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!