02 November 2005

James Levine

Mozart COSÌ FAN TUTTE, Met 01.11.2005; Levine; Frittoli, Kožená, Focile, Polenzani, Kwiecien, Allen.

All night he sits in what appears to be a velvet-cushioned chair especially designed for him, his field of motion these days confined to within about a foot and a half from his still trunk, filled in by half-folded arms, three or four small gestures (including one for turning the score), and one thin baton. It is a magic wand. There are moments in the Così when the evening doesn't sound like Mozart at all: the music is the music I felt that first time I looked out from the top of the Empire State over a silent city and there was only a breeze; cool air as I come out from a tropical subway platform; that flicker of light first seen as I wake up and it's a sunny day and I'm home. Sieglinde is always allowed a little over-the-top BS, but listen to me: this Così has become ether, and James Levine, in love, within his constrained physics organizes a swirl of sound with just enough quiet convection to keep the feather afloat. I can't explain what happens. No one pushes time or pulls for attention: the strings radiate an uncommon generosity, imperfect voices always find a good place, familiar arias are revealed from yet another secret view. I say to myself, "Oh, this may have been what Mozart heard in the opera house of his mind" or, at times, "Hold a sec, did Mozart even intend it to sound this light like light." I don't go to church any more; Levine's Così turns the house into a cathedral; God must be the Awe. Levine is 420, yellowtail sashimi from Tomoe, McDonalds french fries (kissed with lotsa McD salt) with diet Coke. Blindfold me, seat me in my box, start playing: I can tell if Levine's at the pit. But how can I, running on limited function, ability, and experience, make such a claim without any sense of arrogance, self-admiration, or ego? (Above the five other principals, Barbara Frittoli stands out, and among the many anti-Flemings around, she may be the most authentic: a veiled but clear sound, faltering beautifully at the edges, soft, sensitive attack on the notes and unforced lines, white opal dipped in tears, endearing.)