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Subject: MET Romeo et Juliette - in the cinemas
From: David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 22 Jan 2017 15:43:06 -0500
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One attended this Romeo et Juliette or tuned in for it with high hopes that
the Met has to do better this time than on the previous two afternoon
broadcasts to have started the new year.  It hardly seemed ingratiating to
see Ailyn Perez emcee this event, given how badly the La Boheme of the
previous Saturday came to an end. I practically thought that the Mimi might
have had her bags packed for an cruise to Rio De Janiero the way she very
healthily, too heavily went about 'Sono andati' and what followed.  Susanna
Phillips, the understated but still very fine Musetta, almost sounded more
like someone who would be a natural for the part of Mimi than did Perez, but
oddly enough her 'Donde lieta uscite' was, though still a little heavy,
quite good.  

Michael Fabiano was a combination of quite good and a little that would have
to be taken on faith as Rodolfo.  Alessio Arduini, very much a lyric
baritone, engaged in much unpleasant forcing with a juddery vibrato as
Marcello- after his fine, well animated Schaunard from Salzburg a few
seasons ago.  Carlo Rizzi, apart from a few sluggish tempos, started off
well, but then one heard the almost literally screamed (and unwritten) high
C at the end of the first scene of Act One, then thoroughly non-marcato
trumpets to open the Cafe Momus scene, a streamlining of conducting this
scene overall, allowing for hardly any necessary contrast between episodes.
 Blatantly ignored dynamics, for instance when it is coming to light that
Mimi has just died (or perhaps has just departed for Brazil instead),where
violins are marked double pianissimo and got played closer to mezzo forte
further was really off balance.  I am not sure whose ennui was the greater -
that of the four Bohemians on stage to start Act Four or of who stood on the
podium.  Mugging and blithering for comic episodes provided hardly any
relief.  Usually if any scene in La Boheme is going to crash, it is going to
be Act Two, but no here. Apart from Christian Van Horn as Colline and
Phillips, there was nothing distinctive to even well attempt saving the
second half of Act Three.  

The heavy and cutesy fletcherizing of 'La mia cuffieta' was most unwelcome-
before she tosses it off her bed (then gets up and wrestles the Rodolfo to
the floor?  Was it a La Traviata i read about or a Boheme in the final scene
of which this very thing occurred),   With the wodge in the passaggio, the
over-acting, unreliable top and lack of support, it became obvious to me
that Perez, perhaps in even studying this part, had consulted with who I
consider and many should, when it comes to vocal production, the devil or
anti-Christ incarnate herself, Renata Scotto.  Who could deny it?  Even with
ordinary conducting again, a (circa) 1984 Boheme from the Met starred Ileana
Cotrubas, who that Saturday even went a little further out of the way than
her usual to bring Mimi to life, with variety of all subtle nuance, color,
level thereof, thereby having then completely lost herself in the part. This
was indeed a very notable achievement.

After the success this pair, Damrau and Grigolo - had with Massenet's Manon
two seasons ago, this Romeo et Juliette turned out almost one to be a
surefire hit, even if it could not eschew memory of Cotrubas.  Things got
off to an uncertain start yesterday, with the curtain up before any music
sounded and no applause for Noseda to enter the pit.  I thought I was sure
we were at the cinema to wait for Romeo et Juliette to begin, not Parsifal
or Das Rheingold.
Following the brief prologue, homage to Hector Berlioz as Gounod made it,
this with still a mostly unchanging monolithic gray set design by Michael
Yeargan, Act One began with the much expected partying revelry, but here
muted by dark lighting, a slight lack of oomph to the rhythms, then the
muffled sonics at the cinema (the Edwards in Houston). Noseda evinced
confident command of much of the first half, apart from a few lapses into
sluggish tempos and a little stodginess here and there.  it was then more
difficult to find fault with him for a certainly better focused second half.
  The lack of contrast in lighting between scenes during the first half had
one feeling like just having ingested a half dosage of Valium, stepping out
for the interval.

Elliott Madore, while better and incisive, though still throaty for the
fight scene to come, made heavy handed work of the Queen Mab solo in the
first scene.  The Tybalt of Diego Silva, a second novice in this cast, made
a stylish, though bland impression. The casting of Juan Francisco Gatell for
Tybalt on the Salzburg dvd of this production, with his incisive accents and
dashing appearance, is luxurious, but pays off.  Laurent Naouri, though a
little dry vocally at first, evinced fine rhythmic, animated aplomb, grace,
for Capulet's couplets, then fine grasp of nobility and authority for all
else.  Mikhail Petrenko's dryly sonorous Frere Laurent, with his simplicity
of utterance and diction, also made a positive impression.  

Diana Damrau lit up almost the entire stage with her sweeping, opulent
entrance on stage.   Chorus members sitting around her for the waltz song
was undermining,in addition to Damrau showing some instability above the
staff for an otherwise spirited opening to her part.  The chemistry between
Damrau and Grigolo on stage was immediately apparent and paid increasing
dividends for the entire rest of this.  Though ending with a forced high
B-Flat at the end and a little Italianate overall, 'Ah leve-toi soleil' was
almost entirely a highlight for the whole afternoon.  He and Damrau shared
an excellent second half, with Grigolo's heroic command of the fight scene
and fully voiced and nuanced romantic ardor for all the rest, capping the
former with a ringing high C.  With Damrau, during the potion aria, i was
taken aback with the full voiced passion, with full body to her tone, with
which she took it on.  

Virginie Verrez as the page boy Stephano made a confident, dapper impression
in I reckon her stage debut at the Met.  Diana Montague found much wry
nuance and warm interaction to display especially with Damrau for her
handsome portrayal of Gertrude.  The remainder of this cast, partly apart
from Oren Gradus commanding some attention as the Duke, was ordinary.
The Met chorus had its both off and on moments for the day, as is typically
the case anymore.

A real downer occurred during intermission. Ailyn Perez was hardly at all
making it less an infomercial than Met intermissions have become in full
long by now.  Set, costume designer, and producer came on to begin to
explain to us that the sets and costumes for this Romeo et Juliette were
taking their cue from Casanova di Fellini.  Oh really!  I had to fight
myself from dismissing the entire Bart Sher production of this as entirely a
bill of goods.  Dark kitsch hardly at all makes the case for providing us
opera-comique, but I did have to admit that the organic feel to much
interaction on stage, from between Damrau and Grigolo (though Damrau's
mastery of the stage under any circumstances seems exceptional anymore)
through very physical fight scenes all looked and felt very organic -
engaging this way.   Other than some gestures, especially during ensemble
scenes and a campy Mercutio to boot, follow-through on invoking Fellini, one
of his mediocre films, was weak.

With somewhat better lighting on the Salzburg dvd - on which intonation and
tone production from both Machaidze and Villazon tends to bog down certainly
more than what was heard yesterday, more of what touch there was to this
staging and color comes to light.  Whether it is Tosca, as originally staged
by Luc Bondy (seen much better from Munich- on an air-check dvd), or this
Romeo et Juliette, the Met's hand at delivering kitsch however remains an
unsteady one - so frequently the case nowadays.

Diana Damrau's curtain call antics, hamming things up with Grigolo almost as
her straight man while lifting her up twice into the air,  compensating for
much lack of animation earlier on, making for instance her sing her waltz
song as though in a vacuum almost fully succeeded.  Almost. Much of a
continuing lift to one's spirits as one exited the hall or cinema nevertheless.

David H Spence

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