23 March 2007

The old "yes, but no"

Giordano ANDREA CHENIER, Met 22.III.2007; c. Armiliato; Urmana, Heppner, Delavan, Mishura, Zifchak, Taylor.

Ben Heppner's molten tenor is beautiful to its core, but at times it lacks the size to rouse the crust off my ears. His top notes are thrilling, but are just so reliably unreliable. A Heppner evening is filled with excitement, but some of it is about muttering to one's self "oh sh*t, are there treacherous phrases in this role, is he going to survive." Yes, he can reach those notes when the line ascends stepwise, but if it's even a small leap of a few notes (as was the last sung note in the opera, which he cracked in typical Heppner fashion), it's about even money. There's a unique expressiveness in the voice, a generous mixture of heroism and sensitivity, but it is lacking in subhuman passion and seething verismo blood. I enjoy hearing Heppner in a number of roles, but unfortunately not in Chenier.

Violeta Urmana came out to dazzle us as Maddalena, but not before being announced as suffering from a cold (so please be gentle in judgement, etc. etc.). Her voice has matured into a fine Italianate spinto, but in its evolution lost some of the thickness and volume that she once possessed (as a mezzo). There were absolutely ravishing moments, in particular the second act duet with Chenier, but her "Mamma morta" didn't register a level of pathos to challenge the multitude of interpretations of this verismo jewel. Still, she's an artist that I've resolved to hear again and again, but not with this kind of supporting cast.

As Gerard, Mark Delavan commanded the house with a booming baritone, but at times a tad brusque and abrupt. His fundamental sound is appropriate to this kind of role (along with many great Verdi baritone roles), but it has difficulty sustaining (a) legato, (b) a consistent power, and (c) the kind of singular purpose and intensity (my attention kept wandering when he's singing). Irina Mishura made a strong impression, but why didn't Giordano write more music for Madelon, it's the age-old question. Maestro Marco Armiliato has become a favorite of mine, but this Andrea Chenier may be his first subpar outing. He conducted with an abundance of energy, but his exuberance permitted his orchestra to cover the less-than-large voices laboring on stage. He led (once again) without an orchestral score, but there were moments when he seemed to struggle in establishing a natural pulse to accomodate the drama, at times barrelling through highlights without lingering in their verismo splendour. The isolated phrases were indeed brilliantly constructed (I saw nuances in orchestral texture I've never noticed before), but somehow an effortless ebb and flow failed to materialize overall.