events that were very much a part of this production. Granted, I cry at garage sales these days, but  I teared up repeatedly at Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s generosity, singing for us in the middle of a daunting episode in his own life, besides which he sang magnificently.

Would they throw white roses again, I wondered? To do so would be a calculated restaging of a lovely and more spontaneous moment for cameras, but not to do so would deny the rest of us a vicarious moment of thanks and good will.

There’s a certain kind of self-conscious gesture opera fans can’t resist, as we all know from the big repeat sign that’s basically been penciled in at the end of “Va, pensiero” at this point. They did throw roses, and he very gamely made the “Oh, my!” face you make at a surprise party someone accidentally cc’ed you about.

I suppose the drama queen fit I was having over the whole thing may have affected my reception of the rest, as well, but I’d swear it was one of the finest performances I’ve ever almost-seen. Anna sang the role where her voice is right now, eschewing, for instance the “Kitty Carlisle” high C in the “Miserere” because she had already given most of a colossal performance and there was little need for frippery.

Every account says the first act on opening night found her in iffy voice but either this was erased by the vagaries of transmission or she did what she so often does and fixes what isn’t working—whether she has excellent coaches or is just a mind over matter sort, I don’t know. There was rapid passagework in there (I think it’s “Tu vedrai” where I noticed this) I wouldn’t have expected her to excel at in these full-on spinto days, but she nailed it.  And of course she continues to do that thing that isn’t as much acting as being fully, but fully in the musical moment.

You know, I’ve often thought of Dolora Zajick more as a purveyor of visceral sound than an artist in the hoitiest, toitiest sense of the word, but it’s hard to remember now, because her Azucena is so quietly riveting. A few weeks ago I caught this utterly bizarre interview she gave on Fresh Air where she spent an awkward amount of time correcting Terri Gross’s Italian, but then on her intermission interview with Susan Graham she was relaxed and funny, as was Graham. (Tiago Netrebko-Schrott also put in an appearance at intermission, doing lots of things people who like children assure me are amusing.)  It’s easy to fantasize about how many more roles Zajick might have sung at the Met, but perhaps just as well instead to be grateful for the ones she sang perfectly, if repeatedly.

But, seriously—Ortrud. I mean come on!

  • Cicciabella

    This is anecdotal, but in Holland none of the people I know who go to the Met HDs go to see local live productions. It’s great that the Met has made such a success of the HD venture, and bravo Peter Gelb for coming up with it, but someone should research its effect or otherwise on local opera houses. There was an attempt recently to answer this question in the U.K. I think the outcome was that the ROH live relays were not translating into higher attendance at local theatres, and the suspicion was that they were, in fact, luring away audiences. Why pay (slightly) more to see lesser singers when you can pay less, eat popcorn and see big stars? I wish I could find the link to the source, but I can’t, so I don’t know how reliable a study it was.

  • Cicciabella

    A practical comparison based on this week’s offerings: If you live in Amsterdam, you could go to the Met Trovatore HD with Lee, Netrebko, Hvorostovsky and Zajick last Saturday evening for 32,50 euros. Or you can go next Sunday morning to the encore for 17,50 euros. This week, starting Thursday evening, you can also attend a “real live” Trovatore with Meli, Giannattasio Piazzola and Urmana at Dutch National Opera. Tickets range from 20 euros to 165 euros. For 33-35 euros, a price comparable to the live HD, you can get OK tickets on the second balcony, with very good acoustics and good, if not perfect, sightlines. In some of the cinemas outside Amsterdam the live HD will cost you even less, 28,50 euros, and you don’t have to drive to Amsterdam and pay a mini-ransom in parking or take the train (also expensive if you don’t have a subscription) and spend hours travelling. As an opera lover with only so many bucks to spend, which one would you choose? I choose the live theatre experience with the lesser cast, because to me it’s much more exciting to hear the music live. Also, I’ve practically stopped going to the cinema because of all the munching and slurping that goes on, and, unlike Greg, who is so honest and entertaining in this piece, the idea of enjoying opera with popcorn being mashed all around me fills me with horror. Mind you, during the very few HDs I’ve attended here my fellow viewers were mostly people of a certain age who would rather die than spend a few bob on popcorn and drinks. During intermission most of them just unpacked their own sandwiches, in flagrante delicto re cinema rules, and munched their way through the interviews, so they were very considerate that way.

    And now I will stop my POPping (Procrastinating on Parterre) and get back to work.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    POPing. Me, too. Must stop.

  • olliedawg

    Greg:

    Re: “A few weeks ago I caught this utterly bizarre interview she gave on Fresh Air where she spent an awkward amount of time correcting Terri Gross’s Italian…”

    I, too, thought DZ was kinda rude, spending so much airtime correcting TG’s Italian diction. Gross expressed genuine curiosity about the opera singer’s art and technique. DZ got THIS close to shutting her down. I thought “this is why people are put off by opera,” with all those snobs fretting about “Is it Turan-DOT” or “Turan-DOH”. WTF cares when what you want to talk about is the visceral thrill of “In questa reggia” sung by the likes of Eva Marton, or (fill in the blank).

    Maybe, next time around, Terri should turn her attention to DZ’s Trovatore interview, Susan Graham, who will, I am pretty sure, be more understanding of an opera newbie’s struggle with foreign language phonics — listen to how graciously she helps the estimable Leonard Lopate with his scrambled French: http://www.wnyc.org/story/mezzo-soprano-susan-graham-returns-met/

  • antikitschychick

    Afternoon all,

    Happy Friday :-). Stayed up late last night reading the posts on this thread (am still catching up) and saw that some posters were inquiring as to how one might be able to rewatch this performance online. I can certainly help with that so feel free to email me :-). Will watch the entire performance later today and finally see what I missed! Loved Greg’s review. Gracias Greg.