03 May 2006

Soft Landing

Handel RODELINDA, Met 02.V.2006; c. Summers; Fleming, Scholl (d), van Rensburg, Blythe, Relyea, Dumaux (d), Vail Elkind.

DEBUTS. Andreas Scholl's adolescent-sweet voice suspends the sighing first act aria "Dove sei" in a delicate, whispery breeze. Indeed it is odd to hear that kind of gentle voice compete with Renee Fleming's in the heartrending "Lo t'abbraccio" duet, but who refuses an angel's kiss on the cheek. (David Daniels, last season's Bertarido, is a smoky lesbian to Scholl's girl on the verge of falling in love.) Three hours into the opera, the "Vivi tiranno" tries any countertenor: the full-blast Handel orchestra nearly drowns Scholl's small-scale, chirpy coloratura and weak lower register/chest, but a clean attack with sheer bravado carries him through (but oddly with minimal ornamentation). He receives the loudest ovations of the evening. Christophe Dumaux, the other countertenor debutante, has an even more feminine sound, a soubrette younger sister to Scholl. Dumaux, though light and pleasant, has neither power nor ping, leaving Unulfo's arias sweetly done but with none of the show-stopping, scene-stealing, spotlight-hogging electricity of Bejun Mehta last season. HOLDOVERS. Stephanie Blythe (Eduige) should be given more arias to massacre: with that meat 'n potatoes kind of mezzo, the Met should allow her to "encore" the "Vivi tiranno" for family circle devotees, perhaps while we're all exiting the auditorium. Oh hurricane: she's why we have that secret attraction to pain and fear: why there aren't any grand Met plans at work for her is truly beyond duh. Kobie van Rensburg (Grimoaldo) provides the same raw, titillating tenorial testosterone, and John Relyea (Garibaldo), while only adequate in the hyperbaroque style, dazzles nonetheless with his handsome tallness and a thundering bass in his baritone. Also back, Zachary Vail Elkind, in the mute role of Flavio (young son of Bertarido and Rodelinda), is the same charming actor. RENEE. There's something slightly off in Renee Fleming's performance this evening. Peculiar, since she's nothing if not consistent (automatic, reliable, etc., etc.). It may have been a touch of cold or allergy phlegm: a kind of tiredness mars her usually fragrant middle range, and a handful of her top notes are unfocussed, unpolished, and lack the high-carb Fleming caramel. Commitment is still 101%, but we got a disturbing preview of what she would sound like 10 years from now. THE PIT. Patrick Summers, among Renee Fleming's favored maestros, delivers a gnawingly listless tour of the work: no discrenible baroque bounce and sway, none of last season's Maestro Harry Bicket's dynamic ebb and flow, only a half-hearted interest in metronomic precision (crucial in baroque), no celestial symmetry, no gallant beauty. It just doesn't breathe. From the pit, this Rodelinda proceeds without any real tension or excitement, leaving all the pushing and pulling to the singers onstage. The recitatives wilt on first exposure, and we are left waiting for the next aria to commence. Narrow dynamics diminish the dramatic impact of the music. I saw a bunch of Rodelindas last season (see here, here, and here), and never did I find myself staring at the ceiling and its peeling gold paint. The Met auditorium needs a paintjob, Mr. Gelb.

P.S. Birthday wishes to Albie, (surprisingly) the Diaries' most devoted reader.