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Madness on the moors!

The new cast at the Met suggested an alliterative retitling of Lucia di Lammermoor was needed—perhaps Lost Loonies in Love or its Italian equivalent? 

Pretty Yende’s uneven, recessive heroine wasn’t the only one to lose her marbles as Michael Fabiano’s brash, blunt Edgardo also demonstrated that psychopharmocologists would have had their hands full in mid-19th century Scotland. Thank the Donizetti deities for Roberto Abbado whose taut conducting kept the wild ride on track.

Mary Zimmerman’s gloomy 2007 production has already hosted a number of moon-crossed lovers. Based on chunks of the two broadcasts I heard, I may have dodged a bullet missing the unbelievably inept Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti and the ever-hyperactive Vittorio Grigolo when this season’s revival opened.

Those I respect praised to me Jessica Pratt’s “coming to the rescue” in a pair of later performances but I’ve always found her pallid and uninteresting despite her impressive acuti. So I was cautiously optimistic about the four principals taking over on Wednesday. That the Enrico stole the show suggested that something continues to be awry with serious Donizetti at the Met.

Having cheered Yende’s debut as Adèle in Le Comte Ory, I also enjoyed her 2014 Met Pamina but hadn’t heard her in a complete opera there since then. Her drab Porgy and Bess duet with Eric Owens at the 50thAnniversary Lincoln Center Gala last year wasn’t encouraging although her tangling with Mariusz Kwiecien in a snippet of Don Pasquale proved more pleasing.

An interview with Anthony Tommasini in this Sunday’s New York Times, a video showing Yende rehearsing Lucia’s mad scene  and two leading roles next season including an HD transmission of La Fille du Régiment with Javier Camarena suggest that the Met has high hopes for its young South African soprano.

But her first Lucia showed an unfinished artist whose unfocused, small-scaled first act had me dreading the rest of the evening. Happily she improved but I was never convinced it was her role at all despite having already performed it apparently with some success in Paris and Berlin. Yende might be heard as a throwback to the pre-Callas days when soubrettes sang Donizetti’s mad heroine.

Her voice is light and shines with youth but her “Regnava nel silenzio” went for little missing the haunting premonitions of Lucia’s eventual sad fate. Although her repertoire includes any number of florid roles, the subsequent cabalettadidn’t reveal a very easy coloratura facility and the trills were more indicated than fully voiced. Interpolated climactic high notes all evening were weak and effortful and seemingly unconnected to the rest of the voice.

The second act showed a more settled performer though for someone who can be so lively and delightful on stage, she was far less successful at delineating this character’s dire situation. The lower, simpler vocal lines of the duet with Enrico and the wedding scene suited her and then the Mad Scene surprised with some truly beautiful singing, especially in “Alfin son tua” where her moving phrasing and fascinating partnership with Friedrich Heinrich Kern’s remarkable glass harmonica combined to become the opera’s highlight.

Her acting also came alive post-stabbing with a vivid and manic manner that mirrored that of her common-law husband. Like Yende, Fabiano was distant and uninvolved in the first act but he didn’t wait until the final act to crank up the crazy. He crashed the wedding party in a hysterical blaze of flying arms and cape which was wrestled off of him and he played the remainder of the act in shirtsleeves, bristling with despair and even attempting to stab himself at one point.

The tenor’s sob-embellished singing matched the no-hold-barred flamboyance of his acting as he poured out the decibels at every opportunity. There was rarely middle ground between fortissimo and an occasional mannered whispery piano. He was in somewhat better voice than at the performance I attended earlier this season—the “wrong scores handed out so I had to do a B-natural instead” La Bohème in February. But several big loud high notes sounded strained and the constantly aggressive manner grew wearying.

The first few lines of the Wolf’s Crag scene sounded remarkably like he was channeling Franco Corelli and the subsequent overheated duet could well have better served Turiddu and Alfio than Edgardo and Enrico. His enthusiastically vocal fans ate it up, but I think he should instead concentrate on roles better suited to his lusty, full-bore approach.

Usually during Lucia’s first scene I stare at the ceiling and count the endless minutes until we get to the scene change to the ghostly fountain. For a change however this time it was the best part of Act One. This season the Met has finally been making up for its curious lack of interest in Quinn Kelsey; his hearty Peter in Hansel and Gretel and brutal if lovelorn di Luna in Il Trovatore offered some exceptionally fine singing.

With the robust male chorus and Abbado’s vigorous conducting Kelsey turned his opening scena into a real treat marred only by the stupid decision to cut half of his cabaletta. His stern but ultimately craven Enrico demonstrated how destructively self-involved he really was when he had his own disassociative breakdown during the Mad Scene.

Throughout the Semiramide revival earlier in the season Ildar Abdrazakov was regularly outshone by his colleagues: Camarena, Elizabeth Deshong and Angela Meade each had the opportunity to sing a verse which the bass would then attempt to repeat and thereby exposed his lumbering coloratura.

A variation happened with Kelsey in Lucia.In duets with both Yende and Fabiano they would sing their strophe and then Kelsey—without any ostentation—seized his turn and delivered his with a smoother, more elegant line. “Anything you can do….”

Alexander Vinogradov who had been perfectly fine in his debut role as Walter in Luisa Miller returned as an unusually young Raimondo. The very Russian tang of his bass was more on show here than in the Verdi and occasionally during his character’s empty platitudes I thought I might be listening to Khovanshchina’s Dosifei instead.

Edyta Kulczak who usually gets to twirl her umbrella and sing a few very lines as Kate Pinkerton was promoted to an unusually prominent Alisa who more than once drowned out Yende while Mario Chang who has sung Edgardo elsewhere brought a tight tenor to Arturo.

For season after season lately the Met has been serving us copious helpings of serious Bellini and Donizetti. Next season there’s only the comic French Fille; I for one am grateful for the respite.

Although I still have to catch up with Cendrillon and Roméo et Juliette, this is my last review of a bumpy, scandal-plagued Met season. Let’s hope that new Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin can begin to exert a steadying influence over the needy institution.