16 November 2004

Help Wanted: Aida

November 15, 2004
Metropolitan Opera

(also posted on Opera-L)

Tonight featured Italian Norma Fantini, gorgeous body, charming face, intense stage presence; unfortunately, Aida is a singing part. She probably does much better in the smaller houses that populate her bio; however, since the MET auditorium is unforgiving to a soprano voice that fails to bloom significantly at the upper registers, Fantini's talent wasn't easily apparent to those seated farther than the front orchestra. In fact, during her Act II duet with the Amneris, Irina Mishura (whose voice is only adequately sized) sounded exceptionally lush and vivid while Fantini sang faintly, as if in mono; another instance: Fantini's Ritorna vincitor downstage was about as loud as Jennifer Check's Priestess sung backstage; her forte top notes sounded less like a soprano and more like an ambitious mezzo: vibrato-laden, constricted, and edgy. I don't mean to be too fussy about vocal size, but obviously in order to be appreciated, a voice must first be heard and heard well--and really it's not only the size that matters but the capacity for resonance. Fantini's instrument has neither the extra heft/umph, nor the ringing resonance that can make a smallish voice penetrate the depths of the MET auditorium (witness La Fleming).

Once one is reconciled with the fact that this isn't a big-voiced Aida, the other more favorable aspects of Fantini's voice come into focus. Italians singing Italian opera in NYC are a rare breed these days, and so it's a treat when a native with much passion and theatrical instincts forms something out of a too-familiar role; however, the tragedy of not having an evenly audible instrument is only emphasized once again. In the piano/pianissimo department, she has the goods (especially during thinly orchestrated portions of the opera), and so it wasn't all a bust. (Although again, the Numi pieta that capped Ritorna vincitor was just about as loud as the intense "forte"s that preceeded it. For reference, Iwas seated in the balcony boxes about halfway, where I sit majority of the time.)

Mishura is fast becoming our house dramatic mezzo, and we should count ourselves lucky, though as she steadily conquers beloved Dolora Zajick's repertory, we are also reminded of how truly, truly exceptional Z is. The best part of this Aida was the judgment scene; Mishura can throw chest with the best of them, and moreover she has authentic and accurate high notes. She was the one voice tonight that prevented this Aida from degenerating fully into regional opera quality. The debut of Ambrogio Maestri as Amonasro was greeted warmly; his duet with Aida in Act III was satisfyingly Hunding-like. As for Franco Farina, no remnants of his cold were detectable, so now I can only blame the basic quality of his voice for the unpleasant expressions on my face during key parts of Radames'music. Farina tries his best, no one can doubt, but there is a vulgar, undisciplined/unschooled color in his voice that doesn't sit well with me; he sings with an open style that is probably too naked for my personal comfort.

In short, we continue to hold vigil for the coming of an authentic Aida. It's very telling that my diva event today wasn't at the MET but during this afternoon's Oprah, where the Destiny's Child triumvirate sang and danced their latest single "Lose My Breath." Did anyone see it, and didn't you think they were absolutely divine?? Beyonce is da bomb.