Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Sam Shirakawa is back with his first squib of the new year....

LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR | Metropolitan Opera | Monday, January 26, 2009

So were they fabulous?

In a word: No.

That was the gist of my brief chat with an acquaintance shortly after Monday night's Met Lucia. (By now, you must know who "they" are.)

Despite an economy that appears to be collapsing by the minute, the crisis failed to prevent a sold-out audience from attending Anna Netrebko's first Met Lucia. The crowd was presumably also there for her frequent stage partner Rolando Villazon, performing Edgardo, also for the first time at the Met.

For all the hubba-hubba swirling around the opera world's current super-primadonna, who once spelled her surname Nebtrebko, it was Rolando -- he always spelled it Rolando -- who unintentionally elicited the breath-taking moments during a messy performance. He showed signs of vocal difficulties in the first act, but by the middle of the middle act, the symptoms were acute. In the middle of the finale ensemble, he "just stopped," as one Met regular rightly put it during the 40-minute intermission that followed. Indeed, that breath-stopping pause was long enough to make you gag.

At the start of the third act, the Met's GM Peter Gelb stepped on stage to ask the audience for indulgence. Rolando muddled through without further incident, and he received a big hand at the curtain calls, but it remains clear that he has yet to surmount the highly publicized problems that recently caused him to take an extended sabbatical.

Anna, meanwhile, was not invulnerable to the "fraught" conditions visited upon this performance. The coloratura passages were clean, but the high notes were, with one exception, off-target. All in all, her first Lucia was less a descent into madness than a middling effort to transcend an ailing tenor and some scrappy orchestral playing led by Marco Armiliato.

Separating themselves admirably from the downward slide, though, were the orchestral soloists: Harpist Mariko Anraku, flutist Stefan Ragnar Höskuldsson, and armonica soloist Cecilia Brauer.

By the way, Ildar Abdrazakov as Raimondo sang flawlessly. But who noticed?

And by-the-by, too, the aforementioned 40-minute intermission is required at every Lucia performance -- as the program now notes in boldface type -- by the complexities of mounting the last act sets in Mary Zimmerman's production. The centerpiece is an enormous flying staircase. But it serves merely a series of utilitarian rather than dramatic purposes -- to provide a means of access to a room in the Wolf Crag's Castle, to enable Lucia to ascend to the bridal chamber with her ill-fated husband, to allow her to descend deranged therefrom without him, and to permit the Ravenswood lackeys to carry her lifeless body back upstairs again after she drops dead from a high note.

Is it worth the interminable wait?

In a word: no.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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