11 April 2007
I am surprised at all the carping criticism of this new Met production and the lack of an ‘Italianate’ tenor for the title role. I enjoyed it enormously, especially Ben Heppner (although he is NOT my favourite tenor). The production is realistic - but with a twist. We open to a magnificent upward sloping royal blue carpet with a fleur-de-lys motif. A lop-sided, centrally placed, outsized gilded over-mantle mirror was facing us. In front was a six-seater Empire sofa, as required by the libretto and this was the only prop used on the expanse of blue carpet on this set (by Hubert Monloup who also did the costumes).
The party scene emphasised the chasm between rich and poor as every guest was dressed in yellow of every hue from deep cream to canary finery. The contrast with the poor street people was similar to the Manhattan juxtaposition which still happens today. France and America have each had at least one revolution … but best not for an Australian to go there!
Ms Urmana was magnificent, using a resonant chest register up accurate high soprano notes. Mark Delavan was solid and at times exciting.
Act II took place in a Paris street-scape which was effective and beautiful. The devious events which took place were vehicles for Giordano’s marvellous melodies and vocalising.
Act III also ‘worked’ as a courthouse, albeit à la Kangarou, leading to Act IV after a ‘brief pause’. This final scene had a set and direction which just did not make sense to me. The music is so glorious that I did not let it worry me and just revelled in the spectacular duet. The ending had Heppner in full voice, taking all his high notes (apart from his second last one eschewed, with Urmana ‘covering’).
One did not have the feeling, as in his Lohengrin, that he lacked confidence. As Chenier, he was still being ‘careful’, regularly taking a separate breath before a high note, but then placing each perfectly and bringing his customary volume and velvet tone to the note.
A privilege to be in New York to hear such singing. A sadness that only about three quarters of the house was sold.