An evening of arias and ensembles by Verdi, Puccini, Gounod, Mussorgsky, Donizetti, Giordano, et al
Joseph Calleja (tenor)
José Cura (tenor)
Elizabeth Futral (soprano)
Marcello Giordani (tenor)
Angela Marambio (soprano)
Aprile Millo (soprano)
James Morris (bass-baritone)
René Pape (bass)
Patricia Racette (soprano)
Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano)
Samuel Ramey (bass)
Charles Taylor (baritone)
The New York Choral Society
Members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Reviewed by: Timothy Hutto
Reviewed: 12 November, 2006
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City
As might be expected from the nature of galas, performance-quality was variable at this annual event. Fortunately, the general manager of Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, allowed singers currently performing at the Met to appear, unlike his predecessor, Joseph Volpe. Consequently, the star-power quotient was significantly raised.
Leading members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and conductor Asher Fisch (whose first name appeared two places in the printed programme as “Arthur”) gave a lively performance of the overture to Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”. Fisch’s gestures seemed more concerned with shaping the music than just beating time, and the orchestra rewarded this freedom with an exhilarating account.
The orchestra was uniformly excellent throughout the evening; however, some of the singers, perhaps used to being accompanied by an ensemble in the pit, had difficulty balancing with the orchestra on the platform. Consequently, those with large voices fared better.
There were two stand-out appearances. The young Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja sang ‘Ah! Lève-toi, soleil’ from “Roméo et Juliette” with a big, effortless sound and sweet tone reminiscent of Jussi Björling. His attention to phrasing and dynamic control were noteworthy. Sondra Radvanovsky, inexplicably missing from the Met roster this season, brought an aria from Verdi’s “Ernani”, and in doing so gave a masterclass on bel canto technique, with perfectly placed pianissimos, messa di voce, runs and trills. Her voice is large and dark (but not artificially so), the quick vibrato adding a quality of vulnerability.
Quite good were Marcello Giordani, who first sang the aria ‘Un dì all’azzurro spazio’ from “Andrea Chenier” before joining Aprile Millo in ‘Vicino a te’ from the same opera. Millo began with a blowsy sound, but as she warmed up turned in a searing performance. Patricia Racette gave a fully committed rendition of ‘L’altra notte in fondo’ from Boito’s “Mefistofele”. René Pape sang twice, first in the ‘Coronation Scene’ from “Boris Godunov”, which featured The New York Choral Society. Perhaps due to the sheer volume of sound coming from behind him, Pape pushed his voice a bit hard. In his second selection, Cole Porter’s ‘So In Love’ from “Kiss Me Kate”, Pape sang in an appropriately relaxed manner.
The other two low-voiced soloists of the evening were James Morris and Samuel Ramey. Both are past their prime yet gave engaging performances. Morris sang twice, first an aria from Rachmaninov’s “Aleko” (which seemed a rather strange fit with the other selections) and, later, the ‘Credo’ from “Otello” was rendered with great intensity. Samuel Ramey performed ‘Ascolta, S’agita il bosco … Ecco il mondo’ from “Mefistofele” with malevolent glee, though truth be told his wide vibrato became a sustained beat at louder volumes.
The most curious rendition came from the powerful José Cura in ‘Tutto parea sorridere … Sì! de’Corsari il fulmine’ from “Il corsaro”. Cura engaged in all manner of troubling vocal mannerisms: hiccough-like effects, glottal stops, harsh register changes in oder to portray his character’s distress. Even more curious was his turning his back again and again to the audience while listening to the chorus and some rather unfathomable gestures made to the conductor. One rather wanted to tell him to just stand there and sing!
Two sopranos had contrasting difficulties. Elizabeth Futral, whose gown, donated by Versace, received an acknowledgement in the program, had difficulty projecting over the orchestra in Lehar’s ‘Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss’. Angela Marambio, in ‘Ecco l’oride campo’ from “Un ballo in maschera” had no such problem. Her voice is very dark, almost mezzo-like in quality; unfortunately, the high notes in the climax proved to be a bit of a reach.
Three ensembles were performed. In the Sextet from ‘Lucia’, the voices were poorly balanced and poorly matched. The Act Two/Scene Two finale from “La Traviata” featured elegant work from Calleja and Charles Taylor, but Futral proved too light. The evening ended with Act Three/Scene Two from “Otello”, which, in contrast, was superb. Cura, Racette and Andrew Gangestad were impressive; likewise the orchestra and chorus.