|Netrebko, photo @ Ken Howard|
So ... how did the performance stack up against the hype? Pretty well, all things considered. Anna Netrebko is a Superdiva and Tosca is a Superdiva and the singer and the role were well-matched both musically and temperamentally. Netrebko's voice has grown so much in volume and richness but lost a lot of flexibility. I saw a recent video of her Lady Macbeth in London and while it was exciting she struggled in the passagework of the role. Tosca makes no such demands. It allowed Netrebko to do what she does best, which is flood the auditorium with huge waves of sound. And her instrument is still a miracle. You can quibble with the suspect pitch, mushy diction, weird dipthonged vowels, and occasionally loosened vibrato. But to have a voice that can sing high, sing low, can fill any house with surround sound stereo volume, and with a gorgeous, plush timbre to boot -- that's God's gift.
Netrebko's portrayal was rather generalized in the first act. She doesn't really do the coy jealous lover thing very well. She has too much strength and personality to pull that sort of teasing love duet thing off. It was in the second act where she surprised me. I didn't think she could play the terrified victim -- in a recent interview Netrebko made it clear she was not exactly the most sympathetic person towards the #metoo movement -- she said "All this sexual bullshit, we don't have it. I'm sorry, I think it's total shit. If you don't want it, nobody will force you to do anything, never. If you did it, it means you allowed that."
|Volle and Netrebko, photo @ Ken Howard|
Part of the success of Netrebko's second act has to go to Michael Volle's Scarpia. Volle was dynamite as the depraved Roman police chief. Volle's voice is not the most beautiful but my does he understand how to convey that 'law and order' authority even when making the most perverted demands. His Te Deum was chilling. His voice sounded like a sheet of ice. He and Netrebko had great chemistry -- they were listening to each other, feeding off the other's energy, and so as a result the second act packed a wallop. I expect them to improve even more in further performances.
|Eyvasov and Netrebko, photo @ Ken Howard|
"E lucevan le stelle" had no float, no shine. He gets the job done but when he's singing with his wife who has one of the most beautiful voices in the world, the gap in ability is glaring. There is also very little onstage chemistry between husband and wife. "O dolci mani" was way too cozy and lethargic. In fact the whole third act was listless. Netrebko spent too much time staring at the prompter when she was supposed to be singing to Cavaradossi. Netrebko jumped to her death without any posed dive -- she simply ran off the parapet. It was an interesting choice -- more spontaneous and less fatalistic. Not so much thinking about a meeting before God as much as "I don't want to be tortured and executed."
The supporting characters were all fine. Patrick Carfizzi was nice comic relief as the Sacristan. I enjoyed the Shepherd Boy of Davida Doyle. The song of the Shepherd is the one moment of delicacy in this otherwise blood and guts opera.
|The cast at curtain calls, de Billy next to Netrebko|
Audience response was surprisingly muted for a 4000 seat sold out house. Usually Netrebko gets screaming, stomping, endless ovations. Tonight she got a big pink bouquet and a warm ovation but the audience response wasn't crazy. I think the anemic third act took the wind out the performance's sails. Eyvasov even got a few scattered boos. But overall I think Tosca is a great role for Netrebko and that her future is in verismo. I can't wait to see her Adriana Lecouvreur next season.
|Cendrillon, photo @ Ken Howard|
Therefore it's a testament to the charm of Jules Massenet's Cendrillon that this fairy-tale with its wistful, lovely score played so well in such a huge auditorium. I saw it on Friday night (4/20) and while the cast was not perfect it was a very enchanting evening. Interesting footnote: Kenneth MacMillan's bloated, tawdry ballet Manon lifts most of its tunes from Cendrillon.
|DiDonato and Naouri, photo @ Ken Howard|
|DiDonato and Coote, photo @ Ken Howard|
Coote is also a scrupulous singer with a pleasant, soft-grained timbre. But her voice doesn't soar -- it stays in this even flatline. She's also not very expressive -- "Allez, laissez moi seul" came and went without registering much. And there's no getting around this but both Coote and DiDonato at this point in their careers read as very mature both physically and vocally. This was a problem in the duets between the Prince and Cendrillon. "A deux genoux" had none of the glow and blush of young love. It was too low-impact to register as anything but just "nice."
|Blythe and her two Stepdaughters, photo @ Ken Howard|
|Kim as Fairy Godmother|
Super-ubiquitous conductor Bertrand de Billy led a sweet, sensitive account of the score. He was careful not to drown out any voices and contributed to the intimate feel of the evening, 4000 seats and all.
And so that's a wrap for the season. It started off slowly but the Parsifal, Luisa Miller, Tosca and Lucia di Lammermoor made for some great memories. And now, in no particular order, some random shout-outs:
Best New Voice - Jessica Pratt in Lucia. I know she's actually been on the scene for many years but this the first time I heard her in a major role and you don't want to know how much time I've spent tracking down recordings of hers.
Most Welcome Return to Repertory - Luisa Miller after a long absence. This revival did justice to Verdi's beautiful haunting opera with protagonists who had all mastered the Verdi style.
Most Moving Experience - Parsifal. I cried nonstop from the Good Friday Music to the final chord. What a healing, uplifting opera.
Greatest Scene Stealing - Stephanie Blythe as the Wicked Stepmother in Cendrillon and Elsa van den Heever as Chrysothemis in an otherwise disappointing Elektra. Both ladies absolutely stole every scene they were in.
Most Welcome Return - Lisette Oropesa after several years' absence as a delightful Gretel in Hansel and Gretel.
Most Shattering Performance - Peter Mattei as Amfortas. One of those life changing portrayals that will have me bragging for the rest of my life that I saw Peter Mattei as Amfortas. Blood poisoning was never so beautiful.
Best Superdiva Turn - Anna Netrebko in Tosca. Duh.
Favorite image of the 2017-18 season: the four ladies-in-waiting giving Semiramide some major bitch-face and side-eye: