And another squib from Sam Shirakawa, who attended Friday evening's performance of Adriana Lecouvreur:
13 FEBRUARY 2009
That's right. If you're a star soprano, you can't be a shrinking violet, especially if you're headlining a cruddy opera like Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. You need to believe there is more to this trash heap of notes than the two lovingly composed arias Cilea set for its legendary creator Angelica Pandolfini [whose elusive recordings constitute the Avalon if not the Holy Grail among record collectors. Read the riveting interview with Sir Paul Getty by Richard Bebb]. More than believing, though, you need conviction. Caballe had it. Scotto too. So did Tebaldi, although I never heard her sing the role live.
Maria Guleghina -- the Met's current Adriana -- has a plethora of belief and conviction, but from the get-go, she's severely handicapped in portraying the immortal diva of La Comedie Français: She must make her entrance speaking a few lines before launching into song. Whadishesay? Mind you, a lot of suspension of disbelief is required at this point -- indeed throughout the whole plot. The setting is backstage at La Comedie Française, where French is the lingua franca, but the text of Cilea's opus, of course, is in Italian. Guleghina's sung Italian diction more than passes muster. But her spoken Italian?
So unintentionally stunning is Guleghina's elocution, that it's hard to comment on how she delivered her first aria -- you know, the one in which the eponymous diva declares that she is but the humble handmaiden of genius. Having only partially recovered by the time her fourth act aria came up, I can only say that the Ukrainian-born Met favorite left me with the impression of an unusual Adriana.
An unusual performance of another sort was rendered by Olga Boradina as the Princess. She was oddly detached in a role that screams for some "trucking."
I must confess now that I attended this performance partly out of morbid curiosity: to hear Placido Domingo attempt Maurizio -- his debut role at the Met in 1968. Amazingly, he can still do it. Domingo has become a walking object lesson in style, musicality and vocal technique and proves that age does not necessarily wither. The squillo -- that wounded animal sound -- still squeezes out of the upper register, the phrasing is indeed more natural than in his salad days, and he's gained the aura of a compelling stage-presence. That was not always at his command.
Roberto Frontali made the most of what he could out of Adriana's love-lorn suitor Michonnet.
Marco Armillato is conducting a lot at the Met these days. Is he taking charge of its Italian wing? His reading of Cilea's loose score -- maybe it's just lousy -- is tightly disciplined, if not always dramatically taut.
Something is missing from Mark Lamos' production. The sets could also use a few more walls. Maybe that's what's missing -- not enough scenery to chew.
The Met has assembled just about the best star cast that money can buy in these moribund days of the economy and romantic lyric theater. But where to buy that touch of wonder that sparks enchantment?
Speaking of money, the Met is upping its ticket price in the Family Circle from $15 to $20 next season. That's a 33 percent increase. Not enchanting. Other price ranges apparently remain unchanged [editor's Note: prices for the partial-view balcony box seats are also going up]. Why is the Met financially penalizing most the people who can afford opera least? This decision may well be a cynical move to capitalize on subscribers who are moving down in the world from the Dress Circle and the Balcony. A five dollar increase in less superior seats is still cheaper than staying where they are. This is outrageous, but nobody seems to care. Very well. Both the callous Met management and the silent stalwarts who keep opera going long after the fat cats have slunk away will each get exactly what they deserve. The Met will get less reliable patrons hopefully grabbing up the cheapest seats, while those who previously bought them will have no opera at all. Trickle down... down... down.
© SAM H. SHIRAKAWA 2009