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Met 50th anniversary gala concert, 5/7/17


Frank and I went to the Metropolitan Opera's 50 Years at Lincoln Center gala on 5/7/17.

The NY Times reprinted a photo from opening night, in September of 1966, with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson on the plaza, and who is standing next to her? Who were guests of honor at the opening of the Met? Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. I shake my head and roll my eyes.

Things got off to a great start - - we walked into the opera house, wove our way through the black tie and evening gown grandees, and walked past Teresa Stratas, one of my favorite singers ever. She was wearing a navy blue gown and her gorgeous grey hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

FRANK: Don't you think someone could do her hair?

ME: Maybe someone DID do her hair.

It was one of those nights. More shade was thrown when we got up to the clouds and looked through the program.

FRANK: Domingo is singing "Nemico della patria"? He has no business singing that.

ME: He should be free to sing whatever the hell he wants.

FRANK: He should be put out to pasture.

Let me assure you that Frank gave me permission to quote him!

FIRST HALF

Film about tearing down the old Met, building the new Met

Bernstein: overture from the movie of *West Side Story*

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

It was cute hearing the orchestra play the Bernstein, and especially wonderful hearing them shout out, "Mambo!"

Film of Leontyne Price talking about opening the new Met in Barber's *Antony and Cleopatra.*

Two adorable quotes from Miss Price (courtesy of the souvenir program):

“It was something the first time I walked out on that stage at the new Met. I thought, you’ve got to be kidding. It was so huge. But the first note that I sang, I thought I was singing to Staten Island. It was that incredible. I just heard my beautiful voice go like it was into another country. The acoustics are so fantastic. It’s like a meteor when you sing there. You just want kiss yourself you sound so great.”

“I call the new Met the temple of grand opera. Everything is so majestic, a world of geniuses. And she still just gleams, you know? Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll wave and say, ‘Remember me? I opened you.’ To this day, I will never recover from it. The honor.”

Barber: "From Alexandria, this is the news" from *Antony and Cleopatra*

Met Opera Chorus

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Nice that they included someone from *A & C.* And the chorus, of course, sounded fantastic. Let me give a shout out right off to Julian Crouch, who designed the sets and projections. He's done lots of great work at the Met,*Satyagraha* being the greatest. His sets and projections for the gala were first class, they added a lot.

Giordano: "Nemico della patria" from *Andrea Chénier*

Plácido Domingo

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Domingo doesn't sound like a baritone, but his Italian is so delicious and the style just pours out of him. The voice still sounds good, and the people love him. I support him singing in a gala more than in a fully staged production, because a real baritone would do a better job with a full role. But he puts butts in the seats, right? And though a real baritone would sing it better, I think Verdi would approve of Domingo...

Verdi: "Quando le sere al placido" from *Luisa Miller*

Piotr Beczała

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Oh Lord what a dreamy singer. Such a gorgeous sound, and sings with such taste. He reminds me of the late Nicolai Gedda, and there is no higher praise for a tenor.

Mozart: "Hai già vinta la causa" from *Le Nozze di Figaro*

Michael Volle

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

This number should have been cut. He didn't sing it well, he sounded too gruff, and there was another aria from *Nozze* later in the show, so why do this? Plus they should have done a better job of shuffling the numbers: it's not a good idea to lead with three male singers, it feels like a sausage party.

Donizetti: "Pronta io son" from *Don Pasquale*

Pretty Yende and Mariusz Kwiecien

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

I hadn't heard Yende before, she's delightful, lovely voice and a lovely girl. Kwiecien, of course, is wonderful.

Puccini: "Vissi d'arte" from *Tosca*

Kristine Opolais

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

She did a good job with this aria, but her voice isn't quite right for this role. Frank said that he aria is two sizes too large for her, which made me think of this priceless story about an opera singer who came to UW Madison (reprinted from my Viking River Cruise travelogue):

"The director of UW Opera, Bill Farlow, brought in his old friend opera singer Nova Thomas to do a recital of arias. Martha Fischer was playing for her, so of course I was turning pages. Nova was fantastic, she had a real operatic voice and manner, very old school, she was thrilling. I got a little chummy with her, so after the concert I told her she should sing 'To this we've come' from *The Consul,* that would be a great aria for her. She said, in her thick Southern accent, 'Oh I love that aria, but you know, I studied with Eileen Farrell, and she owns that aria. I don't think I would do it justice. That aria is two dress sizes too big for me.' "

Mussorsky: Boris's mad scene from *Boris Godunov*

René Pape

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

Wow what an artist. He's got the perfect balance of voice and artistry. He always amazes me.

Puccini: "Che gelida manina...Sì, mi chiamano Mimì...O soave fanciulla" from *La Bohème*

Joseph Calleja and Sonya Yoncheva (with Dwayne Croft offstage as Marcello)

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

I hadn't heard Calleja or Yoncheva before. Calleja's voice is fascinating - - he has a quick vibrato and a sweet color to his voice, but the voice has plenty of heft. His voice has an interesting mixture of delicacy and strength. My brother Patrick has a crush on Yoncheva, so I was paying particular attention to her. Gorgeous voice, I'm eager to hear her in *Luisa Miller* next year.

Verdi: "Cortigiani" from *Rigoletto*

Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Every gala needs a surprise, right? Sometimes it's good news, sometimes it's not. This one had one of each. Bad news first: Juan Diego Florez cancelled due to illness, so his aria was taken over by Boy of the Moment Vittorio Grigolo (more about him later). And the good news: Peter Gelb (General Manager of the Met) came onstage to introduce a surprise singer, Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Hvorostovsky announced in 2015 that he was being treated for a brain tumor. In December he announced that he would no longer be doing staged opera. It was an emotional moment to have him on the gala, and he sang with such conviction, grace, and beauty. I saw him in *Rigoletto* in 2013 and when he sang this aria, I was struck by the genius of Verdi, not by the genius of the performer. Which is the highest compliment I can give a performer.

Massenet: "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" from *Werther*

Joyce Di Donato

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

She sang it well, but it didn't really add much to the program. Yet another droopy number.

Mozart: "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" from *Die Zauberflöte*

Michael Volle

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Volle sounded better in this than he did in the *Nozze* aria.

Berlioz: "Nuit d'ivresse" from *Les Troyens*

Susan Graham and Matthew Polenzani

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

So lovely, they brought back memories of Ben Heppner and Lorriane Hunt Lieberson in this opera back in 2003: Heppner has retired and Hunt Lieberson has gone on to her great reward. Graham and Polenzani sounded lovely together. Polenzani seems to sound better every time I hear him, he's fantastic.

Cilea: "Acerba voluttà" from *Adriana Lecouvreur*

Dolora Zajick

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

I am CRAZY for this aria, and was thrilled to see it on the program, and even more thrilled to see that Zajick was doing it. She's sort of flown under the radar lately, but was absolutely the Verdi mezzo of record for many years. She's not as glorious as she used to be, but she's still damn fine. Here she is doing this aria in her prime, at a Richard Tucker gala:

Donizetti, “Ah! Mes amis…Pour mon âme!” from *La Fille du Régiment*

Javier Camarena

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

I hadn't heard Camarena before, he's been getting a lot of press lately, he's the new tenorino in town. He was wonderful, he nailed all nine of those high Cs, and sounded like he was having fun. Plus he's a cutie.

Verdi: Lady Macbeth's entrance scene, *Macbeth*

Anna Netrebko

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

Netrebko closed the first half and had the second to last number of the evening, which seems like the Met is officially naming her their number one diva. She tore the joint apart as Lady Macbeth in 2014, so it's no surprise that she would sing it on the gala. And WOW, total dedication, total mastery of her effects, total presence, total diva!

SECOND HALF

Wagner: entrance of the guests into the Minstrels' Hall from *Tannhäuser*

Met Opera Chorus

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

They put eight trumpet players onstage, on a special platform at least two stories up. They played the hell out of it, and the chorus sounded great. The trumpeters had on these goofy herald costumes that looked like they were from a Madison East High School production of *Once Upon a Mattress.* I'd appreciate it if someone who had seen that production could confirm this.

Gershwin: "Bess, you is my woman now" from *Porgy and Bess*

Pretty Yende and Eric Owens

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Yende didn't sound quite right in this, I don't know what was off. Owens was incredible, really sang it like it was opera, with beautiful line (of course this is how it should be sung). Would love for the Met to do this again for Owens. It hasn't been done at the Met since 1990.

Saint-Saëns: "Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix" from *Samson et Dalila*

Elīna Garanča

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Gorgeous aria, but not quite right for her - - she didn't have the plush sound I want in this aria. Let's hear Miss Zajick again, shall we? Another Tucker gala, and she does an entirely optional but ravishing high B-flat at the end.

Verdi: Grand Inquisitor scene, *Don Carlo*

Günther Groissböck and James Morris

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Lately I've been calling Groissböck "my ex boyfriend," because he's so damn hunky, and a few people have wondered if it's true. I'm here to tell you: it is NOT true, but I can dream, can't i? He sounded great, this was the first time I'd heard him do an Italian role, and he did it good. But Morris was the real star here - - 70 years old, still sounds great. This was his 998th performance on the Met stage. They'd better do something special when he reaches 1000.

Gounod: “Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!” from *Roméo et Juliette*

Vittorio Grigolo Conductor: Marco Armiliato

I called Grigolo the Boy of the Moment earlier, and you may have picked up on a sneer in my tone. He made his Met debut in 2010 and has appeared in seven operas. They also gave him a recital on the Met stage in 2014. I didn't go to that, because I didn't think, after only twelve performances at the Met, that he deserved a solo recital at the Met. They don't do that very often, and why do it for him? They featured him in a new production for the first time earlier this season, *Roméo et Juliette.* So I was very curious to see and hear what all the fuss was about.

Plus: He has an attractive voice and a confident and secure technique. He's exceptionally good looking, slim and handsome, with an impressive pile of wavy Italian hair on his head.

Minus: He's smug. Performers of the world, take note - - there's nothing worse I can say. He did all these cheap, gooey things with his voice and flung himself about like he was doing a number staged by Hermes Pan in an MGM musical. Of course I love that in the movies, but not on the stage of the Met. The audience went wacko for him, and he soaked it all up, like we were spilled coffee and he was a handful of Bounty paper towels. I'll compare him to Bette Midler: Midler gets a similar kind of adoration from her audience, and she feels deserving, but he's also touched and grateful. He seems to feel like it's his due.

Verdi: "È strano…Ah, fors’è lui…Sempre libera" from *La Traviata*

Diana Damrau

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

This is a very well-known aria, and she did a little something different with it, which was a nice change. I'm not sure she and the conductor were on the same page all the time, which is to be expected in this context. She did an optional high E-flat at the end which sounded a little wiry (I'm not sure that's the word I'm looking for, but I can't think of a better one).

Handel: "Son nata a lagrimar" from *Giulio Cesare*

Stephanie Blythe and David Daniels

Conductor: Marco Armiliato

The two of them did *Cesare* at the Met in 1999 and this duet was said to be one of those priceless, transcendent moments in the theatre. It didn't do that this time. Daniels' voice isn't as creamy as it used to be, but more importantly, the duet doesn't deliver outside of the context of the opera. Sadly, it was dull.

Verdi: "Credo" from *Otello*

Željko Lučić

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

He was good, knew what he was doing. Not stunning, but not bad.

Adès: "What was before" from *The Tempest*

Isabel Leonard and Ben Bliss

Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

I've sat through one and a half performances of *The Tempest* - - I walked out on it at intermission the first time, at the Met, but then gave it another chance when my mom and I were in Vienna on our Viking River Cruise. I hope this is the last time I'll hear it. The music is drippy, the text is super drippy (drippissimo), who needs this. I imagine they put this in the gala to show that they've done something new recently, and to drum up interest for Adès's *The Exterminating Angel* this coming season, but please, not again! Snaps to Leonard and Bliss for singing it like they believed in it (and maybe they do).

Film overview of James Levine's career at the Met.

Puccini: "E lucevan le stelle" from *Tosca*

Vittorio Grigolo

Conductor: James Levine

Him again.

Mozart: "Porgi, Amor" from *Le Nozze di Figaro*

Renée Fleming

Conductor: James Levine

Fleming generally did a good job with this. She tricked it out a little, but she didn't do it any harm.

Massenet: "Baigne d’eau tes mains et tes lèvres" from *Thaïs*

Renée Fleming and Plácido Domingo

Conductor: James Levine

This was the funniest moment in the gala. The duet has a quiet ending, and Fleming and Domingo held the silence, just stood there smiling at each other. And continued standing there smiling at each other. They started walking offstage and THEN we started to applaud. That silence wasn't a *Parsifal* kind of silence where you're so blown away that you can't possibly respond. This was just a dud of an ending, and we simply didn't realize it was over. Hello people, that's a sign that it's NOT a good choice for a gala.

Verdi: “Qual voluttà trascorrere" from *I Lombardi*

Angela Meade, Michael Fabiano, and Günther Groissböck

David Chan playing the glamorous violin solo

Conductor: James Levine

Verdi built in lots of interest and excitement with that glamorous violin solo. Fabiano was very strong, he clearly has a deep feeling for the style. Groissböck, of course, was wonderful, though he had very little to do. Meade was the surprise. She's an up-and-coming dramatic coloratoura, I've been hearing about her for a few years but hadn't yet heard her in person. From her first note, WHOA! That's a BIG voice. I'm hearing her in *Semiramide* next season, I'm looking forward to that.

Rossini: "Bel raggio lusinghier" from *Semiramide*

Joyce Di Donato

Conductor: James Levine

Yet another droopy number! Who put this together? Di Donato tried to liven it up with some vocal fireworks but she couldn't quite pull it off. She sang a low E in one candenza - - yes an E below middle C. That was memorable, but on the whole, this didn't really hold the stage.

Puccini: "Un bel dì" from *Madama Butterfly*

Anna Netrebko

Conductor: James Levine

One last appearance from our leading lady. I don't believe she's sung this role onstage yet, and I'm not sure it would be a good fit for her current full-bodied voice. It's a long journey from Mozart's Susanna to Verdi's Lady Macbeth, and Butterfly might be a stop in between, I'm not sure it would work for her now. But she sounded glorious in the aria. And looked real good in the kimono!

Verdi: Act II finale from *Aida*

Latonia Moore, Dolora Zajick, Yusif Eyvazov, Željko Lučić, James Morris, and Sava Vemić

Conductor: James Levine

A nice capper to the evening. They put off some confetti cannons at the end, which were silly, but why not.

* * *

I've put together a few statistics:

Total number of units: 31

18th century: 12.9%

19th century: 67.75%

20th century: 19.35%

Verdi: 25.80%

Everyone else: 74.20%

And I went through the list and ranked things either Fantastic, OK, or Didn't Work/Didn't Like (you can probably figure out what the ranks are by reading my reviews above). It's most interesting to see how this shakes out with the first half compared with the second:

First half

Fantastic: 9

OK: 4

Didn't Work/Didn't Like: 2

Second half

Fantastic: 5

OK: 6

Didn't Work/Didn't Like: 5

I wonder if the slump from the first half to the second has to do with a) the music itself, b) the quality of the performances, or c) the fact that it was drawing towards 11 PM and I had to go to work the next day. All of the above, I imagine.

Please indulge me with one last video: The Andrews Sisters doing "I can dream, can't I:"


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