A few thoughts on today’s Turandot, which I saw via HD transmission…
** For years, I’ve been happy that the Met retained the Zeffirelli production, which – for better and worse – exemplifies a kind of opera theatrical style that’s on the fast track to extinction. (I often recommended it – as a show – to theater people wanting a sense of “The Met” in all its grandeur.)
** Watching it today, I thought it’s time to put it away – it looked more than ever like a slightly dilapidated Disneyland attraction, and virtually everything about it – including the disruptive curtain calls after each act, and the endless intermissions – is in the category of Why Some People Hate Opera.
** Certainly not a day of bel canto. Among the principals, only Alexander Tsymbalyuk and Anita Hartig came close what I hoped for, though neither one is Italianate. But at least they have beautiful voices. Hartig especially so – it’s a really gorgeous, round sound, though in today’s performance, she made little of the words, and there’s not a true pianissimo. She’s lovely and sympathetic on the stage, but at times her painting-to-music gestures suggested a Scotto parody. I’d like to hear more of Tsymbalyuk – I like his timbre, and there’s something distinctive and individual in the sound.
** I’d like to hear a lot less of Marco Berti. You know you’re in trouble when you’re nostalgically pining for golden days of late-career Marcello Giordani. Berti’s voice is utterly without tonal allure, and there’s no stylistic or theatrical compensation.
** Nina Stemme is a formidable artist, I think – but Turandot isn’t her thing. I admire the amplitude of her voice, and especially the solidity from bottom to top. But she doesn’t bind the music into meaningful phrases – she pops out high notes in isolation in a way that recalled Birgit Nilsson, but without Nilsson’s astonishing ease and shine. I thought Stemme sounded considerably better after “In questa reggia,” but never to me like a natural Turandot. (And the Met costume, hair, makeup and lighting people did her no favors – in Act II, Stemme resembled Grandmother Burya more than Turandot, and she bore almost no resemblance to the very attractive, animated woman who was interviewed a few weeks ago during the Pecheurs de Perles intermission.)
** I don’t sense there’s a cohesive artistic decision about how to deal with make-up for non-Asian actors in Asian roles. Honestly, I don’t know what I think is the best way to handle this – but I do think consistency is helpful. (From the still photo of Kristine Opolais costumed for Madama Butterfly, it seems there will be no attempt to make her up for the character – in which case, it’ll be my first time seeing a Cio-Cio-San who looks like Anita Ekberg.)
** May we please have a long break from Renée Fleming channeling Betty Furness? I get that she’s a draw for HD audiences, and that she is generous to contribute her time and support to the Met. (And I wouldn’t wish on anybody – not even a Fox News commentator – the job of interviewing Marco Berti.) But there are people who do this better than Fleming – in a mash-up of interview clips from other HD transmissions, it was Susan Graham who stood out for charm, naturalness and humor. Let’s have more of Graham.