Cher Public

Fifty shades of gold

Anticipation of events like the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th Anniversary bash turns me back into the newly opera-soused kid who begged his parents to let him watch the highlights of the Bing Gala on the family color television since the little black-and-white set in my bedroom just wasn’t good enough. (They agreed!) 

Since becoming an “adult” I’ve been lucky to attend a bunch of these aria-and-ensemble parades and remain besotted with them despite their usually being both wonderful and terrible, too much but not enough, exhausting yet exhilarating. Sunday’s Met extravaganza was all of these things but also unusually thoughtful and moving.

Although most of my gala-going has been at the Met, the first one I attended was the concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Since it was taking place on my birthday and Chicago is in easy driving distance from Ohio, how could I not go?

As poor college students, we got the cheapest seats in that cavernous place and I got to hear Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Alfredo Kraus, Leontyne AND Margaret Price for the very first time. And it proved to be the only time I witnessed Jon Vickers, Carlo Cossutta and Geraint Evans live.

Still being pretty green, I realized only in retrospect that the most special part of that afternoon were the retired artists who introduced each musical selection—great singers whom I never could have heard perform—Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Bidu Sayão, Eleanor Steber, Leopold Simoneau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (yes, even her little speech was terribly mannered) and more. During the long drive home, my head was spinning!

I probably didn’t even know what opera was when the closure of the old Met in 1966 was commemorated by a star-stuffed occasion. By 1983 though I had already attended a few performances at the Met when the colossal all-day Centennial Gala took place and I sat transfixed in front of my television that entire afternoon and evening.

I moved to New York in 1990 and although these events don’t occur all that often I didn’t have to wait very long. The Met celebrated the 25th anniversaries of the debuts of Freni, Kraus and Ghiaurov with a lovely and touching gala in March 1991. A number of my fellow standees were audibly sobbing during the final portion of that afternoon when Freni sang Butterfly for the first and only time on stage—just the third act unfortunately but we were all grateful to be there.

Since then I’ve attended the marathon Levine Gala in 1996 (so enervating that when I jumped into a cab at 2AM I could scarcely remember my address), the Volpe Gala a decade later and then in 2009 Peter Gelb’s first big Met wingding, the ambitious but uneven 125th Anniversary Gala.

The latter was directed by Philem McDermott and co-directed by Julian Crouch who also designed the sets. Crouch was invited back to be the sole producer and set designer for Sunday’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the opera house at Lincoln Center and it was his contribution in particular which made this long evening such a success.

Rather than the usual format of singers parading in and out in concert dress performing in front of sets drawn from the Met’s repertoire, Crouch placed each number within a particular design conceit drawn from productions seen at the Met during the past 50 years using a few traditional set components but mostly filling the stage picture with eye-popping projections.

The “set” for the big chunk of the first act of La Boheme for exampled looked remarkably like the long-familiar Franco Zeffirelli production. Crouch, in collaboration with the projection design team 59 Productions and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt beautifully evoked August Everding’s Boris Godunov and both Marc Chagall’s and David Hockney’s Die Zauberflöte as well as Otto Schenk’s Tannhäuser and Don Pasquale among many others. This often astonishingly effective use of technology made one wonder why the Met doesn’t make more use of it.

In addition, nearly all of the performers wore costumes designed for the “production” in which they were appearing (presumably Kevin Pollard supplied amended designs for costumes that no longer exist in wearable condition). The odd exception was Renée Fleming who sang her selections from Le Nozze di Figaro and Thaïs (where she was joined by Domingo in black tails) in a striking black gown with red highlights and long black gloves that jarringly had little to do with either Mozart or Massenet.

Looking thin and a bit wobbly, Dmitri Hvorostovky also arrived in concert dress to sing an excerpt from Rigoletto. Needless to say, his brave appearance introduced by Peter Gelb was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation that clearly touched the ailing baritone.

After a dazzling montage relating to the opening of the Lincoln Center house, fascinating film clips mostly devoted to that topic were scattered throughout the event, beginning with a short interview with a radiant looking (and sounding) Leontyne done several weeks before her 90th birthday earlier this year. The most delightful and surprising segment told the story of the accidental creation of the design concept behind the Met’s glorious signature chandeliers.

During the final number from Aïda s shower of black-and-white images of nearly 80 of the greatest performers from the past 50 years (listed in the program) cascaded behind the six soloists and full chorus in ersatz-Egyptian costumes from the current Sonja Frisell productions. I spotted Mignon Dunn, Martina Arroyo and Justino Diaz among those attending the performance.

The excerpts from a number of James Levine interviews and footage of him at work with the orchestra and various singers shown just before his entrance late in the gala was apt and effective and not too hagiographic given the Met’s recent annoying tendency to describe its past Music Director in only god-like terms.

A most arresting transition from film to stage came after remarks delivered by then President Dwight Eisenhower at the ground-breaking for Lincoln Center about the power of the performing arts to transcend international differences. Perhaps not by accident, immediately thereafter beaming Mexican tenor Javier Camarena entered to sing an astonishing “Ah mes amis” from La Fille du Régiment to an ear-shattering ovation (but no encore).

Some Gelb-haters decry him as a marketing man rather than as an artistic leader, and it must be said that the 50th anniversary gala had some canny planning behind it. Putting on a pleasing chunk of Adès’s The Tempest might encourage some to attend next season’s The Exterminating Angel.

The printed program included asterisks next to the name of singers who are scheduled to appear in their roles in future Met seasons. So it was pleasing to learn that Pretty Yende will be singing Norina, Camarena Tonio, Elina Garanca Dalila and Angela Meade and Michael Fabiano Giselda and Oronte in a revival Verdi’s I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata. However, anticipation of a Kristine Opolais Tosca, a Diana Damrau Violetta and an Eric Owens Porgy proved more a cause for real distress based on their alarming performances on Sunday.

As it seemed that most of the opera-loving world listened in to the Met’s streaming audio of the gala (I saw no cameras so I doubt there will be a video of the event), I will try to briefly note some responses to the performances in the house. Domingo’s Gérard sounded better than any 76-year-old should sound (although still nothing like a baritone) but his Athanaël just didn’t work and one is grateful that Gerald Finley will instead be singing the role in next season’s revival.

Piotr Beczala, Susan Graham and Zeljko Lucic were in as good a form as I have heard them recently (and a shout-out to Matthew Polenzani for learning Énée to beautifully partner Graham in a marvelous Troyens duet). René Pape, having pulled out of an excerpt from Boris Godunov at the 125th Anniversary Gala, redeemed himself with a powerful “mad scene.”

I usually love Joseph Calleja but his Rodolfo was sadly prosaic and relentlessly forte and was shown up by Sonia Yoncheva’s ravishingly poetic Mimi although I remain troubled sometimes by her tight high notes. Wagnerian Michael Volle showed impressive Mozartian ease as the Count, less so as Papageno, while Joyce DiDonato’s doleful Werther aria was more impressive than her dramatically commanding but vocally mannered “Bel raggio.”

As I missed Vittorio Grigolo’s Roméo earlier this season, I was grateful to hear his “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” (replacing an ill Juan Diego Florez) as well as a preview of his Cavaradossi, but he remains a far too self-aggrandizing artist for my taste.

Revisiting the past can be a chancy thing but to my surprise Stephanie Blythe sounded lovely in the duet from Handel’s Giulio Cesare with David Daniels with so spellbound the audience at his Met debut in 1999. He was in better voice than the last several times I’ve heard him but it was very fragile and careful.

Dolora Zajick never sang the Principessa in Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met but memorably did so at Carnegie Hall with Opera Orchestra of New York in 2002. Although less free and opulent than Jamie Barton in her rendition of the aria at this year’s National Auditions Finals, Zajick, with reduced resources at age 65, still packed a punch.

James Morris, whose recent performances have sometimes verged on the unpleasant, appeared refreshed in an intense Philip-Grand Inquisitor scene from Don Carlo alongside a more and more impressive Günther Groissböck who had stepped in for an absent Ferruccio Furlanetto both here and in the inescapable Lombardi trio (also featured at the closing of the old house and at the Levine Gala). Fleming whose final Met (and last ever?) Nozze Countess occurred in 1998 returned to it for an excessively morose and slow “Porgi amor” which was otherwise quite lovely, as was her plaintive Thaïs.

If there was ever any doubt that Anna Netrebko is queen of the Met, there wasn’t after she literally crowned herself during the extended scene from Macbeth that ended the first half. Many singers have sung that demanding music with more accuracy but her flamboyant abandon was mesmerizing.

I was less convinced by “Un bel di” which began badly but rose to a powerful climax. I’m always reluctant to revisit audio recordings of Netrebko performances that I have attended in person as the flaws in her singing, notably the wayward intonation and increasingly gusty style, bother me less than when in her galvanizing presence. I expect that next season’s Tosca will be one of the most essential—and controversial–events of next season.

The heroic conducting duties of the over five-hour show were shared by Levine, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Marco Armiliato. Except for a bad stumble in the Troyens excerpt, the indefatigable orchestra played splendidly and the chorus and its director Donald Palumbo earned their well-deserved applause after a stirring “Entrance of the Guests” from Tannhäuser vividly conducted by Nézet-Séguin whose sensitivity and dynamism throughout boded well for the Met’s future.

Armiliato was a surprising choice for Mussorgsky and Handel but acquitted himself decently. Levine didn’t seem to really be on his game particularly in the Lombardi trio which plodded despite David Chan’s bravura violin solo.

All in all this was a well-planned and -executed evening that despite some really dicey moments exceeded my inevitably unreasonable expectations. I expect that more than a few opera-lovers remain disdainful of this sort of fancy circus, but I’m already wondering what will be the next big Met event—Domingo’s 50th (due in 2018) or Levine’s 50th (due in 2021)?

A final urgent question: should one say “gay-luh” or “gal-uh”?

All photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, except Jonathan Tichler for Aïda.

  • jayjaytee

    I opt for “gay-luh.” “Gal-uh” sounds like a bird species.

  • rhinestonecowgirl

    Gah Lah is the Lah di da (FB) pronunciation

  • Armerjacquino

    It comes into English via Italian and Spanish so I have no idea where the mannered, precious ‘gayla’ pronunciation comes from.

    • manou

      It comes from Eyerak

    • Luvtennis

      It was given to us by the folks who brought you praylude. ????

  • Thanks for the great review, Christopher.

    Like you, I have a sentimental fondness for mega-galas. A scratchy VHS copy of the Met Centennial (alas not the full 8 hours but the condensed version on the official release) proved to be my initial grounding in opera. I was introduced to many great artists and opera highlights through that gala (and people, it’s Gah-lah; gay-lah is stupid).

    I’ve found that the Met’s big galas go down in quality with each passing one. The quality of performances was probably highest in the Bing and Centennial galas. The Levine Gala was very good but a step down. Similarly, the Volpe was a step down further. I only heard bits of the 125th anniversary gala so I can’t comment. But I heard around three-quarters of last night’s gala, and it was a few notches below its predecessors (though still with some worthwhile highlights).

    Though I’m not a big fan, I thought Fleming walked away with the whole thing.

    Netrebko might have been more fun to watch but I’ve heard her sing the Letter Scene better in the past. In addition to some sloppy coloratura, all she did musically was offer a lot of sound and determination. I actually found her “Un bel di” more distinctive.

    Calleja (I only heard his “Quando le sere al placido”) sounded like a different singer. His singing wasn’t bad but the voice sounded nothing like him.

    Like you, hearing Damrau, Opolais and Owens did not make me anticipate their future role assumptions.

    • fletcher

      Well if you’re judging Calleja by the Luisa Miller aria, you’d be right about him sounding different, because that was Becza?a!

      • Duh, thank you! I heard the name announced when I was in the other room so I obviously mis-heard. OK, that’s a relief. LOL

        • DellaCasaFan

          Sadly, he didn’t sound like Beczala either. Hope it’s just temporary. Calleja was fabulous.

          • You’re right. I’m listening to it now (thank you, Ivy) and Beczala sounds strained on top.

          • Porgy Amor

            Beczala’s reviews for last week’s Washington recital (Schumann, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Polish songs, and some Italian encores) were quite good. Now, that would have been in a smaller space and with piano accompaniment, but maybe he just wasn’t at his best Sunday.

          • berkeleygirl

            It’s only been a matter of months since I saw Beczala’s Edgardo in Chicago’s Lucia. He was phenomenal. Ended the opera as fresh as he’d started…

    • You remind me of the Freni Gala, which I remember well. It was Ramey who made the strongest impression on me. He sang the Inquisitor with a blacker timbre and much more size and abandon than I have ever heard from him. He was stunning. In a way this was a sort of tribute to Ghiaurov, who was much diminished vocally by then but had had a truly stunning and enormous voice when he started singing in America. It was also a very exciting performance from Casolla who sang Eboli and managed (as I recall) a thrilling “O Don Fatale”. She only got a handful of performances at the Met, yet without making excessively great claims for her, she was much better than others one could hear more often in that era. Von Stade also reprised her Siebel, one of her old roles, in Freni’s honor and was wonderful. It was also great to hear Kraus in Faust, although he like Ghiaurov and Freni herself was getting on.

      Also you don’t mention the unforgettable Rysanek Gala, where she sang act two of Parsifal (unlike anybody ever!) and then did one of her most thrilling performances of Sieglinde (with Peter Hoffman in both). She pulled every stop known to man and then invented a few. The audience became hysterical.

      And then there was the Bing Gala, which I stood through. As I think must often be the case one did have the sensation of drowning and of it’s taking a long time. But I loved Vickers and Rysanek in the last third of act one of Walkuere conducted by Max Rudolf with whom I had studied. I was glad he had a hard time with them, for he had taken a particular dislike to me. Then there was Lorengar’s Marietta’s Lied, really a bit of heaven, very late, and finally, of course, Birgit’s Final Scene from Salome where she almost succeeded in knocking down the walls.

      Well, it’s nice to read a summa like this, thank you. I can leave parterre far behind with some nice memories of wasting a lot of time (it probably was a waste) at Galas such as these and those you describe so well (although I wasn’t there last night) — thank you for your clarity about it.


    The common thread here is that as we all age our exuberance for these events wane for a number of reasons. For someone out there this held the thrill of having they’re Gala cherry popped I am certain.

    • JR

      Funny, I really enjoyed this gala (I attended), but found the Bing Gala hard to sit through. Listening to Resnik in her parlous state was no pleasure, nor did I enjoy the bizarre pairing of Corelli and Zylis-Gara in Otello, Sereni in Chenier, Robinson in Rigoletto or McCracken in Trovatore, etc.

      The Centennial Gala was a very mixed bag. The Levine I found lots of fun, even if the highlight was Nilsson’s Hojotoho.


        Oh you youngsters with no memory! How about the Gatti-Casazza Gala with Tetrazzini in the Sonnambula and Caruso, Ponselle, and Pinza singing the final scene from Forza? Now that’s singing!

  • aulus agerius

    I enjoyed the Mes Ami [those steel-cored Cs leaving the likes of JDF and Shrader in the dust] and the thrilling Wagner selection the most. The Met player would not open for me with Chrome and I had to download Firefox to get it and by that time it was Berlioz. Very surprised to hear that was Polenzani. Coincidentally I first heard him him with SF Sym singing Berlioz’ Romeo & Juliet with a Dutch mezzo -- Groot? or something like that.

  • fletcher

    The chat yesterday was a lot of fun. I agree with kashania that Fleming was the standout, both in the Mozart and Massenet selections. I joked in the chat that I couldn’t figure out what costume would work for both roles, so it’s nice to read she was simply in an evening gown. Camarena comes in a close second -- great in the Donizetti. I liked DiDonato’s Charlotte (and that great sax solo) and the Lombardi trio -- but it was the Calleja/Yoncheva duet that really got the show going, after a very slow first hour. Many of the selections seemed odd for a celebratory gala -- the slow Handel, the Mussorgsky mad scene, the Grand Inquisitor’s scene… not to mention both of Michael Volle’s Mozart pieces, which were quite bad, though not as disastrous as Damrau’s Violetta, or as dull as Opolais’s Tosca. I found myself wishing for more stars of the past, maybe introducing the pieces -- Horne, Milnes, Ludwig, Freni, Caballé, Grist, Ramey, Alexander, Arroyo, Bumbry, Stratas, Battle, Cossotto, Norman! Obviously Radvonovsky, Goerke, Barton, Hymel, &c were otherwise engaged, but where was Alagna, who should be still in town? Or Stemme, for that matter.

    • Yeah, I kept waiting for Alagna to show up.

    • Rick

      I find it very good that these galas are not only festive “gala-style” music -- that would be like eating dessert or chocolate the whole evening. I enjoy the pieces like the Grand Inquisitor Scene (one of my favourite scenes in all opera, I guess, and found James Morris surprisingly good (although his high notes seemed to get markedly less good as the music progressed) -- and the high F of Gunther Groisbock surprisingly ugly -- he should be in his prime) and the mad scene even (I could easily have done without the Michael Volle Mozart which seemed so faceless and boring).

      The Handel duet is among the most famous Handel selections and, thus, perfect gala-stuff. I was surprised that Ms Blythe seemed to skip some bars towards the end -- but she then repeated them, meaning that it ended correctly.

      I also enjoyed the Tempest segment.

      The last 50 years at the Met included a lot of different music, including sad and slow songs….

      PS I did not find Ms Damrau as awful as I had expected, based on the reports on parterre -- but the Eflat was among the ugliest high notes I have ever heard -- bad mistake.

      • Rick

        And didn’t Dwayne Croft sound good in the few lines at the end of The Tempest scene?

      • The E-flat was awful and I’m surprised Damrau attempted it based on how her high notes had been going (she got off both high Cs quickly) but a single bad high not is not a big deal. To me, the concern was that she sounded so winded in “Sempre libera”. I got more and more tense as it went along.

        • Ivy Lin

          The concern for me was that she was resorting to so many veristic effects. To me they sound like rather obvious ways to hide the inability to sing a clean vocal line, especially in “Sempre libera.”

          • Oh yeah, she was obviously struggling vocally and doing whatever she could to give a performance at that moment — and that meant relying on a lot of veristic effects. I just hope that she was having an off-night.

            • Amika

              I don’t think it was an off night. She has been singing like this for quite a while now and it doesn’t surprise me. What surprised me is that she even attempted to sing this virtuosic aria despite her limited abilities. It shows that she doesn’t have much self awareness.

            • Porgy Amor

              September 2015 statement:

              After 15 years of performing with little or no time for substantial rest and recuperation, along with the demands that come with a beautiful, young family, my body has reached the point when it is now ‘insisting’ that I pause for a short time. Colds and other small illnesses are not fully healing and I am permanently tired. It is in this condition that I know I am unable to give my best; the best that each one of you in the audience deserves. The issue is in no way vocal, but one of exhaustion that the doctors tell me ten weeks of rest will without questions fix.

              I’ve enjoyed some of her performances since her return, on a “total package” level, but just taking ten weeks off has not restored her to what she had been. In the Woolcock Pêcheurs, the Katie Mitchell Lucia, and the Sher Roméo, there was progressively more about the singing to forgive, and then the Met Puritani was the most compromised of all of these. That Traviata aria Sunday night (I’ve listened to the gala now; thanks again, Ivy) was a remarkable falloff from her performances of the whole role in several productions in 2013-14. I heard the New York and Milan ones, and heard and saw the Paris (and was very impressed).

              I wouldn’t presume to say whether she needs another, even longer break, or it’s a physical issue, or it’s something she could work out with vocal restudy, but something’s obviously wrong, and it isn’t going in the right direction.

            • Camille

              I’m glad you put that statement up as I was about to remind people that she was reported to have been suffering from bronchitis in the fall of 2016, as well, therefore cancelling that very interesting harp/vocal duo recital she was to have given in December (in order to be at her best in the Puritani, one surmises-?)—-but—-but—it seems that the problems are ongoing and cumulative.

              As well, in a day and age where it is no longer considered obligatory to sing that damn E flat, there would have been no shame whatsoever in singing a B flat instead or even going all “come scritto”, if you will.

              As she is a gifted singer AND interpreter and not a fake job, this is really distressing to witness dragging on now for a while. One must bear in mind she is the mother of small children, always getting sick and all that, so perhaps a part of it? I certainly don’t know but I do value her artistry and interpretative inteligence, and just don’t want to witness another Dessay style burnout, that’s all. I hope the best for her but, well, just don’t know where the solution may lie.

            • spiderman

              In that particular clip I would say it is an artistic choice of Damrau. When you listen to the whole thing it is clear she is interpreting the second verse of sempre libera with more desperation.
              Vocally however it is quite obvious her voice changed and lowered (her high notes are generally problematic now, something that wasn’t there a few years back). It might be that she right now tries to get along with that technically and when you look at her upcoming role debuts it is also obvious she is trying to change Fach.
              And let’s not forget she is having two quite young boys who might bring home a lot of illnesses all the time. You never know.
              However, I wish she overcomes those problems as used to be an important contribution to opera.

            • CKurwenal

              I think Damrau’s voice just sounds a bit stressed through pretty normal wear and tear. She has always gone at her repertoire with gusto and approaching coloratura roles in that way takes its toll. I think it’s pretty normal, but she will still have a lot to offer for a while yet. The slightly stressed timbre on high reminds me of later Sills. Obviously I agree the e-flat was a disaster but I didn’t think the rest was bad.

            • Nelly della Vittoria

              I’d agree with that assessment; there’ve been problems since late 2015, small at first and now more pronounced. I actually thought the Pêcheurs was, on the night I saw it, vocally quite sound. It was just thinner-toned and paler-hued than the Manon of March 2015, where she made simply torrential, titanic sounds I had not thought her capable of (What sort of former Olympia makes the rafters of that great barn at Lincoln Center ring so?) and which, in retrospect, may have been an instance where she pushed herself too far. It was a hair-raising performance in the house (though if you listen to the radio broadcast now you can hear all the parts of the score wounded by the violence of the singing) and made me remember that Manon can be heady as hell as well as merely charmante. It seemed at the time like she’d solved the problem of moving into a fuller-voiced repertoire, but I think now that she hadn’t, and perhaps has not yet.

              One has to remember that it wasn’t often a conventional or pretty sound even when she was singing the Queen of the Night (and even when she sang her first Elviras in Europe all those years ago I wondered how she’d do them without a readier legato line than she’d been producing until then). Whatever mature voice she comes up with as a resolution of her difficulties might not have the warmest or loveliest timbre either — I continue to hope they will be resolved; I think she is one who will find a way.

            • rapt

              Listening to the broadcast, I remarked in the chat on what seemed to be coughing during Alfredo’s lines. Some listeners suggested this was a part of the performance, which may be true; on a YouTube of her curtain call, though, she seems again to cough--so maybe she actually was under the weather?

            • I agree. She was probably unwell, or had something stuck in her throat.

              Putting that aside and taking into consideration Porgy’s post, I think her voice is changing. Now, ti could be that she hasn’t rested enough and a few months off would solve everything. But I also think that the voice has gained in volume and body and her high-lying coloratura roles and less and less a congenial fit.

              Anyway, I wouldn’t count her “Sempre libera” is an example of her current vocal estate. I think it was an off-night.

            • Liz.S

              I saw the rehearsal clip after the fact yesterday (was fun listening in without any knowledge of what was coming up next -- thanks again my dear friends for such a fun chat party! :-)


              Ms Damrau here sounds as if she was actually suffering from respiratory problems -- to me something beyond artistic choices. Looking back, she may not have been physically in the best conditions at the Met in the last couple of seasons… her insightful and unique interpretations somewhat blinded me, I think.
              Fans all over the world want to hear her and she is a hard worker satisfying the demand, but I really hope she gets to have good chunk of rest, I mean, rest.

      • Daniel Swick

        Agreed… Meier’s Isolde at the Levine gala was riveting stuff.

        • Ivy Lin

          The best part? She was dressed in this ornately patterned housedress with peplum trim at the waist. It was the oddest choice of wardrobe considering what she was about to sing.

          • DonCarloFanatic

            Parterrians don’t approve of what Europeans actually like to wear. People are always ragging on AN’s love of bright colors all mixed together, for instance.

            It’s a perfectly nice dress, but I agree it is not the grand but blank slate typical of concerts.

          • Daniel Swick

            That dress was revolting.

          • I always joked that it was Isolde at cotillion. But yeah, she was absolutely riveting. To this day, when I hear a soprano sing the line about letting the dagger fall, I see Meier’s face.

      • JR

        I thought Damrau was wonderful (it’s never been my favorite voice) but her musicality and intelligence were always evident. I am surprised people are harping about her one (admittedly) ugly high note. It’s a very long scene to judge by one moment. And, although I avoid Opolais, I thought her Tosca aria was lush, until until her dreadful B flat. I also enjoyed Volle. I get it that people didn’t want to hear him sing Papageno, but that’s what the Met chose and he was rather good. The Tempest was surprisingly gorgeous. And Calleja was superb in Boheme.

        Things I didn’t enjoy? I thought Yende was overparted in the Gershwin. Zajick had some great low notes, but was barely audible much of the time. And Beczala was going at full force all the way. Not very interesting.

      • Juan

        If I had to sit through a Traviata with Damrau (or anyone) singing like that, I’d slit my wrists. What torture. She was all over the place. The vocal effects were not stylistically appropriate at all, the breaths were all over the place, and she had that awful note at the end! For someone who is supposed to be a “star”, she needs to go back to basic singing lessons. You could pick any young artist out of any school and have a better performance.

  • Question for those in-house: Did they show the entire Ariadne documentary with Norman/Battle? That’s at least 15 minutes long! If they only showed a couple of clips, I hope it included Levine working with Jessye on the “Ein schönes war”. Well, he doesn’t really work with her on it. He plays and she sings like a goddess.

    • Tamino

      The Levine video was quite long, but it was not 15 minutes long. (The video had to be long enough to cover Levine’s entrance, which involved clearing a large path in the pit, Levine entering in his chair, and everything being but back in place). They showed portions of an interview by Tony Randall and one by Dick Cavett, as well as footage of Levine rehearsing the Beethoven 5th. The video cut in and out of the Ariadne, but the entire video ended with the “Ein schönes war” piano “coaching” that you mentioned. There was quite a bit of spontaneous applause in the house when Norman was first seen on screen (also much applause when Price first appeared in her video, and cheers for a still picture of Pavarotti that was shown as part of a montage of past singers that was shown during the Aida scene that concluded the concert).

      • You’ve warmed my heart, Tamino. Thanks for being a dear. :)

  • Porgy Amor

    If this is our last in-house Met review of the season, I would say we are going out on a high. So glad to have had you back in the saddle recently, Mr. Corwin.

    given the Met’s recent annoying tendency to describe its past Music Director in only god-like terms

    I’ll say. The extra features in that Idomeneo HD were just off the charts. By the time they brought two women from the orchestra out to sing Levine’s praises (which every member of the cast already had been guided to do, in a very long afternoon), I was starting to be reminded of the Manson family circa 1970.

    I did not hear a note of this gal-uh, because it was either stay home and listen to the stream or attend a party. I came home and read a lot of comments — worst thing ever, best thing ever — and I suspected it was probably a typical opera gala. A few truly stunning numbers, a few that are notably bad, and a lot in the middle that is just professionals doing what they do. So, pretty much like the experience of a Met opera season, taking place over one evening.

    I did see some rehearsal clips the Met supplied. I thought in those that DiDonato was as good as expected, Garanca even better than expected. Domingo sounded somewhat rejuvenated in the Giordano number, and Pape didn’t make much of an impression. But I felt as Mr. Corwin did about Damrau (who sounded to be doing Violetta as asthmatic) and Owens (I wished I had been able to hear Yende over him). I’ve often liked both Damrau and Owens in the past. In fact, a Damrau Violetta was one of the first things I reviewed for the site, and I had cause to rave.So I hope both have it together by the time the new productions come around.

  • Ivy Lin

    As I said, for those who missed it, you can listen to the whole thing right here.

    • southerndoc1


  • Talk of the Town

    I missed the live stream. Did anyone record it?

    • Talk of the Town

      LOL. Should have scrolled down past the ads! Thanks, Ivy.

  • Camille

    Yes, One IS Grateful that Finley will be singing Athanaël next season, very grateful as one was afraid, very afraid.

    So it was Pape who didn’t give us the Boris Death Scene, then, in 2009? So it was an imperative he had to make up for this? Why? I couldn’t believe that it was done again. Also, Calleja singing the same aria he did eight years ago? I wonder how that made him feel? It was splendid the first time--this time it was still good but not quite on the same level. At least he and Yoncheva kind of got the party started.

    And let me just say this: as this is supposedly a celebratory, festive type of occasion, why couldn’t there be a few more brilliant or lighter numbers? Nothing says “Fun” like watching old guilty Boris croak his last--to someone, I guess--but surely not to me. As far as the reiteration of the Lombardi trio, just bring it on, as it is so rarely done otherwise and its magnificence is equal to anything Verdi wrote at any time.

    And thanks to Whomever for allowing Lenny in diesem Heiligen Hallen, as West Side Story is as briliant as anything else we heard, or better in some cases. I don’t know if that was YN-S’s doing or not but he made the most of it.

    Maybe the tempo sounded morose in the house, or maybe it was a tiny little bit of self-indulgent tripping down memory lane as she wanted to once again savor the moment of her début role, the Countess in Figaro, but “Porgi Amor” proved why Renée Fleming has been the star she has been, all these years. A small moment in time of a rare kind of beauty and one which will be missed.

    • Rick

      I liked the Boris scene -- but maybe the coronation scene with the chorus and the opening monologue would have been more fitting (and a chance to use the chorus).
      Of course, there could have been lighter numbers but I find the mix of lighter and heavier numbers good.
      I didn’t realise that Mr Calleja sang Che gelida at the gala 8 years ago -- so that was not very adventurous….
      I found Mr Volle’s two number totally “meh”. But apart from that…

      • Camille

        Yes, I like the Boris Death Scene in the opera itself and particularly listening to my old Chaliapin recording of it! I didn’t much care for it the first time and found it incomprehensible it was programmed again. If it was your first time hearing it, more power to you on that. I felt the programming could have flowed from one selection to the next perhaps in a more cohesive manner but then there are many vicissitudes involved in all this.

        I’m just grateful that unsatisfactory singer was not back with the obligatory “O mio babbino caro”, and that Miss Latonia got up to at least first base. Would have preferred the entire Triumphal Scene, too.

        • Rick

          I wonder why you might think that this was the first time I heard the Boris Godunov scene? As a matter of fact, in my extreme youth I was an extra when the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen did Boris Godunov (the version without the Polish Act) with Aage Haugland as Boris and Ticho Parly (who as amazing -- this ravaged and aged but still impressive heroic voice and his stage presence was the best Shuiskij I have ever witnessed). So I have heard and seen the scene (and all of the opera) from the wings quite a few times.

          Yes, the entire Triumphal Scene would have been cool.

          • Camille

            My intention was to say that IF it was your first time listening to this Gala Presentation of the Boris Dwath Scene— so much the better for you. I’ve heard this twice now and it was certainly not what I would have expected to have been repeated, out of all that previous program. And that’s all. I would have no personal knowledge of your, or anyone else’s for that matter, number of experiences with this
            opera, how could I now?

            Ticho Parly? My that must have been an interesting experience. My couple of Boris’s here at the Met --jezuz--two different installations but I cannot remember much now, except I felt the Boris, a non-Russian, was ill suited to the role, and one of the times, oh yes, it was Borodina’s house début, whenever that was. Damn, I wish I could remember more of it. Gergiev,too, yes.
            I’ll have to go look it up.

            Anyway, one needs an absilute monarch and a maniac for the role and those are hard to come by. I’d say you were quite fortunate to see it up close as it would make a far deeper and meaningful impression. No wonder you like it in the Gala!!

            • Rick

              Sorry, I misunderstood. I have a vague memory of seeing John Tomlinson raving in white tie -- I wonder if that might have been from that other gala?

              Yes, Ticho Parly came back to Denmark after his international career and had a sort of Indian summer, singing Herod and Shuiskik (and Aegisth?) at the Royal Opera (very successfully) and Otello with the National Opera (less so -- even though he was rumoured to have been stellar at the last rehearsal -- apparently/allegedly nerves got the better of him).

            • Porgy Amor

              Tomlinson did sing the Boris death scene in the gala of the 2008-09 season, which was both the 125th anniversary of the Met and Domingo’s 40th anniversary with the company. Tomlinson had a boy soloist assisting as Feodor.

              What Pape sang on Sunday was the Act Two stuff, the monologue and then (skipping over a lot) a graft-on of the bit with the clocks and the ranting. Mary Jo described it as the “mad scene,” which oversimplifies it but gets the job done.

            • Rick

              Thanks for the clarification. I remember Sir John “dying” now -- and I will have to rehear what Mr Pape sang -- which I assume was from the original version (rather than the version prepared by Rimsky-Korsakof).

            • Camille

              I wondered what happened to poor little Feodor.

            • Camille

              No “Sorry”. Glad to speak with you.

              Carlo Bergonzi did something similar with the same opera, when he made a very late career attempt sing Otello,
              most unfortunately.

        • Camille, whom do you mean by that “unsatisfactory singer”?

          • southerndoc1

            I don’t think he means Pape.

          • Liz.S


          • Camille

            Maija Kovaleska.

            Ask Krunoslav if you don’t believe me.

            NOT Jessye!

            • CKurwenal

              Hello Camille! Funny you should mention her -- I recently took part in a concert with Kovalevska and I must say I thought she was stunning. There are some chinks in her technical armour for sure, but she has a huge amount to offer -- I was thrilled by her performance.

            • Camille

              YOU WHAT?
              Cocky, is that YOU????

              I’m so PLEASED to hear you are singing again and that you’ve dropped in! Ben tornato!!

              You won’t believe it but I actually thought of you for the first time in a long time just the other day—wondering what has happened, how things were going after all the major changes to your life, and how you were getting along with those changes! So this is a very welcome bit of news and makes me very happy to hear!

              Yes, about MK, I heard her that once and it was nothing special but maybe her voice was not suited to that repertory at all. As she has been absent from the Met for several seasons now I figured she has moved on to other things and that may include a better vocal production or more suitable repertory? IDK!

              The really important issue here is that YOU are singing again — which pleases me so much to hear, as I had so hoped that a little time, plus stepping back to reconsider, rehash, and rest would change things for you, plus--as there were some very big life changes to accustom yourself to--all adding up to lots on your proverbial plate, so that would require time and patience and diligent work to get through. Sempre Avanti! And best and kindest wishes to you. Ciao for now!

            • CKurwenal

              Thank you Camille and Kashania, very nice of you.

            • Welcome back, Cocky. Nice to see you!

            • Porgy Amor

              Welcome back, CK. I think my own choice if the previous moniker had been unavailable would have been “Cockier Kurwenal,” but we’re happy to have you under any name.

            • Thanks. Just curious.

  • Der Fliegende Amerikaner

    The Met has uploaded new short clips:

  • Camille

    And with all of this talk of what was encored from the 2009 Gala, remembering now that the big Traviata aria scene was also done once more and with its future star in a troubled vocal state, as well, of yet another new production. That’s another coincidence as well. I can’t think of any others. Oh wait, yes, “E lucevan le stelle” was sung again this time by Grigolo? That was sung by whom? Antonenko?