29 September 2006

Balance restored

Mozart IDOMENEO, Met 28.IX.2006; c. Levine; Röschmann, Makarina, Jepson, Heppner, Francis.

James Levine leaves the tumultuous Puccini behind and returns to what he does best. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's classic production, sans severed heads, is a clear and quiet mirror, reflecting the brightness of this Mozart work unfiltered, and by doing nothing more, goes straight to its heart and then to all our hearts. Levine in Mozart is the word balance: he is vibrant in a quick Baroque style, dark in anticipation of Mozart's later works; and he lets melancholic passages breathe, gliding just above the Romantic realm where he probably shouldn't be. But it all sounds right, and he dependably guides them back to symmetry. In that sense, Ben Heppner is his ideal hero; with an innately beautiful tone, always tastefully expressive deportment, a full-bodied texture, and, on good evenings (which this one was), only a slight quivering in the top register (adding a sort of gravitas), he is Mozart's human face. He was magnificent in the virtuoso "Fuor del mar" aria. (Recent pattern suggests he'll encounter problems during the latter part of this run; but I, inexplicably, am always ready to forgive him. He is just a beautiful singer.) A long time ago, I read a description of the (early) Carol Vaness voice as ruby-colored. I didn't fully understand that description till Dorothea Röschmann: she sounds like dark jewels breaking white light into many cuts of exquisite colors, and with the ping of fine porcelain and the resonance of seasoned wood. What a devastatingly gorgeous matter. And she sings with such sensitivity and intelligence; oh Sieglinde is a lesbian in love! Meanwhile, Olga Makarina is a fitting Elettra, always with a comforting technical accuracy but seasoned with lots of red pepper flakes. She is unfailingly exciting to hear. Jeffrey Francis, who debuts this season as Arbace, held his part of the opera with polish and elegance. Young Kristine Jepson, as the hero(ine) Idamante, would have been the highlight of any other evening, but with such a formidable cast alongside her, she shined as much as a luxurious broach on a Mercedes Bass or an Imelda Marcos. I would have preferred a thicker mezzo for this role, but yes, this is a spoiled brat talking. The nearly full house surprised me, for this was (a) a lesser-known Mozart and (b) the beginning of the season, when nothing sells well. Peter Gelb scores another point, but it's a long, long game.