06 October 2005

A Breathtaking Evening

Strauss ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, Met 05.10.2005; Petrenko; Urmana, Damrau, Graham, Villars, Allen.

For the role of Ariadne, Deborah Voigt creates a fierce goddess out of a solid column of sound built firmly from chest to piercing top. In comparison, Violetta Urmana, this evening's Ariadne, is a more earthbound being: sexy and playful, releasing a sound of many colors and dimensions and an aural swirl of blinding beauty, pitch-complete. Urmana caresses the Strauss with a pliable soprano (recently reworked from a bland,unmemorable mezzo) of impressive dynamic range: high pianissimi that float and linger, and fortes of respectable proportions. Voigt can barrel a ff note through space like a firetruck, and when she burns all cylinders you're surrounded by a solid thing. Urmana undertakes an Ariadne of more delicate layers: one is not blown away (the way Voigt's galactic brilliance affects me), but instead grabbed and pulled in closer. Two contrasting but equally compelling creations: don't ask me to choose, bitch.

Diana Damrau threatens to impose a Zerbinetta auf Naxos a la Natalie Dessay, whom in my ears she equalled in note count and precision, and approximated in confidence and elegance. Her timbre is saccharine, vocal production well-schooled, carriage very professional. Meanwhile, towards the end of the opera, Jon Villars provides a surprise treat as Bacchus, a one-dimensional role that almost always fails to make an impression amidst the intricate estrogen. We're all too ready to absolve the tenor who fails to reach a few top notes, blaming Strauss instead for the stratospheric trajectories. Instead, tonight Villars pins every one of them, and everytime he opens his healthy mouth, the spotlight leaves Urmana momentarily. Susan Graham, the evening's Composer, has a rich, creamy, feminine mezzo that thrives in Strauss's sentimental meanderings (more than in Mozart's more boyish Cherubino, a role she took up for the house prima two weeks ago). The Maestro, Kirill Petrenko, is a sucker for the Composer's many poignant poses, which he drags out a bit too much for good taste. As a result, Graham has to interrupt two soaring phrases with a quick intake of breath (understandably choosing life over art). All the buttery slo-mo portraits has Graham exhausted by the Prologue's end, and she's left spewing out strained tones and hard approximations of the remaining top notes. I place much of the blame on Maestro Petrenko primarily, and then some on Graham's intrinsic mezzo-limitations. Nonetheless, her endearing Composer is purely gorgeous, and if she had a more singer-sensitive conductor (like Levine), she'd be the evening's star.

The Yankees lost tonight, but so what.