The Metropolitan Opera – 40th Anniversary Gala

La bohème – Act I
Manon – Act III/Scene 2
L’elisir d’amore – Act II

La bohème:
Mimì – Anna Netrebko
Rodolfo – Rolando Villazón
Marcello – Mariusz Kwiecien
Colline – Oren Gradus
Schaunard – Patrick Carfizzi

J. Knighten Smit – stage direction

Manon – Anna Netrebko
Chevalier des Grieux – Rolando Villazón
Count des Grieux – Samuel Ramey

David Kneuss – stage direction

L’elisir d’amore:
Adina – Anna Netrebko
Nemorino – Rolando Villazón
Belcore – Mariusz Kwiecien
Dulcamara – Alessandro Corbelli
Giannetta – Monica Yunus

Sharon Thomas – stage direction

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Bertrand de Billy

Reviewed by: Timothy Hutto

Reviewed: 3 April, 2007
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

It has been a decade since Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna captured the public’s attention. Recognizing the indisputable popularity of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, the Metropolitan Opera featured this latest duo in its 40th Anniversary Gala celebrating various aspects of love.

The evening opened with Act One of “La bohème” (Zeffirelli’s production). Villazón performed a run of Rodolfos at the Met earlier in the season, but Netrebko had performed Mimì with him on only one of those occasions. Here, Villazón’s Rodolfo was surprisingly small-scale in the opening of the scene but improved as the voice warmed up. His tenor is a bit hard, especially at the top of the stave, and never seemed to open up enough to ride the orchestra with ease at the climaxes. His fellow Bohemians Patrick Carfizzi, Oren Gradus and (especially) Mariusz Kwiecien sang beautifully and acted with a spontaneous playfulness. Netrebko’s soprano is virtually ideal for Mimì. The voice is dark and sensuous but suggests the vulnerability at the heart of Mimì’s character. Only a seeming reluctance to linger at some of the traditional points marred her portrayal as she became disconnected from the conductor and orchestra.

Following a pause was Act Three/Scene Two of “Manon” in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production. The opening featured some wobbly vocalizing – first from the women of the Met chorus and then from Samuel Ramey as Count des Grieux. It was Ramey’s characterisation rather than his vocalisation that got him through. As the Chevalier des Grieux, Villazón sang with a slightly reedier sound than in the Puccini, which seemed to free up his voice. Netrebko gave us Manon in the Grand Diva mode, both in singing and acting. We witnessed Manon singing while laying on her back clutching at des Grieux’s cassock, begging him to take her back. After the spontaneity of the Puccini, it seemed too much over the top.

After the intermission came Act Two of “L’elisir d’amore” (John Copley’s production). Neither singer is ideal for their respective roles in this opera – their voices are a bit too heavy and dark. That said, both delivered sensational coloratura passages when they occurred and fleshed out quite creditably what can easily be one-dimensional characters. Netrebko showed us a Adina who was alternately petulant, giddy and heart-broken. Although Villazón’s ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ was prosaic and hardly the show-stopper it can be, the tenor otherwise displayed an unsuspected gift for physical comedy and timing, imitating the strutting Sergeant Belcore (well-sung and acted by Mariusz Kwiecien) when he wasn’t looking at and leaping over the suitcase he had dropped at the end of the act when Adina tells him she loves him. Dulcamara and Giannetta were well performed by Alessandro Corbelli and Monica Yunus.

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