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Subject: Re: Sutherland's Met Trovatore (was Re: Fwd: WHEN TO RETIRE)
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 30 Nov 2017 21:03:42 -0800
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I saw a couple of performances during Sutherland’s first run of “Trovatore” in San Francisco in 1975, which, I believe, was also Pavarotti’s first go at Manrico on stage.

I felt Sutherland badly miscast. The sound of the voice was cold and her handling of cadenzas, such as the one at the end of “Tacea la notte” was clinically precise rather than expansive and rapturous. In fact, warmth and expansiveness were, in general, seriously lacking in both her musical and vocal approach which, given that Bonynge was conducting an opera by some obscure composer who clearly wasn’t Verdi, gave a very limp and static representation. I though I knew “Il Trovatore” well but little of this sounded at all like “Il Trovatore.”

Both times, she was badly upstaged by Azucena. The first night, Elena Obrazstsova, making her local debut, had significantly more vocal color and charisma and, on the later performance, Shirley Verrett completely took charge of the stage (and popped out high Cs significantly bigger and more beautiful than any of Sutherland’s high notes).

Pavarotti wasn’t bad, but other than the Azucena, I was also much more impressed by Ingvar Wixell as de Luna than by either the soprano or tenor lead.

I saw Livia Budai once as Eboli. A seat neighbor reacted appropriately “the mezzo - they should have left her wherever they found her."

Four years earlier, Domingo (filling in felicitously for an indisposed James King) had been a much more impressive Manrico. No gleaming high Cs, but so much more sense of line and forward thrust in the music as well as a real grasp of character. Of course, Domingo was singing to Leontyne Price as Leonora, which was a huge advantage. These people just seemed to have so much better an idea of “how it’s supposed to go” musically.

Max Paley

> On Nov 30, 2017, at 8:27 PM, Max D. Winter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> Rich Lowenthal wrote:
> 
> "Performances can be booked years in advance, perhaps while the aging 
> singer is still capable of performing the role satisfactorily." 
> 
> Bing commented on that problem as far back as the mid-60s - having to book in-demand 
> singers years in advance and not knowing what vocal shape they were going to be in by the 
> time the performance arrived.  (And yes, Bing may have started the book-ahead merry-go-
> round, but if he hadn't done it, someone else would have.)
> 
> As for Sutherland's farewell Trovatores (of which I saw one), she certainly was not at her 
> best - her voice had that "beat" in it by then - but by the time Act IV rolled around, she was 
> singing very well indeed.  She was the only bright spot in an otherwise atrocious production 
> (all those steps and those columns doing their menacing pavane) with Pavarotti an under-
> powered Manrico and limp conducting from Bonynge.  A singer of her stature certainly 
> merited that final fling, imperfect as it was.  And I'm curious - what other role(s) do you 
> think would have been appropriate for her farewell?  I think Leonora was as good a choice 
> as any.  At least she didn't have to transpose, like she did in the Puritani a couple of seasons 
> earlier.
> 
> Donal Henahan's NYT review of the opening night was one of the most scathing I have ever 
> read: 
> 
> "Normally it takes a new opera production years to decline to the point of terminal 
> weariness and ineptitude, but the Metropolitan Opera's ''Trovatore'' reached that sad state 
> in one evening, at last night's premiere. Placing the blame precisely is not easy, simply 
> because there is so much blame to go around. However, let us start with Richard Bonynge, 
> who conducted lifelessly, apparently concerned with little more than keeping the orchestra 
> down. That expedient did allow the famous voice of Joan Sutherland, his wife and the 
> evening's Leonora, to be clearly heard. Unfortunately, it also helped drain most of the 
> vitality from a Verdian score that must either overflow with the stuff or fall embarrassingly 
> flat."
> 
> Henahan went on to disparage Pavarotti's "strained and absentminded vocalism" and 
> proclaimed that "Livia Budai a Hungarian mezzo-soprano with a hooty voice and little 
> dramatic authority, failed utterly as Azucena. At the end of her big scene, she was impolitely 
> but justifiably booed."  Nucci's Di Luna was "respectable routine at best." 
> 
> As for Sutherland, Henahan was kinder while noting her vocal failings:
> 
> "Certainly the Australian diva deserves a respect that this production did not afford. 
> Although the voice now sounds wan and attenuated, what Miss Sutherland can still do with 
> it at age 61 is the stuff of opera legend. The flexibility and tonal beauty, particularly in light, 
> high passages, is remarkable. Notes are often attacked too carefully for any dramatic good, 
> and the fabled top is no longer rock- steady. But by the time she arrived at the ''Miserere'' 
> she was putting it all together vocally and the years were falling away - at any rate for 
> listeners old enough to remember her when. Miss Sutherland's deft handling of ''D'amor 
> sull'ali rosee'' in the same scene provided more than a souvenir for diva collectors; it was 
> elegant vocalism many a young soprano might learn from."
> 
> As for the production:
> 
> "Though Fabrizio Melano was listed as the producer of this ''Il Trovatore,'' the idea that 
> anyone actually directed the solo singers or the chorus strained belief. At one moment the 
> staging had soldiers literally going around in circles with no evident motive. In a similarly 
> mysterious maneuver, a squad of soldiers was racked up and formed into a triangle like so 
> many billiard balls.  Ezio Frigerio's economical but banal sets consisted mostly of six groups 
> of marbleized pillars that moved about for reasons known perhaps only to the designer. The 
> long flights of black stairways, which would have made sense in the massacre scene of ''I 
> Vespri Siciliani,'' served little purpose here but to force singers to totter up and down them 
> perilously."
> 
> Ouch.
> 
> MDW
> 
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