Take a pretty long opera to begin with, add an 8 p.m. curtain and two super-long intermissions, and you have the red-eye edition of Copious Notes. But they just said MuteMath is on Conan, so I'm up until at least 1:35.
Anyway, our first -- and thus far only -- consensus disappointment at the NEA Institute in Classical Music and Opera was that Natalie Dessay did not sing the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor last night.
We learned that Tuesday morning in a class with Columbia University assistant music professor Karen Henson, where she casually mentioned that Natalie wouldn't be singing Wednesday night, and then proceeded to bring her up at least half a dozen times during the two-hour session. "Natalie this," "Natalie that," "You know, Natalie is really good a mad scenes." Really? Because, you know, Lucia has one of those.
Anyway, I know Karen wasn't trying to pour salt in the wound. She was simply using one of the great acting sopranos today as an example in a class, even showing Natalie's mad scene as Ophelia in Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet that was so incredible, I've already ordered the DVD.
Karen also had a little aside about the current trend of "Opera heroin chic," riffing off the high-contrast and emaciated look of models just a few years ago, in ads such as the banner (photo, right) of Dessay for Lucia.
Anyway, for an out of towner, no night at the Met is a bad night at the Met.
It was particularly cool to go downstairs and see the Luciano Pavarotti exhibit in the gallery, including photos of Luciano and Joan Sutherland in a 1972 production of Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment.
Lucia, of course, was the Donizetti opera in question Wednesday. Seeing James Levine's familiar 'do popping up over the rail of the orchestra pit was a quick reminder that not all of the big names had bailed on the weeknight show, and I cannot remember hearing a more responsive and sensitive opera orchestra ever. The whole show started off great. Tony Award-winning Metamorphosis director Marry Zimmerman was the stage director, and between her, set designer Daniel Ostling and, of course, Donizetti, things started off on an appropriately grim note. You had Lucia (Annick Massis) and her beloved Edgardo (Marcello Giordani) singing that, "only death could chill our love," while they were in the woods in the dead of winter among skeletal, leafless trees framed by a purple sky, with billowy black clouds. Can you say foreboding?
Annick initially didn't seem like much of a loss, as her coloratura voice leaped and danced around singing of her love for Edgardo. And she seemed to be building up to a mad scene in Act II, facing down her brother Enrico (Mariusz Kwiecien), who was forcing her to marry against her will. That scene, by the way, had an incredibly simple set change that basically involved removing dust covers from furniture and chandeliers, but the transformation was astonishing.
Anyway, the mad scene.Way too calculated to be truly mad, or compelling. Was it a lack of experience doing the staged version of it? Dunno. But in the end, Marcello drew me back in for the graveyard finale. And there were other things to mention, like the Met Opera chorus, which is as amazing an ensemble as you'll likely see in opera. This week, we'd been talking about how the Met was built for the big, spectacular operas, and that's what we got.
~ This has got to be one of the most nerve-wracking frustrating things I ever have done as a critic. Tuesday, we went to see Agrippina at City Opera. Then, we had to write reviews overnight, that will be critiqued this morning. Anyway, yesterday, at breakfast, we all start talking about what we wrote, and it's like a mental festival of, "Oh, I missed that!" "Oh, I wish I said that!" The sentiments only deepened as we got a packet of each other's reviews, and I started reading through them. This is a strong group of writers.
~ If you'd like to see what two other bloggers are saying about this experience, check out:
Portland critic Stephen Marc Beaudoin's From Every Corner.
Chicago scribe Bryant Manning's Mysteries Abysmal.
(The photo, left, was taken backstage at New York City Opera. L-R, Bryant, Stephen, Rob Hubbard of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Performance Today and Sabine Kortals of the Denver Post. Tucked behind Stephen's shoulder is James Conley of the Montgomery Advertiser, who remembers Everett McCorvey, when he was a promising young man.)