18 October 2007

A simpler madness

Donizetti LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Met 17.X.2007; c. Levine; Massis, Giordani, Kwiecien, Relyea.


A quick one; busy day. I'm pressing the "easy button", and claim how refreshing it was to finally hear a Lucia sung in an uncomplicated and fluid manner. Annick Massis brings to New York, beginning last night, a standard interpretation, on the heels of the other French soprano, Natalie Dessay whose face is still plastered all across town and the rest of my tickets, and whose overwrought approach to this bel canto is a tad problematic. But for Massis's ravishing top, you trade quite a bit of Dessay's miraculous volume. Here I'm surprised that James Levine, always a best friend of singers, does not scale down his Wagnerian orchestration for his tiny-voiced soprano, so her sound diffuses behind her duet partners easily, and her bland middle range swallowed mercilessly by the bright resonance of the Maestro's unforgiving strings. Perhaps to compensate for an unconventional sound, Dessay applied idiosyncratic shading and dramatic nuance to every other phrase of Lucia's music, varying from evening to evening (which now appears to be inspired by that drama-mechanic Meryl Streep, who she proclaims in the Charlie Rose interview to be the greatest actor in her mind), which could be exhausting to hear. In contrast, Massis brought but a breeze to the role, a light air, simple sparkling sun (if you can hear her)-- which made me sit back in bliss and enjoy this bel canto for what it is (and what it's not), though not so much, since Levine is still confusing Lucia with Otello. All this is saying is that, if Ruth Ann Swenson were only petite and had a marketable pop schtick (e.g., Angela's temperament, or Anna's boobs), problem solved.

[There was a misstep in the mad scene (aria proper) where Massis, in Lucia's ecstatic state, appeared to be going for another phrase entirely, losing Levine completely. Stopping to sing for a second (a terrifying eternity!), she rejoined the rest of the universe a couple of bars later. But the Melba cadenza returns too, along with the flute, and many many more sparkling top notes.]

UPDATE: I got a couple of e-mails protesting my implication that Massis is inaudible, which she's not, more or less. Lucky that key sections of Lucia's music are underlined by light orchestration (well scene, mad scene), so during these moments she's perfectly alright. But as soon as a duet is called for by the score, struggle ensues. With an aggressive pit, only her top notes, which are gorgeous, ring out over the commotion. Otherwise, her nonexistent chest (she seems to just declaim, in normal speaking voice, around this register) and her challenged passaggio just couldn't keep up with Hunding, Wotan, Siegmund, and Fricka (here called Raimondo, Enrico, Edgardo, and Alisa). I should apologize though for placing Massis squarely in the middle of the Dessay-Swenson hair-pulling bitch slap fest still unfolding in my mind. A polished artist in her own right, she most certainly doesn't deserve this location.