Listening at the Met After James Levine

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lennygoran
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Listening at the Met After James Levine

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:24 am

Tommasini reviews many newer singers along with some old ones like Meade. Regards, Len

Review: Listening at the Met, After James Levine

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI DEC. 7, 2017


Many look to opera as an escape. But returning to the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday and Wednesday, for the first time since its revered music director emeritus, James Levine, was suspended amid accusations of sexual abuse, I couldn’t stop thinking about the recent social and political upheaval — both inside and outside the Met.

Bellini’s “Norma,” which has returned with new cast members after opening the season in September, depicts a powerful woman — a religious and political leader — struggling with illicit love and its momentous consequences. Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” usually a comedy of madcap antics and romantic intrigue, was more uncomfortable than usual, with a plot that centers on a lascivious count’s efforts to, in effect, rape one of his servants — by exercising his aristocratic “droit du seigneur.”

And it was inevitable that my thoughts also turned to Mr. Levine, who in the past conducted important performances featuring the soprano Angela Meade and the mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, who triumphed in “Norma.” Young careers like theirs at the Met used to be invariably shaped by Mr. Levine, who spearheaded the Met’s young artist program and had to give his imprimatur to almost any singer who was to have an important role within the company.


But the “Figaro” already suggested the post-Levine Met. Of the youthful leads, only Luca Pisaroni, as Count Almaviva, has ever appeared at the Met with Mr. Levine, and for Mr. Pisaroni it was in just a single run, 12 years ago.

“As important as Jim has been as part of the company’s fabric,” Mr. Gelb said of Mr. Levine on Monday, “he did step down as music director two seasons ago, and the company has already imagined life without him.”


With Tuesday’s “Figaro,” I could see how this is true. The main treat was the Met debut of the German soprano Christiane Karg as Susanna. Her voice has beguiling sheen and clarity, like a classic lyric soprano. Yet when Susanna became agitated with the count, or exasperated with her beloved Figaro, Ms. Karg sang with dusky textures and a piercing sound rare for a lyric voice, and commanded the stage with vibrant, sassy acting.

Alas, her Figaro, the bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, sounded leathery and blunt. Mr. Pisaroni made a suave Almaviva; the shimmering soprano Rachel Willis-Sorenson was a poignantly melancholic Countess. The mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi, singing the pageboy Cherubino, has an unusual yet appealing voice: focused and radiant, yet tinged with graininess. She proved a natural playing an adolescent male who spends the opera pining after, and aggressively flirting with, women — also not a spectacle easy to watch nowadays. The conducting of Harry Bicket, though full of lively stretches and bold interpretive touches, was at times scrappy.


Ms. Meade and Ms. Barton sang together in “Norma” twice at the Met in 2013. Their performances then came across as splendid works in progress, but on Tuesday they delivered on all their promises. Ms. Meade has rare gifts: a deep, rich sound with unforced carrying power; impressive agility; instinctive feeling for supple phrasing and expressive color.

But she lacked some temperament and dramatic depth. Not anymore. On Tuesday she conveyed fiery intensity and poignant vulnerability. In the demanding aria “Casta diva,” Ms. Meade sang Bellini’s ornately embellished phrases with velvety legato; climactic high points in the flowing melody soared over the orchestra, elegantly conducted by Joseph Colaneri.

Ms. Meade ably conveyed the other dimensions of the complex character: the scorned lover who, violating sacred vows, has born two sons to a Roman officer; the sisterly friend who discovers that the priestess Adalgisa is her romantic rival. Ms. Meade still seems like she’s working at intensity; it doesn’t yet come naturally. But in bursts of blazing passagework she was wholly convincing.

With her sumptuous sound and innate feeling for expressive color, the marvelous Ms. Barton excelled as Adalgisa. She captured the novice’s panicked confusion to find herself caught in a romantic triangle. Yet during impassioned passages Ms. Barton’s smoldering singing made clear that this outwardly meek character is a bundle of yearning.

You could imagine why the Roman consul Pollione (the tenor Joseph Calleja, having a rough, nasal-toned night) has cast Norma aside for the seemingly innocent Adalgisa. Ms. Meade and Ms. Barton were so compelling that I almost forget about David McVicar’s muddled production. What I couldn’t forget was what was going on backstage, and across America.



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/arts ... ic-reviews

John F
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Re: Listening at the Met After James Levine

Post by John F » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:07 pm

I believe this overstates James Levine's control over casting. Even when he was artistic director, going back 30 years, it appeared that he cast only the operas he was going to conduct, leaving most of the casting to the Met's artistic administration under Jonathan Friend and previously Joan Ingpen. As Donal Henahan wrote in 1988, "The titular artistic director of the company, James Levine, makes sure that he gets the singers he wants for his own performances and seems content to leave Mr. Friend to improvise the remainder of the season." (http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/27/arts/ ... sting.html) Friend is still there and presumably at least as much in charge of casting as before, most likely more so because of Levine's absences and reduced activity.
John Francis

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