Thursday November 17, 2011 - Last season, the Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos made her Metropolitan Opera debut singing the arduous role of Minnie in Puccini's FANCIULLA DEL WEST. She scored a big personal success and became something of a cult figure for Gotham's opera buffs. Tonight she was back, singing an even more demanding role: Abigaille in Verdi's NABUCCO. Listen to the big scena from her performance here.
The soprano made a distinctive success in the role; as with her Minnie, it took a few moments for her to get the voice in gear. But one of the first things that struck me was the way she handled the coloratura flourishes in the score: she sang every note without smearing and she didn't break the passages with breaths. A singer with a highly individualized timbre, Matos is undaunted when the music dips into chest voice; at the other end of the spectrum her top B's and C's had plenty of thrust and sizzle. Her passionate rendering of the text and her admirable ability to give nuance to music that is often simply belted were big plusses in her performance. It's an old-school and personalized kind of voice and style. As Matos struck off a brightly sustained top-C to end her big cabaletta, Dmitry and I turned to one another and said: "Here's our Brunnhilde!" Whenever Ms. Matos comes to The Met, I will be there.
The Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee gave an outstanding performance as Ismael, normally a thankless role (no aria) but here made prominent by the tenor's clear, warm and Italianate sound and his slender, handsome appearance. He projects the voice well, with house-filling success, yet he could also taper notes along the way. He's clearly listened to lots of Italian tenors and he needs to guard against being over-generous with his basically lyric instrument in order to preserve its attractiveness. The audience embraced his singing and presence with an especially warm chorus of bravos.
I first heard basso Carlo Colombara at the Met in 1997 as Ramfis in AIDA and liked him a lot. Over the following seasons he was frequently announced for various roles at the House but he seems never to have shown up again on the boards til a decade later for a few more AIDAs. Now he is back for the far more taxing role of Zaccaria in NABUCCO. He seemed stretched by the opening aria which takes the voice to the outer reaches of the range at both ends; he was clipping upper notes short and seemed to want to rush ahead of the conductor's already-speedy tempo. But soon after, in the great prayer 'Vieni, O Levita" Colombara sounded much more like the basso I remember. From there on in, he was quite effective both vocally and as a personage.
As Nabucco, Zeljko Lucic shows off his imposing and intrinsically 'right' Verdi-bartone sound and style. He has both power and subtlety at his finger-tips and knows just how to turn a phrase to maximum vocal and dramatic effect. It's a big, big-hearted portrayal and you want to love him totally though at times his great qualities are under-mined by wayward pitch. But at his best, as in the 'mad scene' that follows his blasphemy, Lucic commands the stage.
Elizabeth Bishop was a very fine Fenena and basso Jeremy Galyon made his mark as the High Priest of Baal. The chorus sounded well and won the evening's longest applause for their singing of "Va pensiero" with its very sustained final note hanging on the air. But this chorus with it's waltzy feeling always makes me a smirk. Paolo Carignani led a performance that zipped along but also managed to have a sense of grandeur.
The production features a front drop curtain that would suit well for Wagner's RING: there's magic fire, there's veins of Rhine gold, there's Valhalla. Since the Met's infamous new RING with its infernal machine so far shows no sense of directing the singers or characterizing the individual roles, the Company could have saved $20 million by simply having Wotan and Fricka stand and deliver in front of this attractive painting.
Athough I have attended a half-dozen performances of NABUCCO at the Met in recent seasons, this is the first time I actually stayed til the end.
Metropolitan Opera House
November 17, 2011
High Priest.............Jeremy Galyon