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Subject: Enzo's Fall Opera Journey (Pt. 4): Carmen-Met-10/12/98
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Date:Thu, 22 Oct 1998 13:44:43 EDT
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Greetings, all!

Enzo here, with the fourth installment in his fall opera travelogue.  This
post concerns the season prima of Carmen at the Met, a performance featuring
the company debut of Beatrice Uria-Monzon in the title role.  There was some
anticipatory buzz beforehand about the unusual phenomenon of experiencing a
French native as Carmen.  After all, the last such rarity had been Regine
Crespin during the 1970's.  In actuality, idiomatic correctness turned out to
be a minor selling point:  Uria-Monzon possessed only moderately interesting
vocal material and sounded decidedly overparted in a house the size of the
Met.

In terms of endowment, Uria-Monzon is more a Cherubino than the force of
nature required to fill a large-scale production of Bizet's warhorse.  Of
course, it could be argued that a Von Stade-like instrument is well-suited to
the comique form of Carmen.  However, since the overblown Met production is
lightyears away from such an approach, the aptitude of Uria-Monzon for this
kind of assignment becomes a moot point.  The mezzo-soprano pushed her limited
voice relentlessly, employing generous amounts of exaggerated chest voice,
glottal attacks and other misguided attempts at the grand manner.  What might
have sounded commanding and/or sexy in the hands of Stevens, Bumbry, Verrett
and Resnik registered in this context as shrewish, hectoring and resolutely
unseductive.

A tall, gangling figure onstage, Uria-Monzon eschewed any attempt at
traditional operatic voluptuousness but then failed to captured the earthy,
elemental quality she seemed to be pursuing.  Saddled in true Zeffirelli-like
fashion with various props and enough business to pad three stagings, the
mezzo-soprano looked ill-at-ease in the Habanera, fumbling with cards,
matches, cigarettes, etc.  As expected, the one unalloyed pleasure of Uria-
Monzon's performance was her beautiful, natural way with the text and
language.

If he were blessed with a more glamorous instrument, Franco Farina would be
among the leading tenors of today.  As it is, Farina's musically nuanced,
sensitively phrased Don Jose placed him far ahead of the Met's other house
tenors.  I was greatly impressed by his use of mezza-voce and messa di voce.
The voice starts to lose tonal quality when pressed for volume but the overall
sound is arrestingly rich and attractive.  If only he had been given the
encouragement to conclude the Flower Song on a fully sustained pianissimo!
Instead, Farina began with the usual bellowed B flat, then did an absolutely
gorgeous diminuendo on the note.  He isn't much of an actor but he does make a
convicing love interest onstage.

As Escamillo, Gino Quilico was only a shadow of his formerly imposing self.
The voice has dried out and become alarmingly unreliable:  only a few phrases
into "Votre toast," the baritone was struggling to sustain a sense of line.
Throughout the evening, there was an unsettling air of unpredictability about
Quilico's performance.  A well-delivered phrase would be followed by another
marred by cracking, hollowness or other defects.  'Tis a pity in one still
young.

The standout of the evening was Hei-Kyung Hong.  She is surely the most
radiant, unaffected and vocally resplendent Micaela to have trod the Met stage
since Mirella Freni renounced the role.  Except for a distracting habit of
covering her top notes in order to generate a darker tone color, Hong's
singing gave unalloyed pleasure.  The pure, focused and uncloying sweetness of
her instrument made the famous aria even more of a highlight than normal.  She
earned loud, long and totally deserved ovations here and at the final curtain
calls.  The Met would be well-advised to utilize her aptitude for the French
lyric fach in a numer of parts:  Marguerite, Manon, Antonia and Melisande come
to mind.

There was a rousing ensemble of comprimarios at this performance, including
Emily Pulley's vivacious Frasquita and Nathan Gunn's dashing Morales.  David
Robertson's conducting deserves credit for intention--if not execution.
Perhaps a lack of rehearsal time prevented him from achieving his obvious
attempts at subtle, dynamically varied musicmaking.  The choral scenes
featured a number of scene-stealing wannabes, including a Wesley Snipes-in-
drag lookalike who cavorted about outrageously during the entrance of the
cigarette girls.

In general, the lack of directorial focus was the evening's most serious
liability.  The technicolor lightshow displayed on the showcurtain during the
various preludes, complete with projections of belle epoque femme fatales in
closeup, merely served to trivialize the music.  Zeffirelli's settings were
similarly cheap and uninspired:  that fenced-in crucifix festooned with
lanterns looked like rejected statuary from a La Quinta Inn.  The staging had
more than its share of risible moments, including a priest who dragged off one
of the street urchins for God-knows-what purpose.

A ho-hum evening, alas, and a depressing end to my otherwise stimulating stay
in the Big Apple.  On to New Orleans!

Enzo Bordello

P.S.  To all who have written me privately to voice their support and outrage
over that unprovoked attack from "Polly Matheson," I thank you.  Yes, of
course, it's Albert Innaurato.  I wonder why certain segments of the operatic
community continue to take such buffoonery seriously.  No matter.  Making a
fool of oneself online is certainly his right.  The more abusive material I
forward to his server and Bob Kosovsky.

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