09 October 2007

Good tragedy on stage, bad tragedy at the ballpark

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met 08.X.2007; c. Elder; Racette, Alagna, Zifchak, Salsi (d), Cangelosi.

I chose to hear the (not so fat) lady at the Met over the depressingly fat lady at Yankee stadium who may have sung her song on the saddest night of this generation of fans. (Thank you, Joe Torre, we shall miss you.) Back to the Met: the scene I was anticipating most was at the end of Act I, when Minghella's beautiful production calls for the Pinkerton to carry the Butterfly through drapes of petals to the back of the dark stage as the curtain falls. Last year's mighty Marcello Giordani and frail Cristina Gallardo-Domas were a perfect picture; this season, we have Roberto Alagna, all too familiar with elevator shoes, and the full-sized (I don't want to say burly) Patricia Racette, who doesn't take shit from anyone. I took a huge breath with Bobbie as he lifted Pat off her feet, and held it for a few seconds, fearing he'd slip on Butterfly's stripped negligee lain on the raked floor.

It became a depressing exercise to call my sister for updates on the Yankee score during intermissions. That, mixed in with a happiness I felt to hear Racette again, the first after those magnificent Elisabettas of the Met Don Carlo last season, was an appropriately operatic juxtaposition. In the role of Butterfly, she's given an occasion to showcase the amazing breadth of her vocal talents: the power in climactic moments, the high and ascending pianissimi, the lesbianic chest tones. What I missed was the sense of vulnerability that Gallardo-Domas embodied (her physical body, her masterful stylized movements, her fraying voice), because Racette is so on top of her game right now that she makes this formidable role seem like a laughably easy sing. One petty thing: if she would only release those deafening fffff's (which I know she has) at crucial points of the opera--perhaps she doesn't want to come off too strongly?--then it would be a complete Sieglinde orgasm. There is no more argument: Racette is a topflight artist, the kind that a major opera house can build around for a generation.

Meanwhile, Alagna is just the most delicious Pinkerton, I could just eat him with roast pork and steamed rice. Bounding on stage, light-footed, arrogant and youthful: thoroughly the American lieutenant out for world domination. In my book, he can do no wrong, so I just took the sharpness in his top notes to be dedicated expressions of exuberance. Foolish infatuation on my part, what can I say: I, and the rest of New York, love the guy. We gladly offer him asylum from La Scala.

Maestro Mark Elder's reading: superb. The top of Act I pushed forward as fast as Alagna would let him, communicating Pinkerton's juvenility and fleeting concerns wonderfully. The love duet shimmered, never overhanded or severe, not gushing, not too melodramatic. His Act II descended slowly down the darkness of Butterfly's immeasurable sadness, the orchestration thinning, those quiet sections really quiet. Butterfly totally forsaken, even by sound. His virtuoso orchestra sounded transparent and light throughout, a joy to hear. Yes, there was a recurring tempo battle between stage and pit, but this should subside as the (short) run progresses.

(But the heavy cloud over New York today: that's how the city feels about Jeter's Yankees.)