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30 April, 2016

Abduction from the Seraglio at the Met - season opening success.

Seraglio gala ends Andrew Byrne's Met marathon. Friday 22 April 2016
This Met Abduction from the Seraglio was splendid in every way.  Osmin was the old hand as Hans-Peter Konig with both vocal powers and comic talents to carry off this hilarious and contrasting role.  His younger four Christian protagonists show their amazing metal starting with Paul Appleby whose very first love-loon aria contained some ‘John McCormack’ breaths and cantabile legato singing. 
Ms Shagimuratova shone as Konstanze with two of the most difficult arias exquisitely executed.  Equally impressive was Kathleen Kim as Blondchen who slipped in some almost unbelievable high notes into her already high tessitura.  Brenton Ryan had a debut success as Pedrillo. 
James Levine received a rapturous ovation as his orchestra and the Met chorus did their 'thing' as professionally as ever.  The maestro is wheel-chair bound and is thus installed on the podium well before the start.  Rather than walking on he manoeuvres the motorised chair to 180 degrees and is spot-lit, same in the ‘curtain’ calls.  His retirement from the top job was announced recently but he will still guest-conduct a number of operas next season. 

The opera might better be called The Clemenza di Pasha (played by actor Matthias von Stegmann).  After two acts of hilarity we have a philosophical and instructive lesson for the meddlesome  Europeans.  The 1978 John Dexter production is a colourful cardboard cut-out stylised eastern palace - but it works.  
I have seen some spectacular opera at the Met during April including two performances of Roberto Devereux and a mind-numbing Elektra.  More details if anyone is interested ... Also, very grateful for the welcome in this phenomenal city.  Back to reality in Sydney for the month of May. 
Regards, Andrew Byrne .. 

27 April, 2016

Roberto Devereux divine in New York.

Sondra Radvanovsky shines as Queen Elizabeth I in Roberto Devereux at the Met.  This is her third Donizetti queen after Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda.  Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien had been sick and cancelled during the week but was back for the HD on Saturday matinee (I went twice!).  Along with Ms Radvanovsky from Illinois, we heard Latvian mezzo Elena Garanca as Sarah and American tenor Matthew Polenzani in the title role.  This opera promised much but delivered even beyond ones wildest expectations! 
The production by David McVicar used a formal setting with sliding fa├žade on two levels with courtiers watching all the proceedings from above.  Between the Tower of London and Henry VIII’s country palace “Nonesuch” scene changes were seamless.  
My words must fail to fully describe the feeling in the house on those nights.  All I can compare it with is the old Sutherland or Pavarotti nights.  Electricity in the air.  Expectation and just damn dramatic delivery from all present demonstrating all the best qualities of good opera.  It was tough to determine who exactly was the star.  The overture starts with God save our gracious queen which was more than atmospheric (nobody stood up!).  Under Maestro Maurizio Benini the Met orchestra also shone bright. 
Ms Garanca was the surprise for me as she undertook the challenging if somewhat unrewarding role of the amorous rival Sarah.  At times I wondered if she had swapped her score for the coloratura soprano as she soared with elegant legato singing over an enormous range including some very high notes.  Mr Polenzani has progressed and developed over many years, as Edgardo and Alfredo up to his current title role which is extremely well acquitted. 
Ms Radvanovsky puts in the most phenomenal vocal and dramatic performance we have seen in a very long time.  Even in the first of three acts (two were put together) she had a tour-de-force equal to anything else in the repertoire (and reminiscent of the finale of Lucrezia Borgia).  After the almost instantaneous standing ovation at the end our soprano seemed visibly shocked, looking behind herself wondering who everybody was applauding.  Sutherland sometimes did something similar in curtain calls: are you all applauding little-old-me?  At other times we received a respectful but regal look, showing no emotion whatever.  At a certain point Ms Radvanovsky kissed her hand and pressed it to the stage floor. 
The curtain calls were more like football than opera.  An enthusiast has put a video of the applause onto YouTube!  ( ).   The penultimate duet is on YouTube:  Other excerpts c/o Met Opera:  

While the rest of the world saw it live that Saturday, Australians will find it worth a visit to the cinema in July.  This obscure but wonderful opera may turn out to be one of the Mets most popular outreach HD broadcasts to date.  Unlike most operas in recent years, the house was completely sold out for these performances. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..