27 September 2006

Bathroom Break

Ponchielli LA GIOCONDA, Met 26.IX.2006; c. de Billy; Urmana, Borodina, Mishura, Machado, Lucic, Burchuladze.

The Met Opening night's hyperelegance was cleansed away thoroughly by last night's La Gioconda, and not just because of the opera's libretto. Sitting a box away were three of the smelliest people I've ever had to smell for more than a minute. I mean, literally bathroom smelly. And they didn't know one another. The stench was competing big time with the Ponchielli, which just has to be everyone's guilty pleasure, and which is just so putrid they give you three intermissions to make an embarrassed exit. But despite the fetid swamp of an evening, I didn't move from my seat, and neither did my three best friends. Meanwhile, the production is from the first season of the new Met (1966), which saw Tebaldi, Corelli, Dunn, MacNeil, and Siepi: so grotesque it captures The Venetian perfectly (or the real Venice a few days after acqua alta, when things start to get really interesting). I mean, an elevated four-poster curtained death bed in the ballroom.

Violeta Urmana (Gioconda) is the new Marton. One of my three best friends was grumbling soon after "Enzo adorato", but seriously, even Milanov herself couldn't pass the now well-established Milanov pianissimo test, which is: if you can still hear something, anything, you're no Milanov. She does extremely well with expansive phrases (e.g. Suicidio), but an unstable top register betrays her during barreling jagged lines (e.g., the catfight with Laura "L'amo come il fulgor", which Maestro Bertrand de Billy treated with much indifference and a hopscotch tempo). The mezzo-to-soprano makeover is still a work in progress. (The bonus you get from such women is the ever rich lower middle/bottom.) Olga Borodina (Laura) is such a paragon of elegance and taste it seemed like she was singing another opera entirely. Her tone is gorgeous: monotonously gorgeous, she almost sounds like an American. Irina Mishura, on the other hand, is just the kind of mezzo you'd want in a Cieca: her forbidding intensity (and perfectly crafted wobbles) stole Act I. Aquiles Machado (Enzo) sounds like a Tenor, graceful and masculine at once; I look forward to his future outings at the Met. Zeljko Lucic had an accomplished debut evening, and won the favor of the entire house.

On the whole, it's what you'd want from an evening of La Gioconda: some fearless singing, some instability, more than a dose of stench. And, I almost forgot, you get a serving of buns too. The handsome and brilliant Angel Corella, on loan from the American Ballet Theatre, has really really nice ones. I'm going back for more next week.