MET Orchestra/Luisi Natalie Dessay

Lulu – Symphonic Suite
Vocalise, Op.34/14
Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra – Andante
Etude en forme de habanera
Lakmé – Tu m’as donné le plus doux rêve
Manon – Je marche sur tous les chemins … Obéissons quand leur voix appelle
Don Juan, Op.20

Natalie Dessay (soprano)

The MET Orchestra
Fabio Luisi

Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette

Reviewed: 15 May, 2011
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Fabio LuisiJames Levine’s ongoing struggle with health issues has been the subject of press reports — and no small amount of speculation and rumor — for well over a year. A combination of fortuitous timing and unusually fast action led Metropolitan Opera to recruit Fabio Luisi as its new principal guest conductor. Luisi and Levine show similar preferences in opera and orchestral repertoire, and the current program, originally scheduled for Levine, was presented about three-quarters intact.

One of the highlights of last year’s MET season was a Levine favorite, Alban Berg’s “Lulu”, which Luisi conducted in Levine’s place and was outstanding. In the Symphonic Suite the orchestra’s playing and Luisi’s secure command of the music’s structural elements allowed for the underlying drama of significant moments in the opera’s plot to emerge – with both subtlety and enormous visceral impact. Natalie Dessay has a gorgeous, shimmering voice, in many ways reminiscent of the young Joan Sutherland. Her phrasing was very effective, but her diction, not unlike that of Sutherland, was often unclear.

Natalie DessayThere were no such problems in the Rachmaninov and the middle movement of the Glière. Dessay’s dynamic range and breath control are astonishingly good, and her vocal beauty lent rays of sunshine amid the melancholy of Vocalise, with Luisi summoning gorgeous sound from the orchestra. Following intermission came three French works. Dessay seemed immediately more comfortable than during the concert’s first half, both she and Luisi summoning more than enough evocative sensuality and Iberian aural imagery. Two virtuoso arias followed. Here Dessay’s diction was letter-perfect, her characterization persuasive, and her coloratura pyrotechnics sizzling. Dessay and Luisi managed to top both arias with a thrilling encore, ‘Il faut partir’ from Donizetti’s “La fille du regiment”.

Prior to his appointment at the MET, Luisi had a near-decade-long association with Staatskapelle Dresden, during which time he recorded music by Richard Strauss. I can’t recall having heard as fine a performance of Strauss’s Don Juan (which replaced Debussy’s Images) to close this concert and with the finest playing I’ve heard all season: the opening flourish and each reiteration played in clearly articulated unanimity and careful gradations of dynamics that lent unexpected transparency to even the most thickly scored passages, and the kind of cantabile playing that bordered on the operatic. Luisi is the most exciting maestro on the East Coast.

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