03 December 2004

Vivi, tirann-o-o-o-o!

Still half-asleep, but already crooning La Horne

First thing on my CD player this morning: that aria with La Horne (live Met concert with Leontyne Price and James Levine, 1982). First google search: "Is David Daniels really male?".

Golden age re-reborn. Daniels sang the Act II duet with his queen Renée Fleming without ceding any ground to the Met Hausfrau. The combination of their voices was thoroughly legit, and to me (with eyes closed) it sounded balanced and unforced. Daniels' is a smoky full-bodied sound, and, with lustrous Fleming's, created one of the many highpoints of the evening. And to be able to do Vivi, tiranno! unexpurgated and close to the fourth hour of the still-perfect evening, with all the principals present on stage, ("acting" their way through the Handelian repetitions as if in a silent movie), must be such pressure that only Michael Phelps could know. Daniels took the challenge like a man, and in the process may have temporarily out-diva'd the diva.

Daniels' rich cabernet was suitably complemented by "boy soprano" Bejun Mehta's pure clarified butter. Mehta may have been the only principal who won the battle against conductor Harry Bicket's vigorous tempi, which I wholeheartedly support, because the risk of sagging in Handel is severe and near-fatal to an unfamiliar audience. Because his voice is slender and uncomplicated, Mehta has amazing precision when it comes to baroque, and his scenes with Daniels are explosive (a testament to how far our nation has come with regards to transgendered people, a friend quipped). The handful of missteps between pit and stage (by others in the cast) will be corrected as the run progresses, as these things go, but it's not simply nit-picking, as Handel's eminently tappable construction (monotonous to a degree) demands inhuman accuracy. Anyway, moving on: every time Stephanie Blythe (the manliest of the mezzo/contre trio) opens her mouth I'm simply blown away. John Relyea, in the supporting role of Garibaldo, is indeed studly, and managed to keep the momentum rolling along with his filler segments. With all of the activity (honestly, much of it quite unfamiliar to me), I will demur on my evaluation of the debutante (and aptly named) Kobie van Rensburg, except to say that he fills the role quite perfectly.

Still, the queen of the night is Fleming, who we should all thank for making this magnificent event a reality, by actually buying her new CD instead of asking closeted-Fleming-fan friends for a copy (just for the sake of "completion," u-huh). She is the undisputed diva of the big house, and I for one am thankful that she uses her influence this way. The opera opens with her shackled in bed, moaning (oh gawd, I thought, how can she quickly destroy the cosmic symmetry of Handel with such ugly sounds), but ever the gamer she moaned with gusto, dragged her chains around, and lamented endearingly. Her book The Inner Voice explains much of the hard work she puts in to sound effortless, and while she still jazzes up and broadways some of her legato (nothing new here), her work remains relentlessly at its best.

I will say a couple of things about the elegant stage production at a later time, except to say kudos to those perverts who had Fleming in chains; Fleming *kissing* Daniels (with tongue, it seemed like) (the inexplicable fantasy of every opera queen, to taste the diva's mouth); slender Bejun topless (note to make-up department: please put some blush on his morbid-white body; his rosy neck and face seemed exotically "disembodied"); the Baba the Turk in Blythe aching to "bust" out of her frock and "top" Kobie.

Time now for a word from our sponsors (Renée, please paypal ad fees to me):

Bravi tutti! Boys, hoard those tickets now and show Norma Fantini she's not the only girl who can sell out this month.

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