Metropolitan Opera/Juilliard School

By Dillon, Patrick | Opera Canada, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Metropolitan Opera/Juilliard School


Dillon, Patrick, Opera Canada


If November's joint Metropolitan Opera/Juilliard School Cosi fan tutte had no other merit, at least it managed to efface the nasty aftertaste of New York's last professional Cosi, Christopher Alden's miserably misanthropic staging for City Opera last spring. But its virtues didn't stop there. Stephen Wadsworth's production--refreshingly set in period without gimmicks--was stylish, sensible, and smart; he coaxed a perfectly matched set of alert, responsive performances from his talented young cast. Recitatives were delivered with flavor and zing--nothing remotely near the lamentably low level of the Met's concurrent Susanna, Mojca Erdmann, whose Italian had all the verve of a metronome equipped with the (goosed-up-an-octave) voice of iPhone's Siri. This Cosi played delightfully as a play, and "play" was evident in all the singers' loose and happy imper-sonations of their roles.

There was some very good singing, too. Bass-baritone Evan Hughes and mezzo Naomi O'Connell could easily take their Alfonso and Despina straight to the stage of the "big house" a block downtown. (She's still a Juilliard student; he, like the rest of the cast, is a member of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.) Baritone Luthando Qupe was a laudable Guglielmo, with a healthy dark burr in the voice that reminded me of one of my favorite recorded Guglielmos, Rolando Panerai. Alexander Lewis, as Ferrando, sounded well off his usual fine form in Act 1; for Act II, his voice was replaced by that of another fine tenor, Andrew Stenson, singing from the pit under what must have been some stress as Lewis lip-synched onstage. Throughout, Lewis displayed his skills as a comic showman. Happily parading her own considerable clout as comedienne, Ottawa's Wallis Giunta enacted a delectably dizzy Dorabella, with more tonal bite than one often hears in the role. The histrionically unimpeachable Emalie Savoy was a mixed vocal blessing as Fiordiligi: plenty of size and color midrange, but a weakish chest voice and a top that often emerged blasty and harsh. Bringing a third Lincoln Center component into the evening's mix, Alan Gilbert was on loan from the New York Philharmonic, leading the good-sized student orchestra in a crisp, propulsive "modern" account of the score. I've heard many a better-sung Cosi--and maybe I'll hear one from this very cast in a few years. But I'm glad to have heard--and seen--this one, too.

Shakespeare's plays are things of light and shade, smiles and sorrows; the comic illuminates the tragic, and the favor is returned. Reducing a play of his to a single mood or tone is a major mistake--as Verdi, the most Shakespearean of opera composers, clearly knew. Britten, I think, didn't; and his A Midsummer Night's Dream has always created for me an off-putting dark sound world for this magically multilayered play. So, too, does Thomas Ades's The Tempest, one of Britain's most widely acclaimed post-Britten operas, mounted at the Metropolitan Opera last Oct/Nov. Shakespeare's Tempest juxtaposes good and evil, sun and shadow, sober reflection and drunken excess; but Ades eschews the variety--his tale is almost wholly from the darkside. It's a grim island, this one of his, where Prospero's "white" magic seems as sinister as that of the isle's one-time ruler, Sycorax, the witch who bore the twisted Caliban and imprisoned the spirit Arid within a tree. Ades's Arid is a dog-whistle-range coloratura whose vocal acrobatics make Lulu's, Zetbinetta's and the Queen of the Night's seem as facile as "Do-Re-Mi." Barely a word of hers can be understood--and even with Meredith Oakes's flat-footed adaptation of the Bard, that's surely no good thing. Nor is much of anyone else's text intelligible, either. Ades here writes very cruelly for his singers, repeatedly sending them to extremes of their range or burying them under unkind instrumentation. Act III (after the single intermission) improves on the first two, with some properly magical sonorities, an effectively written ensemble fugue and a theatrically (and aurally) arresting end. …

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