14 September 2006


Handel SEMELE. New York City Opera, 13.IX.2006; c. Walker; Futral, Genaux (d), White, Sylvan, Hauman, Breault.

I used to go to the City Opera quite regularly, back when I could legally get those $10 student rush tickets, often for first row orchestra seats. My first Boheme, my first Turandot, my first Mathis der Maler... Then I happened upon a couple of tickets to a Die Zauberfl├Âte across the plaza, with James Levine at the podium, and the rest is history. Since the great migration, I've only been back to the New York State Theater once, for Lauren Flanigan's hot Roberto Devereux, till last night. I was starving, and who can wait 2 more weeks for a fix, and a Semele couldn't be that bad if the likes of Elizabeth Futral and Vivica Genaux were headlining, right. From my balcony-box-equivalent seat (they lovingly call the fourth ring, as in Dante's Inferno), I felt like I was having a jelly sandwich on stale white bread (and I hate jelly). It was a three-hour jelly sandwich. I know we're absolutely prohibited from viewing at the City Opera in the same light as the Met (i.e., "NYCO: we're the Mets to the Met's Yankees"), and we're tired of discussing the auditorium's shameful acoustics, so I'm stopping this train right here because I'm just grateful to find Die Tote Stadt in New York's calendar this season.

Elizabeth Futral is a favorite of these Diaries because she is insane, and she came close to the expected level as Semele. But what truly makes baroque singing orgasmic is keeping true to the rapid runs while maintaining an evenly beautiful tone through the many minutes of da capo and still sounding like you could go for more, no sweat. Futral, however, has just enough talent (buttressed by magnificent balls) to pull off the notes, and was therefore too busy to worry about other things. Semele is a killer role, we should all agree to leave it to virtuoso baroque/bel canto specialists, and so Futral gets a "get out of jail free" card on this one. What she lacked in vocal style, she made up for in theatrics. Her Marilyn Monroe (or was it Christina Aguilera?) cavorted like she was the last jelly sandwich in the world. (I don't know what that means, it just sounded apt.) Vivica Genaux, debuting at the City Opera (if that counts for anything) as Ino/Juno, has a well-schooled, if a tad plain, contralto. A sort of Susan Graham-lite. I'd like to hear more of her (and in a different venue, please). The one singer who rose above the bland acoustics was Matthew White, whose buoyant countertenor alighted with a first-class softness, killing the subpar curve set by the rest of the cast. Maestro Antony Walker led with neither distinction nor fault, tolerating the cadaver-cold support of the continuo from the pit. (To paraphrase the Secretary of Defense, "we go to war with the orchestra we have, not the orchestra we want.")

Meanwhile, the "repackage and sell" operation across the plaza continues: