Three Divas, May 22, 2021
I heard the latest of the the Met Stars Live in Concert series on May 26, 2021 (it was live on May 22). It was billed as “Three Divas” and featured three young singers who have made a big splash at the Met: sopranos Ailyn Pérez and Nadine Sierra and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard. They were joined by pianist Vlad Iftinca and guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas. The concert was done from the Royal Opera of Versailles in France. Gorgeous hall, naturally.
Sierra opened with “Je veux vivre dans ce rêve” from Gounod’s *Roméo et Juliette.* She sounded real juicy and looked like a dream in her robin’s egg blue toga-inspired gown. I don’t spend enough time talking about gowns. Iftinca played with lots of splash and verve, two qualities that are appreciated when playing for a diva.
Leonard sang “Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s *Le Nozze di Figaro.* She sang it with ease and elegance. Her midnight blue sparkly number made a strong statement, a statement I liked a lot!
Pérez was the one singer I hadn’t heard in person and wow, she really delivered with a verismo show-stopper, “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s *La Wally.* Her gown was my favorite of the trio - - it was a muted pink with lots of sparkle and feathers at the bust and the hem. Thank you for the feathers!
More Mozart - - Sierra sang “Crudele? ... Non mi dir” from *Don Giovanni.* This aria are usually sung by an older and grander artist, but Sierra sang it on her own terms and sounded marvelous.
We went back further in time for a Baroque gem - - Leonard sang “Agitata da due venti” from Vivaldi’s *Griselda.* I think of her as being in the crack between mezzo soprano and soprano but wowie wow, she can really plunge into her chest voice. I hope she’ll sing a Baroque opera at the Met sometime soon. Iftinca’s playing was particularly strong and colorful in this aria.
Pérez sang another verismo aria, “Stridono lassù” from Leoncavallo’s *Pagliacci.* I think she’ll be doing this role at the Met sometime soon, and she’ll be marvelous in it. She really understands the style. This stuff can sometimes sound hokey or cheap, but she sang it with sincerity and conviction. Iftinca impressed me again in this aria, with his birdlike twittering.
How about something everyone loves? Leonard and Sierra sang “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour” (Barcarolle) from Offenbach’s *Les Contes d’Hoffmann.* This was the first time we heard two women singing together and they sounded divine together. They seemed to be listening as much as they sang. As my college choir conductor, the great Robert Fountain, said, “There’s a reason the good Lord gave you two ears and only one mouth.”
Another duet: Leonard and Pérez singing “Prenderò quel brunettino” from Mozart’s *Così fan tutte.* I’ve always thought this number had a slight vaudeville flavor and these two certainly didn’t shy away from that. And they sounded great together.
Then the final pairing, the two sopranos (Pérez and Sierra) singing “Mira, o Norma ... Sì, fino all’ore estreme” from Bellini’s *Norma.* As expected, Sierra sang Adalgisa (supportive friend) and Pérez sang Norma (grand Druid priestess). I hope this doesn’t gave Pérez any ideas that she should sing the role, or maybe not for a few years, or in a VERY small opera house. Anyway, they sounded great. Sierra was singing in the middle and lower middle, not the most glamorous part of her voice, but she didn’t sound like she was trying to be something she wasn’t. She sang intelligently.
The three ladies came together for the trio from R. Strauss’s *Der Rosenkavalier,* with Leonard as Oktavian, Sierra as Sophie, and Pérez as the Marschallin. This piece is an overkill of gorgeousness and never fails to destroy me. That switch to E major near the end - - wow, it packs quite a punch. All three ladies sounded spectacular.
Leonard got a little teary when she talked about the closeness that she feels with the two other singers, and the special bond of their Latina heritage. The rest of the program consisted of Latin music. She set the tone with “Près des remparts de Séville” (Seguidilla) from Bizet’s *Carmen.* She sang it with moxie but again, I hope it’ll be a few years before she does this role onstage. Next she sang a Rossini song, “En medio a mis colores” (Canzonetta spagnuola). Bizet was French and Rossini was Italian but they really caught the scent of Spain, and Leonard sang them beautifully.
Sierra sang an aria I hadn’t heard before, “Me llaman la primorosa” from Giménez’s *El Barbero de Sevilla.* Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Met did the occasional semi-staged performance of a zarzuela like this, or a mixed bag zarzuela concert? Sierra turned it into the most thrilling number of the show. Her cadenza was particularly exciting.
Pérez sang a voluptuous song by Manuel Ponce, “Estrellita.” Something tells me this was a song that Caballé did back in the day. No evidence of that online, can anyone confirm it? Pérez sang it to the hilt, a diva down to her fingertips.
They ended the program with the three ladies singing two Spanish popular songs, “Bésame Mucho” by Consuelo Velázquez and “Cielito Lindo” by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés. They were joined on these songs by the fabulous Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas. I want to know who did the clever three-part arrangements. They were expertly done. Here's a clip from "Besame Mucho":
But really, as lovely as it was to hear these three opera divas singing “Cielito Lindo,” I’d rather hear someone with some more grit and less sheen. My favorite recording is by Lydia Mendoza: