27 January 2009

A Lucia to forget

Donizetti LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Met 26.I.2009; c. Armiliato; Netrebko, Villazon, Kwiecien, Abdrazakov.

That was weird. The house was packed, but the usual four gays making really delicious "dumplings" weren't up at their perches. Sirius wasn't there either. Was there an advance agreement to not document this disastrous evening? It was, after all, the return of beloved Rolando Villazon, after nearly two years of absence at the Met, as well as the return of also-beloved Anna Netrebko, after a one-year break to spawn. The dumpling makers sure missed one hell of an evening.*

Rolando Villazon will be studied for years to come as an example of how not to build a career. A beautiful light-lyric tenor of immense expressive quality, but owned by one who thought it could do more: so we arrive at this teetering place, an early precipice for such a young man. To be fair, much of his allure stems the kind of old-school intensity he brings to any role, always leaving the audience rabidly thrilled to witness a singer double down and win. The problem, of course, is when the singer loses. During last night's performance, in Act II, after the lovely sextet and just before the rousing chorus that ends the act (the one Verdi nicely stole for his Nabucco), Villazon lost, in a falter most raw and naked.

Disaster struck at "Ah! ma di Dio la mano irata vi disperda". As written, the "ta" in "irata" is an A-natural, but tenors usually linger in a discretionary fermata, and lunge up stylishly to a B-flat (?) for effect, before collapsing down to earth. When done correctly, the effect is extremely virile and exciting, especially because the orchestra, on this note, is completely at rest. The tenor is alone, cursing in his dramatic masculinity. Thus, you can imagine the pin-drop hush that occurred when Villazon, already showing much strain in the voice up to that point, held the A for a couple of seconds, attempted to lunge up but failed, instead cutting for a cough, and permitting a silence that lasted a full nine seconds. My binoculars were trained on Villazon at this moment: I saw nothing but a petrified face staring at Anna Netrebko's shocked face. After the eternity of nine seconds, Villazon then restarted with the A-natural "ta", but opted to just descend the staff to complete his line, defeated.

Peter Gelb came out before Act III to announce that "I'm sure you've heard this evening that Rolando Villazon is not feeling well, but he doesn't want to disappoint you, so he bravely agreed to sing the final act, blah blah blah ..." Sure enough, as it always happens after such indulgences, the singer comes out renewed. The first scene happened without grave incident, save for a couple of rough top notes and a skipped line here and there. Villazon's tomb scene, however, sizzled with the kind of heat few tenors can manufacture. He ended the evening OK, the underdog-loving American audience rewarding him with a rousing ovation. I sure hope, however, that this doesn't become de rigueur for a Villazon evening.

Anna Netrebko, on the other hand, ended disastrously, receiving no love from the audience, beyond the routine bravas from standing room. Which was strange, because (a) I thought she's finally maturing as a singer, and (b) she improved on Natalie Dessay's grossly hyperkinetic and schizophrenic Bollywood Lucia from this production's premiere season. Her top, however, is in distress: the high D's and such were all high D-flats and such, and none of her cadenzas flirted with the upper register to any satisfying degree. Also, the aggregate volume of her voice appears to now be substantially smaller. She used to inhabit the space between forte and fortissimo, rattling the chandelier crystals even in such delicate roles as Mimi and Gilda. Last night, there was a discernible scaling back, which took away the visceral thrill I experience in witnessing superhuman powers, but replaced by a new appreciation for her wider emotional and dramatic range. Her pianos were heartrending, and her floated F's, G's and A's ravishing. Nonetheless, Lucia is so much about confident acuti and fioriture, which Netrebko just didn't (doesn't) possess. And unfortunately, the Mad Scene ended embarrassingly, with a loud whirr masquerading as a top note, eliciting perhaps the shortest and quietest ovation given to a soprano after a Mad Scene. It was sad. The three men who were supposed to carry her limp body slowly back up the grand staircase during the (expected) ovation didn't even get a chance to make their first ascending step. After a few seconds of applause (oh, I can't bear the shame!), it was unanimously agreed that the evening move on to the final scene.

*ADDED NOTE: apparently, there's a fifth gay that I don't know about.