Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spaghetti Western Meets Co-op City

I can not think why I haven't been to more Metropolitan Opera HD live broadcasts in movie theaters. Since you lot are still not showering me with tickets to performances (you really need to get on that), this is where I had to go to get my opera and blogging on. Who knew I could drive ten minutes to get to Co-op City in the Bronx and have a much more comfortable seat than in the Family Circle at the Met, for about the price of a Family Circle ticket. No fear of it being sold out, as with the Manhattan theaters.  It is Co-op City, after all. There remain seven more of these broadcasts this season.  You can expect to hear from me about most of them!

Today the Met presented its final performance of the season of La Fanciulla del West. This 1993 Giancarlo del Monaco production was resurrected in observance of the 100th anniversary of the world premiere of Mr. Puccini's opera, based on Mr. Belasco's play (libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini). The premiere was in 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera, with Enrico Caruso, Pasquale Amato, and Emmy Destinn, under Mr. Toscanini's baton.

Your intrepid reporter has only seen Fanciulla once before, with the late, great Ghena Dimitrova as Minnie and Nicola Martinucci as Dick Johnson, in this very same production in the early 90s. Both of them seemed more in love with the conductor or prompter than each other, and I didn't stay to see the end. So it is with some fear and trepidation I approached this performance. I am extremely fond of Deborah Voigt, and it would pain me to no end to have to report she was in a dog of a show. Fortunately that is not the case.

Debs and her Dick, Marcello Giordani, have a great chemistry together.  (This performance from the 2001 Richard Tucker Gala shows they're quite comfortable with each other!) Mr. Tommasini of the New York Times is of the opinion that "[although] Mr. Giordani has the voice of a real Italian tenor, his singing can be wildly uneven", and I'm afraid I have to agree, based on today's performance. His high notes were passionate and soaring, but some of his middle was cloudy and at least once I heard weak low notes. His Dick, however, was ardent (What? Why are you looking at me like that?) and his characterization convincing. I believed his inner conflict over his love for Minnie.

Debs. (We're on first-names basis now.) Of course Debs was amazing. Mr. Tommasini wrote in the same review, "I cannot think of a soprano who could sing any better this demanding role, which requires luscious legato phrasing, a powerful top range and stamina" and "...what wins you over is Ms. Voigt’s deep feeling for the character." I found her singing to be beautiful and passionate and even, and it grew even warmer and richer in Acts II and III than in Act I. Her character had Minnie facets (I blame that one on my husband. He's not here at the moment, but I blame him anyway.) and one could see her individual relationships with all the ragazzi in the mining camp,  her tender heart, and her independence.

Jack Rance. Meh.  Most people seemed to like Lucio Gallo more than I did, although James Jordan of The New York Post writes "As Sheriff Rance, ... dry-voiced baritone Lucio Gallo dared to play the melodrama to the hilt, lurching and snarling like an authentic 1910 stage heavy." It's true. His acting might have worked somewhat in the house, but up close, when his face is eighteen feet tall, not so much. His singing to me seemed overwrought or just plain pushed. I wouldn't go out of my way to hear him again.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti, music director of the San Francisco Opera, has garnered much critical acclaim for his sensitive handling of the score, and I can certainly see why. And I can not praise highly enough the men's chorus and the ensemble of men singing small roles. The Met chorus has long been a wonder. In this show, the beautiful singing of the men, sometimes tender and sweet, sometimes rough and ready, left me in awe, even while they coped with a ridiculous amount of stage business.

In fact, the whole production was overly busy, reminding one of those fussy productions where the production team wanted to put in every detail they could afford. Mr. Jordan writes for another publication, "This Fanciulla arrived at about the peak of the 'bigger is better' naturalistic period at the Met.... Paradoxically, then, by trying so hard to make Fanciulla look real, Del Monaco succeeds only in making it look fake. And now, after 20 years, it looks faker than ever."

I loved tenor Tony Stevenson as Nick, the barkeep at Minnie's Polka Saloon. It's not a major role, but it included some great character work and some fine singing.  Barihunk bass Keith Miller has become a media darling, and he gave a fine performance as Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent.  I wouldn't mind having that fur coat he wore in Act II.  Dwayne Croft, in addition to other charms I tweeted about, offered his usual beautiful singing and deft characterization as Sonora.

Dear Opera Chic has already posted about goofy-grinned Sandra Radvanovsky's debut as high-def hostess, in more glowing terms than I would have used.  I'll just say she's no Debs, but she'll become more comfortable with practice.

I must say the singing and acting this go-around redeemed Fanciulla for me. It doesn't sound like Madama Butterfly with horses at all, and one can almost understand why Mr. Puccini was said to think of Fanciulla as his favorite opera.


Will said...

You and I appear to have sen the very same performance, you in HD, me at the opera house. It was FAR from the train wreck several commentators on line held it to be and I had a wonderful time.

I have felt Fanciulla to be Puccini's finest score since I first encountered it in the Birgit Nilsson recording dynamically conducted by Lovro von Matacic. The quality of it that strikes me more and more as I get older is the immense sense of yearning in the music, the pain of loss and loneliness that is everywhere in the opera. It hit me particularly hard Saturday afternoon in Mr. Luisotti's beautiful rendition of the score, so much so that I spent several moments in act 1 with tears streaming down my face.

Taminophile said...

Thanks, Will. I'll have to find that Nilsson recording. I want to know this opera more, and that is a change from my attitude before yesterday. I found myself crying, too, but at the end of the third act.

Lloyd Paguia Arriola said...

I would like to say that I enjoyed this post from our fine critic Taminophile, who is ever-engaging and brilliant. Watching FANCIULLA in the house is a shade disappointing, as it is surely Puccini's subtlest work for the lyric theatre. To see it in HD is far more satisfying, particularly for the fine detail one can hear in the orchestra that is necessarily muted in a house of 4000 seats in order to hear the singer. But no such difficulty exists here in the movie theatre. I was thrilled no end to hear Miss Voigt essay this role, and to see her sad face as she laments that she is "good for nothing" with the bar as background and an empty shot glass in front of her was tremendously affecting. So glad to have this as a way of seeing opera now, too. Bravo to all involved at the Met for this show!

Taminophile said...

My friend designerotter tried to comment the following, but it didn't work for reasons known only to God and Google:

Hello there ...Neal mentioned your post about Fanciulla (which I enjoyed reading, and I wanted to comment:

I just posted on this opera performance myself. Although, contrary to Neal's suggestion that I write critiques, I'd demur simply because I don't know enough about music or opera (even if it's tons compared to the man on the street).

When evaluating a performance composed by a great genius of the stage, I try to base it mostly on how well the production interpreted the sheer glory of the work.... and how much it moved me. On both counts I was very much impressed this time - and I've never seen Fanciulla before.

I'm happy you liked Debs in this production - I was blown away by her characterization as well as the gorgeous vocal performance. I certainly agree with your note about how well Giordani portrayed Puccini's outlaw-turned-good guy. Like you, I wasn't all that fond of the baritone's singing ... but I found his characterization quite convincing, maybe a bit operatic, but it was after all an opera.

One of the last Puccini operas I've seen was Souer Angelica (local university production), and there too I noticed that the master likes to tackle exposition at the beginning with a series of dense vignettes focusing momentarily on various peripheral characters, a technique so beautifully realized in Fanciulla. I liked the busy detail, which I think was justified in the composer and librettist's work.

Glad you're becoming a fan of Met HD telecasts. I got to see a lot of Met performances during my New York years and the telecasts really offer more detail than is possible live in the house. This year I decided what the hey, let's get tix to see them all - though during the Iphigenie performance I'm probably going to be stuck in a tech rehearsal myself ...grrr.