Monday February 13, 2012 - I went to this performance of AIDA at the Met with mixed expectations. As the evening went on, one singer emerged unexpectedly with a unique vocal approach to his role: tenor Marcelo Alvarez (above). Since I think of him as a 'big lyric', it seemed to me that Alvarez might be an unikely candidate to give such a thoroughly satisfying performance in the arduous music of Radames - but that's just what he did.
The audience didn't seem to grasp or appreciate what the tenor was doing vocally this evening. Perhaps they were expecting the traditional brawny approach to the role. From the start, Alvarez offered vocal clarity and warmth; and he stuck to his guns all evening emerging at the opening of the Tomb Scene with some truly ravishing piano vocalism. People may question his way with the music, but there's no denying that it fell more pleasantly on the ear than many other tenor voices these days.
Alvarez sang 'Celeste Aida' in lyric style, with a very savvy mastery of the passagio. This aria, coming within moments of the rise of the curtain, is a real test for the tenor voice. I was so impressed with Alvarez's handling of the music here, and he never let me down all evening. Seemingly the voice was without the brassy thrust of some of his predecessors in the role, yet in both the Temple and the Triumphal Scenes, the Alvarez sound managed to flash thru the dense ensemble. In the passionate duet of the Nile Scene, he moulded some truly attractive, heartfelt phrases. He held his own against the powerhouse mezzo Stephanie Blythe in the Judgement Scene, and was vocally captivating in the delicacy of his tender remorse in 'La fatal pietra', reflecting on his impending death - as he believes his beloved Aida is far away - with hushed phrasing which stole meltingly into the big House. In the great final duet, 'O terra addio' he and the now-fully-warmed-up Violeta Urmana shaped the phrases into a very impressive rendering.
Whether Alvarez can continue to make his method work in these demanding roles remains to be seen; it's not a real spinto sound by any stretch. Yet I found his singing both distinctive and impressive and I can only wish him well.
Violeta Urmana seemed very out-of-sorts thru most the the opera's first two acts. Her normally large, thrusting sound was oddly subdued, the tone metallic and threadbare in spots. In the second half of "Ritorna vincitor' she seemed to be making some headway in getting the voice in gear, and there were moments of excitement in her duet with Amneris. In the Triumphal Scene, the soprano's voice failed to ride the ensembles with the desired gleam. After a disastrous botching of the dolcissimo high-C in 'O Patria Mia', Urmana seemed to relax and was more her normal self. But the overall feeling that I experienced listening to her was that of regret; regret that her once so mellow and splendid mezzo was traded in for a workaday soprano sound which now seems to be wearing itself out in the heavy demands of the big spinto-to-dramatic roles.
Stephanie Blythe's ultra-loud Amneris pleased the crowd. For me her singing lacked any kind of nuance or colour for the most part; she simply marched thru the music full-blast. The Judgement Scene exposed the insecurity at the top her range though she covered it up fairly well; the climactic note was cut short and probably robbed her of a big ovation. There is so much more to Amneris than just singing loudly, as such formidable exponents of the role as Simionato, Dalis, Cossotto, Toczyska, Zajick and D'Intino have shown us.
Lado Ataneli as Amonasro gave the best performance I have heard from him to date, seemingly free of the pitch lapses that have sometimes undermined his singing in the past. I hope to hear him again soon on this kind of form. Despite one flat top note, James Morris remains an authoritative Ramfis, and it was good to hear Jordan Bisch (as Pharoah) seemingly having solved some earlier vocal problems with forthright singing tonight. Lori Guilbeau sang clearly as the offstage Priestess and Adam Laurence Hershkowitz was a sturdy Messenger. The dancers, led by Laura Feig and Robert Colby Damon, did what they could with the Ratmansky choreography in the limited space allotted them.
Fabio Amiliato's conducting was far better here than in ERNANI, but he still sometimes lets the voices be swamped and he still sometimes rushes forward too impulsively, making the singers scramble. Oddly, the evening started with David Chan in the concertmaster's chair but after the first intermission, a woman took over the spot.
I love AIDA; I simply and thoroughly enjoyed just listening to the Verdi music, regardless of what ups and downs the performance might have experienced. Only in the opera house can you truly savour the greatness of these scores; for me it is still the place to be, whatever is happening to the art form in its current state. And so I will continue to go.
Metropolitan Opera House
February 13, 2012
Messenger...............Adam Laurence Herskowitz
Dancers.................Laura Feig, Robert Colby Damon