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.