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Subject: Andrew Byrne's take on Met Gala - "and no-one's anybody!"
From: Andrew Byrne <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Andrew Byrne <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 10 May 2017 13:53:49 -0400

text/plain (135 lines)

Sensational Met Opera 50 Year Anniversary concert.  6pm Sunday 7th May 

Dear Colleagues, 

There was electricity in the air before this night of nights – some of the 
singers were still in the foyers before the concert, mingling with patrons, 
donors and invited guests.  There was a red carpet and photographers.  
The program had been kept secret but 30 of the Met’s named singers 
would be giving their own, along with the chorus, orchestra and three 
conductors for the home crowd in Manhattan.  There were lots of men in 
tuxedoes and women’s fashions were very much on show.  

The sentimental favourite would have to be Renee Fleming while old-
timers’ prizes went to James Morris and Placido Domingo.  Morris sang the 
Grand Inquisitor as well as Ramfis in the Triumphal March – and there was 
no need for any allowances for age as both men held their own with others 
half their age.   

The carefully chosen operatic excerpts were interspersed with brief 
interviews and old newsreels related to the Lincoln Center.  In B&W we saw 
President Eisenhower turn the first sod for construction; Leonard Bernstein 
conducted an open-air ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus on the building site; we heard a 
recent interview with 90 year old Leontyne Price whose regal photograph 
as Cleopatra’s adorns the Met programs during May.  We also learned how 
an accidental paint spill on the foyer plans indirectly caused the design for 
the unique ‘galaxy’ light fittings, contrary to the wishes of Rudolf Bing and 
management who had wanted traditional chandeliers.  Mr Chagall asked for 
his murals to be lowered (!). Too late! 

The stage setting for each item was a re-creation using projections onto 
moving curtains, scrims and giant flats sliding in from the wings.  The 
manner by which this was done was like rapid painting with an invisible 
brush causing columns, walls, arches, wall-paper, etc to appear before our 
eyes - each time to reveal a familiar Met scena.  Most impressive for me 
was the classic Act I Boheme attic garret, doors, balcony, chimneys, roofs 
of Paris, etc, all a projected illusion apart from a small raised platform, 
student table and two chairs from which Ms Yoncheva and Mr Calleja 
performed.  It was trompe l’oeil after a fashion.  Some settings even got 
their own applause such as for Tosca (interiors of Palazzo Farnese), Aida 
(Nile colossi, etc) and Boris Godunov (gilt arched chambers).  The program 
stated that there were representations of 59 different production scenes for 
the evening, put together brilliantly by Julian Crouch.  Costumes were 
either original from the production or tasteful gowns, etc.  

In the middle of the second half there was a projected bio of James Levine 
from his student years right through his very long association with The 
Metropolitan Opera.  Then the spotlights moved to the podium where 
Maestro himself appeared in his chair, waving to an adoring 
crowd.  “Jimmy” then conducted the remainder of the concert.  

I mention the evening’s wonderful selections in no particular order … each 
item could have been a perfect music lesson.  Inevitably there were some 
crowd-pleasers: Un bel di (Anna Netrebko); E lucevan le stelle (Vittorio 
Grigolo); Vissi d'arte (Kristine Opelais); Sempre libera (Diana Damrau); 
Che gelida manina, Mi chiamano Mimi, O suave fanciulla, (Joseph Calleja, 
Sonya Yoncheva).  

Mozart: Papagano's aria (Michael Volle); Porgi amor (Renee Fleming); 
Count's Aria Nozze di Figaro (Volle); 

And from left field: Overture from West Side Story (started proceedings); 
Chorus from Antony and Cleopatra (Samuel Barber’s opera was 
commissioned to open the Met); Bess, you is my woman now (Eric Owens, 
Pretty Yende); The Tempest (by Ades) love scene (Isobel Leonard, Ben 
Bliss with Dwayne Croft); Julius Caesar 'Sempre piangero' (David Daniels, 
Stephanie Blythe).  

For the serious consumer: Nemico della patria (Domingo – the French 
election result had just been announced); Iago's credo (Zeljko Lucic); Leve-
toi soleil (Grigolo standing in for Florez); Mon coeur s'ouvre (Elena Garanca 
as Dalila); Guests' Entrance, Tannhauser (with trumpets on stage); Quando 
le sere al placido (Piotr Beczala); Don Carlo: Grand Inquisitor's scene with 
Phillip V (Groissbock / Morris).   

For the connoisseur: Boris's Mad Scene (Rene Pape); Troyens duet (Susan 
Graham, Matthew Polenzani); Thais duet with Fleming and Domingo; 
Charlotte’s aria from Werther (DiDonato).   

For the Guinness record book: Bel raggio lusinghier (Joyce DiDonato); Ah 
mes amis (Javier Camarena) with 9 high C’s!  All pitch perfect, alternating 
staccato and sustained – and all with ease and a Mexican smile!!  Lady 
Macbeth’s scene, Act I (Netrebko in amazing form).  

Just for fun: Don Pasquale duet (Pretty Yende, Mariusz Kwiecien); 
Triumphal March, Aida with full chorus (but no final 'Mexican' E flat as we 
heard on Sydney Harbour last year with the same wonderful soprano, 
Latonia Moore).  

About 7pm to our great surprise Mr Gelb announced that ‘a very brave 
Dimitry Hvorostovsky’ would sing Corteggiani vil razza – which he did, 
brilliantly.  The popular baritone received a standing ovation even before 
he opened his mouth – still recovering after brain surgery.  He seemed 
delighted with the reception, even shedding a tear as did many in the 
audience I suspect.  I noted many Russian accents in the foyers during the 
single intermission.  

Just after the Thais excerpt the orchestra started playing a violin obligato 
which I thought momentarily to be the Meditation.  It was actually the final 
scene of I Lombardi in which the violin features as a solo instrument just as 
the ‘cello does in I Masnadieri.  It is hard to know if Verdi was simply 
showing off his orchestral skills or showcasing a particular instrumentalist, 
or both.  Yet in this scene the melding of the strings, vocal and dramatic 
lines indeed shows his unique genius and was highly appropriate to show it 
off again.  Like numerous items, it heralds the newly announced season for 
2017/8.  Here we heard Michael Fabiano, Angela Mead and Gunther 
Groissbock sing the trio.  The fiddle was played by David Chan with great 
virtuosity, showing off the most difficult manoeuvres of that instrument.  I 
was sorry Mr Fabiano did not sing La mia letizia infondere from Act I … this 
was one of Pavarotti’s favourite show pieces.  I heard Luciano Pavarotti, 
Lauren Flanagan and Samuel Ramey in this scene on this stage many years 
ago, reminding me that I have been attending this house for half of its life 
(since 1992).  

The quality of the singing goes without saying.  Each singer put their heart 
and soul into each piece and adrenalin levels were high, despite most 
performing familiar pieces.  Just as people were starting to seriously look at 
their watches near 11pm we had the selection from Aida and it was all 
over, barring the huge curtain calls which were also very emotional.  I 
pinched myself yet again.  What can one say?!  “Thank you”, say I.  

Notes by Andrew Byrne ..

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