12 May 2024

To be true is half the battle

Kathleen Battle RECITAL, Met Opera 12.V.24; Bridget Kibbey (harp), Chico Pinheiro (guitar).

What a beautiful fiasco. Something Sieglinde will never forgive is amplification of any kind in an opera house. Here was Kathleen Battle, Diva, 76 this year but from the boxes looked very much like her posters for this headline spectacular; returning triumphantly to the Met stage in a solo recital, the stuff of Joe Volpe's nightmares; possessing even today top notes like she was 36, the stuff of Ailyn Perez's dreams. Sure, there was the Underground Railroad concert in 2016, but that was about more than her Highness, with a major choir and other musicians and artists (Cicely Tyson, Wynton Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut ...) participating to convey an actual serious message. This evening, her event was about her alone, and the way she had everyone wait while she leafed through her three-ring binder of music forwards and backwards and sideways, and unclasped it flippantly to take out some random pages and return others would impress even Joe Volpe--OMG what a masterclass in Diva that Sieglinde should emulate in her Biochemistry classes. So Kathy's first song, a Purcell, tested her prep and while a bit tentative, was properly placed, I thought, and projected remarkably well. But then when the second piece, from Semele, unfolded with unexpected bravado, the amplification revealed itself by degrees and by the end of the first segment of song I would say even Kathy's aspirations between phrases were more present than Asmik Grigorian's fff the day before (see below). Who at the Met decided that this was OK, and how did the Diva not decipher this intervention as a defeat? Her top notes--it was all there!--would have floated around the auditorium without any aid and invoked awe, and would have reminded every ear about the singular miracle of this art form. And why would Sieglinde have minded leaning forward to catch any whispered notes, and if there are rumpled patches forgive and move on to the next glorious phrase? But by the second half of the program, while the entire auditorium erupted indecorously after every piece, the experience reduced in Sieglinde's senses to a mediated admiration, akin to watching a YouTube of a memorable event, speakers in full blast. This would have been the first time Sieglinde's heard Kathleen Battle live, but alas! Yet still, after hearing the expected "Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot" encore, everyone stood grateful to have heard lovely echoes, though receding in time and eluding what shards are left of tradition.

11 May 2024

Matinee meh

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met Opera 11.V.24; c. Zhang; Grigorian, DeShong, Tetelman, Meachem.

Hopeful anticipation for Asmik Grigorian turned to mush as her Butterfly drooled the touchstone "Ah! m'ha scordata" in a supposed peak of Act II. Does she know that spinto means pushed, the Met is the largest house in the known universe, Sieglinde is perched in her high box with such hopeful anticipation for a soprano who is coming to New York with unusual advance notice, and therefore was expecting hints of blood and acid in "Ah! m'ha scordata"? No one expects a Renata Scotto, for sure, but can we have at least a Cristina Gallardo-Domas this generation? Sieglinde dreamed Grigorian would circle the pantheon (not the Pantheon), but instead saw her flap her cut, undecorative wings to zero effect, like used tissue swirling on the Columbus Avenue sidewalk. Maybe that's too mean. Grigorian did deliver a heartrending "Ei torna e m'ama", which her flappers avidly applauded. But those moments were, uhm, momentary.

So what happened? Everyone can agree that Grigorian has modest sonic power, but that issue never stopped Gallardo-Domas or Veronica Villaroel, two women dear to Sieglinde's heart, both of whom found ways to harness their wares full-force and focus their will to shake the walls. Grigorian also has an muddled middle, at times almost spoken and washed of vibrato. Other Butterflys of Sieglinde's 30 years of opera going include the legend Diana Soviero, femme fatale Catherine Malfitano, Michele Crider, and Particia Racette, ladies who, in their own way, gave the illusion of transcending physics and, in effect, reify the pathos of the role beyond the text. Grigorian sounded like she was saving her voice for something else. Such a soprano has no business singing Butterfly at the Met. Perhaps in smaller houses in Europe she will flourish.

Meanwhile, Maestra Xian Zhang (also debuting this season) led a tumultuous and vitally present orchesta; she should be invited for more. Jonathan Tetelman is handsome as Pinkerton, with a clean voice but lacking that unmistakable ring we've come to expect from our Puccini tenors. As a sorrowful Suzuki, Elizabeth DeShong is the one singer on stage who woke up Sieglinde.The Minghella is aging gracefully, but still aging.

(Just like old times; let's see how long this lasts.)