You could say last night at the Met was a typical Aprile Millo performance, if that expression were not essentially an oxymoron. “Typical” and “Millo” really don’t intersect in this dimension (maybe somewhere on a spiritual plane? But I digress.) Let’s just say that, what happens at a Millo night, happened last night, which is to say:
People you never see at the opera were there. Like me, for example, and I actually went through the whole ritual of buying a single out in the plaza ten minutes before eight. But everybody was there, definitely a gathering-of-the clan sort of event. The fussy queens were there; I’m pretty sure I recognized at least one recent facelift. And the cute queens were there, the same ones who generally show up only for David Daniels. And, oh yes, the industry queens were there too. This was definitely the night to catch up on all the gossip, such as which manager had just thrown a hissy fit over which tenor’s tardiness, yelping, “That’s why I hate to work with Italian singers!”
The prima donna’s entrance cued the audience not only to polite applause but shouts of “brava,” and, mind you, before a note was sung. The entrance ovation went on long enough to drown the first “Perche chiuso,” and when’s the last time that happened? Caballe?
She wore her own dresses, or at least not the dresses that come with the production. For the record, the Act 1 frock was a throwback to the more formal pre-1964 mode, a maroon faille pelisse over rose georgette, though with mini-mantilla instead of the big Hello Dolly hat.
Instead of the Zeffirelli fire-engine red peau de soie for Act 2, Millo opted for a deep garnet silk velvet cut on Empire lines but resolutely unfrilly, practically severe by Tosca standards. Her garniture of diamonds included a tall diadem, and she accessoried with a plain gold silk damask stole and the traditional 16-button white gloves. (These were perhaps a half-size too snug and Millo flutzed a bit getting them stripped off, but she gestured with them effectively later on.)
Millo’s acting is a lot more sober these days too; less fluttering in Act 1 and all night long I don’t think I saw her beat her breast even once. She’s plump, to be sure, but she moves with purpose and a kind of stately quality that looks appropriate on the massively oversized sets. Even when the plastique turns baroque, she believes what she’s doing, and after all, Tosca isn’t supposed to be a simple village maiden, is she? And if anybody can get away with moaning “mea culpa, mea culpa…” during the candle business, it has to be Millo.
It’s always been a glamorous voice. These days the vibrato is looser, particularly in middle voice. I heard one or two queens use the “W” word, but I don”t think I’d go that far. What matters to me is the easy legato and natural sense of how to make the music “go,” and for those qualities, Millo is unmatchable among sopranos singing Tosca today. For the record, the climactic notes of “Vissi d’arte” were frankly flat, but the money notes elsewhere, including the several high C’s, hit the bullseye.
There was a lot of buzz out front about a cold, and Millo very noticeably waved a handkerchief about during Act 1, even interpolating a couple of coughs that suggested Tosca might be following in poor dear Mimi’s footsteps. Then there was a really long wait for Act 2 to start once the audience was in the house, and you know La Cieca was very much dreading that the lights would come up before the curtain for an announcement. But Millo neither canceled nor asked indulgence, and I for one would never have guessed she was anywhere close to under the weather: she sounded just fine.
We all know that Millo likes to take slow phrases very slowly, sometimes to the point that she has to sneak in an additional breath. And so the last thing she needs is a a tentative and passive conductor like Derrick Inouye, who allowed the performance to stagnate like a bad Pelleas. Actually is was worse than that. Imagine Pelleas actually conducting a performance; that’s how aimless and inert this show sounded. This guy makes Nello Santi seem positively perky. Let’s hope he gets his act together or at least asserts himself a bit before the park performances begin.
You know, it’s amazing how incredible Marcello Giordani can sound when he’s given a real role to sing instead of all that Pirata/Benvenuto Cellini freaky repertoire. The nerves or allergies or whatever it was that made the Pirata so erratic (though always thrilling!) have been worked out; he’s singing like a god these days. The easiest, most brilliant high B on “la vita mi costasse” La Cieca has ever heard; I was honestly surprised that there was no burst of applause after the “Vittoria” in Act 2. (But, then, nobody applauds much of anything any more, not even when Butterfly sees the ship.)
Now, what I just don’t get is why the Met falls all over itself finding opportunities for Salvatore Licitra who thus far in New York has given approximately one really good performance (Forza with Collegiate Chorale), but, until now, anyway, keeps Giordani in the High D Ghetto. How about Faust, at least? Or Lucia, even? Or Werther? (We do get both Ernani and Manon Lescaut in 07-08, so that’s certainly heading in the right direction. Met, you go on like this.)
Full disclosure here: La Cieca had to leave after the second act, and now she could kick herself for missing what was described as the house coming down after “E lucevan le stelle.” But, as she was saying before, at least she’s found the will to go back to the opera house; performers like Millo and Giordani are what make it “worth for.”