"West Wing" has gone on hiatus and I taped over the season finale for last
night's Met/Verdi marathon. Since I work for a PBS affiliate I'm proud to
say that we here in Central Ohio were spared-not by much-another endless
cacophony of elderly British sitcoms and Lawrence Welk re reruns. TV 34
brought in the Met loud and clear.
It was a good night for nostalgia. I note with some concern that Mo. Levine
looked terrible in his segments narrating the proceedings. Channel 13 can't
afford a little pancake and flattering lighting? Thirty years at the Met
might be too long for anyone's health. I treasure a lot of Levine
performances. But Verdi, Ah! Verdi. Levine was right. The variety this
composer offered was astonishing. To me, Rigoletto, Aida, Otello, Ballo and
Traviata always sound fresh and new. I don't tire of them, and as I age I
try harder to go to the scores and decipher what Verdi was doing. Living
out of New York I have less opportunity to hear these works "live" so I
vary my listening of recordings as much as possible. You can learn a lot
about the works themselves by comparing performances.
It was good to hear Pavarotti toss off the Act I scene I finale of Ballo as
if he hadn't a care in the world. The King's delicious arrogance was in the
music and in the Pav's approach. It was good to hear prime Millo. To me her
voice lacks that last ounce of personality that marks a great artist, but
she convinced me she was Amelia, not Aprile playing Amelia. Sad to note
that prime Millo didn't last long-she was, what in her early thirties for
his telecast? Now its Tosca in the Parks. A shame. May she come back at
full strength and have many more good years. Nucci made more of himself in
his brief moments in Ballo and Rigoletto than I remembered-his strong
performance of Rig. at the Met last year surprised me. There were Domingo
and Milnes, both young(er) and handsome, Milnes, full of ego and a few
years away from a vocal crisis he writes of honestly in his book, American
Aria. I heard Milnes a lot and loved him. Big voice and personality, full
of himself and good for him. I hope program 2 offers scenes from his
Boccanegra. I was in standing room for Miss Price's final Aida. The
telecast has souvenir status, like looking at a fine painting under glass.
The great lady's voice was in pieces, the top totally head voice and
disconnected from the rest. The lower range -never a strong point-gone. So
what? Price owned this role for years, and her voice turned me on to opera.
God bless her.
Telecasts seen this many years later show us great artists in all their
courage and all their frailty. Top me, the frailties make them greater.
I found three revelations: Scotto, MacNeil and Vickers. If you went to the
Met often in the 80s you heard a lot of Scotto. I was one who despaired of
her voice, got tired of her mannerisms and basically didn't know my ass
from my elbow. She had me riveted in the Don Carlo scene. Being paired
with Tatiana Troyanos didn't hurt. (I suspect Troyanos too, was taken for
granted during her best years--I don't have sufficient words for her Eboli.
Thrilling comes to mind. God rest her soul). Scotto makes more use of text
than any other artist I've seen. When asking for the return of her
crucifix, even if you knew what came next you were wondering what is going
to happen next? The Otello scene with Vickers found two giant
personalities at their best. Neither backed away, but they fed off of each
other memorably. Even in the late 70s Scotto was singing carefully, but she
brought such dignity, such class to Desdemona.
I was enthralled by Vickers without liking him. I found no vulnerability in
his Otello, no struggle to get out of the hole of jealousy and despair. He
came across as a bully, a thug. Otello's response to Desdemona, "grazie
madonna" should be filled with hope that she is after all, casta. I found
this Otello sizing his wife up for the slaughter too soon. I bow to none in
my appreciation of Vickers as an artist and I would not have missed this
performance for the world, even if I was disconcerted by his
interpretation. That was probably his point!
MacNeil. Hearing opera from the back row of the Hynes Auditorium in Boston
when you are 12 years old is not a good way to keep memories. I remember
the smell of popcorn and exhaust from the auto show that had vacated in
time for the Met load in. I met Francis Robinson years later who told
me, "I've seen better looking mental hospitals." (I figured I shouldn't
ask). It was better than the years when the Met followed the circus. Gobbi,
Siepi, Tucker, Sutherland, Tebaldi, Corelli--I heard em all and don't
remember much. I heard MacNeil a lot. His bit in Otello was effective-I
thought his Rigoletto was stunning. (I heard his Rigoletto with Roberta
Peters and a tenor called Octaviano Naghiu. Terrible to remember that name
and nothing else about the evening) I remember watching this Rigoletto
telecast-somebody made a beer run during the Act II duet-The sound of
MacNeil's "all onda!" is still ringing in my ears. That sound kept me up
all night. That's another mark of an artist. They get to you and don't let
go easily. I got that from last night's telecast: from Scotto, MacNeil,
Vickers, from Troyanos and from the Pav. And from Verdi.
Greetings to all
who wouldn't mind dumplings of Levine's Mahler 3 with the Boston Symphony