26 September 2006

Met Opening Night

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met Opening Night, 25.IX.2006; c. Levine; Gallardo-Domas, Giordani, Zifchak, Croft.

Yesterday as I was lamenting the shift in vision at the Met, I overlooked the one thing that can stop them all. No matter the diamond wattage of the glitter audience, soon enough the chandeliers dim and the golden curtain rises, and as the orchestra prepares the silver platter, the veiled soprano opens her mouth. Watch as everything else around her wilts at her slightest breath. The walls of the old opera house shiver the strings' resonance, heartstrings are tugged, eyes closed. Lost amidst the massive blitzkrieg in the months leading to this opening night was tiny Cristina Gallardo-Domas, reduced to a Mingella poster here, half a Butterfly face there. Tonight, however, order was restored when the spotlight turned the other way: tiny indeed, but her voice carried the force of a thousand flashing bulbs, finding the farthest point in the ceiling and the deepest cuts in the skin. Colorful as Mingella's stage, with a Soviero throb and an Albanese cut, Galladro-Domas's beautifully frayed soprano is now a member of the vocal pantheon of the Sirius generation. Marcello Giordani is Domingo with Pavarotti's lustre. Frequently unwieldy but consistently effective, his voice tonight had a perfect combination of control and rough elegance that would make you forgive Pinkerton, even at the sight of Butterfly's innocent blood. Maria Zifchak sustained a superb Suzuki, while Dwayne Croft relied on his creamy baritone to offset any deficiency in volume or expression.

I'm grateful to see Maestro James Levine at the podium this evening, heading another great season of music. My admiration is no secret. But among his most recent works, this Butterfly may be his least complete. The production's thrust was a Butterfly that moved as if she knew her fate very early on, and Levine seemed to underline the darkness of her inner torments with a extra-fat Wagnerian Sharpie. In fact, there were moments in the third part of the evening that resembled the meditative scenes of the third act of his Parsifal. Puccini is melodrama of the Miss Saigon sort, with tensions as open and direct as can be, and so, in my view, any serious attempt to "heighten" the drama by enunciating every phrase with historic accuracy and highlighting the naked woodwinds a la Parsifal can only stoke the opera's wet rag longueurs. In other words, no need to break out the fine china for Chinatown pork chop. Elsewhere, however, his mastery of controlled sentimentality benefitted tear-jerker scenes to great effect: Act I's love duet was truthful, while the letter scene was perfectly measured. Levine may never conduct another Butterfly in his career (if in his long career he hasn't conducted a repertory stalwart, chances are he doesn't like it), and so it was an interesting exercise. (Asher Fisch takes over the rest of the gazillion Butterflys this season.)

Anthony Mingella produced a dazzling Spectacular spectacular: my comments will come at a later time (perhaps after my second or third Butterfly). Also, I took little video snippets of the circus. I'll figure out the best way to package and YouTube it tomorrow.

Reports from other seats: Sarah was at the Plaza. So was Alex. And Mama Cieca. JSU was in Times Square. While Maury was also inside.