Tuesday October 16, 2012 - My first opera of the 2012-2013 season. I was hoping for something along the lines of the wonderful 2008 performance of OTELLO where Johan Botha and Renee Fleming (above) illuminated the roles of Otello and Desdemona, but it wasn't meant to be. Following a reportedly disastrous showing in the season prima, Mr. Botha canceled the next two and was replaced by Avgust Amonov.
Mr. Amonov's Mariinsky bio reflects a wide-ranging repertoire that includes several of opera's most demanding roles. His voice did not seem to have the amplitude for Otello's music at The Met, and he was not really helped much by conductor Semyon Bychkov who pushed the tenor's resources in Act II with waves of orchestral volume. Amonov's best moments came in the more lyrical passages of the Act I love duet where he and Renee Fleming made quite beautiful music together.
Renee looked as lovely as she ever has: I was there at the Met Auditions concert in 1988 when her Song to the Moon brought down the house. Much water has flowed under the bridge of time since then, and Renee still sounds pretty much the same as she did that day. She is more cautious and the voice may have something of an egg-shell quality now, but her singing of the love duet and the Act II quartet was truly beautiful and expressive.
Falk Struckmann looked wonderfully ominous as he watched the Moor's ship struggle to port in the opening scene, hoping all the time that is would be sunk to the depths. The baritone's voice is powerful but very un-Italianate and much of Act I was sung with a scooping quality. His Credo was exciting, though Bychkov pressured the singer at the climax of the aria. Later, in Era la notte, some hoarseness began to creep in, and Struckmann's Dio vendicator! was raspy. I was reminded of his similar dispiriting problems in the final act of a WALKURE broadcast from Bayreuth 2006. With the baritone seemingly compromised and the tenor unable to deploy he desired thunderbolts, the raging final duet if Act II was a bit of a letdown.
Michael Fabiano's voice seemed stressfully forced as Cassio. It's a lyric role, so there's no need to put so much pressure on the tone.
For all his lack of consideration for his singers, Semyon Bychkov's rendering of the opening storm music was spine-tingling... but then, this music always thrills, no matter who wields the baton.
Imagining that the rest of the evening would not be enthralling - though the idea of missing Renee's Willow Song and Ave Maria gave us pause - we took our leave at intermission.
These performances were marketed at a higher range of ticket pricing under The Met's sliding scale, presumably because of Fleming and Botha. Since half of the promised duo failed to appear, should there have been a partial refund? One wonders what will happen if Jonas Kaufmann fails to appear for one of his Parsifals? And what of the impending return of James Levine? I am sure his performances will feature high-end pricing. What happens if he has to cancel?
At any rate, there were quite a few empty seats and of course many of those who attended did so on Rush or student prices. The illusion that all is well with The Met these days seems just that: an illusion.
Metropolitan Opera House
October 16, 2012