BWW Review: Metropolitan Opera's At-Home Gala
April 25, 2020, The Metropolitan Opera presented many of its top ranked artists performing from their homes or where they were staying on that date. Met General Manager Peter Gelb, the master of ceremonies, chatted with Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin as they presented each performer. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, artists were recorded alone or with people they know well. The Gala opened with Peter Mattei singing Don Giovanni's serenade, Deh' vieni alla finestra, accompanied by Lars David Nilsson on the accordion. They were framed by a beautiful picture as the sun set across the water from Mattei's summer home.
Mattei introduced Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak who performed uproarious, knock-down excerpts from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore that included singing from a ladder at their home in Le Raincy, France. Alagna might be an interesting director for comedies one of these days. Alagna's singing partner in Saint Saens' Samson et Dalila, Anita Rachvelishvili, sang a languid and somewhat static "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" ("My heart opens at your voice") with a spectacular pianissimo and resonant low notes. Since it was late at night in Tbilisi, she and accompanist Nicolas Rachvelishvili performed in what looked to be a rehearsal room of the Georgian National Opera rather than her home. A sign on the piano said, "No autographs, please."
Cutting back to Bonita Springs, Florida, viewers watched Michael Fabiano sing "Kuda, kuda" ("Where have the golden days of my spring gone?") from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. His actions and the colors in his voice told the sad story as he sang in Russian. Performing from Virginia, Renée Fleming offered the Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello as a prayer for safe passage through the pandemic for all. Viewers watched still photos of her Desdemona as she sang with jeweled tones intensified by her character's fear of Otello.
The Met Orchestra is arguably the best opera orchestra in the world and each of its players is a fine virtuoso. For the Gala, each them was recorded separately so that all the sound could be combined into a full orchestral rendition. They played the Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana individually but the result sounded like their usual rendition as an orchestra playing together in the pit. As a memorial to Violist Vincent Lionti, a member of the orchestra who passed away from COVID-19, Joyce DiDonato sang the Largo from Handel's Xerxes accompanied by the orchestra's viola section.
Later, the Met Orchestra played a smartly paced overture to Act III of Lohengrin with well coordinated brass, woodwinds and strings. The Met's virtual reconstruction of the full orchestra sounds quite different from the Lyric Opera of Chicago's orchestral rendition of the Ride of the Valkyries that was produced in a similar manner. I like both, but the Chicago version is textured and the Met's is as smooth as butter cream. One of the Met Opera Orchestra's two concert masters, David Chan, offered a change of pace mid-program with the soothing Meditation from Massenet's Thais. For their final presentation, the Met Opera Orchestra accompanied the Met Opera Chorus who were also individually recorded and combined digitally to perform a rousing rendition of the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi's Nabucco.
From Munich, Jonas Kaufmann sang a lyrical version of "Rachel quand du Seigneur" from Halévy's La Juive accompanied on a wonderful Bösendorfer by Helmut Deutsch. Loved Kaufmann's combination of well-worn jeans, sweater, and Rolex. From Lugano, Switzerland, we heard Ambrogio Maestri and Marco Armiliato perform "Nemico della patria" from Giordano's Andrea Chénier. Here the piano was on a balcony and the singer below. From New Haven, Connecticut, we saw a most animated and energetic Erin Morley play and sing "Chacon le sait" (Everyone knows") from Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment.
Michael Volle celebrated the sunset in Berlin with a rendition of The Evening Star from Wagner's Tannhäuser that almost made my heart skip a beat. Loved the fact that he sang of Wagner's medieval musician with pictures of art works created in that early time period over the piano. A trip to the south of France brought us to Elza Van Den Heever and some problems with both audio and video. She sang Stephanus Le Roux Marais's Afrikaans song, Heimwee, (Homesick) but my reception was so broken up I cannot say much about it.
Luckily, the reception was in order for Matthew Polenzani's velvety smooth, poignant Danny Boy from suburban New York. Riga, Latvia, came in perfectly well, too. From her home, wearing a red blouse, Elīna Garanča sang an amusing Habanera and topped it off with a wink. It was interesting to note that almost everyone seemed to have white walls except Bryn Terfel. The walls of his Welch home were of dark wood and they gave a different ambiance to the song, "If I can help somebody" that he and his wife, harpist Hannah Stone, performed.
Speaking from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, Jamie Barton noted, "Oh, it's fun to get to sing again." I think she spoke for all the performers on the Gala roster. Accompanied by Jonathan Easter on rather dull sounding upright piano, she sang "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo. At first her voice sounded dry but as she got a grip on the aria she loosened up and sang with delicious overtones. Also singing music from Don Carlo, Quinn Kelsey offered Rodrigo's "Per me giunto" in a resonant, beautifully colored rendition with gorgeous low tones. He even included an increasingly rapid trill.
Many of us think of Dorothy Kirsten was the quintessential interpreter of Charpentier's Louise. When Angel Blue gave a totally different interpretation of Louise's aria, "Depuis le jour" (Since the day"), she proved that hers is as valid as Kirsten's. Singing from New Jersey, Ms. Blue made me feel like I was in Paris and I enjoyed every moment of it.
René Pape came to us from his home in Dresden. He sang "In diesen heil'gen Hallen," Sarastro's second act aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, with great command of both music and text. Amazingly, his low notes are as strong as the tones in the middle and at the top of his large range. It was late at night in Moscow and the reception was poor, as Ildar Abdrazakov sang Rachmaninov's Spring Waters. Better reception from Malta allowed me to appreciate Joseph Calleja's sparkling rendition of "Leve-toi soleil" ("Get up, Sun") from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. I love his fish tank. Performing from somewhere outside of Munich, Golda Schultz sang sweetly of Doretta's beautiful dream in Puccini's La Rondine.
Seen from New York, Anthony Roth Costanzo reminded viewers of the need for music in distressed times. Accompanied at the keyboard by Assistant Conductor Bryan Waghorn and two other Met musicians, Roth Costanzo sang "Pena Tiranna" from Handel's rarely performed Amadigi di Gaula with the trills and other decorations that would have been heard in Handel's time. His voice blended exquisitely with the instruments and his breath control was momentous.
Backed by white flowers on a mantel, Sonya Yoncheva, who was in Geneva, sang The Song to the Moon from Dvořák's Rusalka. A pre- recorded piano track provided accompaniment and viewers saw still pictures of her in various Met roles. Nadine Sierra appeared at her home in Valencia Spain where she favors all sort of green leafy plants. Her charming rendition of "Mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohème made this listener want to hear more of her in that role.
Although many artists were dressed casually, Piotr Beczala wore a well tailored suit to sing "Recondita Armonia" from Puccini's Tosca with a tear in his voice and easily produced high notes. Met Director of Music Thomas Lausmann was his excellent accompanist. From Orange in the beauteous inland south of France, Nicolas Testé as Don Giovanni and Diana Damrau as Zerlina sang "La ci darem la mano" ("Give me your hand") from the Mozart masterpiece. He sang with innate authority while she was a mass of indecision until the end. From Niceville, Florida, Lawrence Brownlee sang his exquisite virtuoso version of Bellini's "A te o cara" ("To you dear") from Bellini's I Puritani.
The crew arrived early at Gunther Groissböck's home in Lugano, Switzerland, because of technical problems in Vienna. It did not phase him in the least, however, and he finished his beer before accompanying his own bronze-toned performance of "Wie schön ist doch die Musik" from Richard Strauss' Die Schweigsame Frau.
Having worked out the technical problems, Yusif Evazov sang Puccini's "Che gelida manina" ("What a cold little hand") to a prerecorded accompaniment. Back in New York, Isabel Leonard offered a lovely a cappella version of Somewhere from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. From Chicago, Solomon Howard and Ailyn Perez combined their considerable talents in singing a soprano and bass duet from Verdi's Luisa Miller accompanied by Bryan Waghorn.
The Met technical folks went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to catch Lisette Oropesa who, accompanied by Michael Borowitz, sang a perfectly executed "En vain espère" from Meyerbeer's Le Prophète.
Her rendition contained some of the best singing I've heard in years.
From Paris, Nicole Carr and Etienne Depuis sang the handwashing song from Massenet's Thais, "Baigne d'eau mes mains" with panache. Back in New York, Tenor Stephen Costello and his wife, orchestra violinist Yoon Kwon Costello offered a radiant version of "Salut demure chaste et pure" ("Salute, chaste and pure dwelling") with violin obbligato.
Although it was 11 o'clock when the crew was ready at Javier Camarena's abode in Zurich, Switzerland, he was his usual bright and perky self. With a prerecorded piano track, he sang the raging coloratura of Nel' furor della tempesta" ("In the fury of the tempest") from Bellini's infrequently staged Il Pirata.
Saving their most beloved diva for the finale, The Met At Home Gala ended with Anna Netrebko singing a gorgeous rendition of the Rachmaninov song "Ne poi Krasavitsa" ("Do not sing for me"). It was not live because of technical issues, but that did not diminish its artistry. From all of us in quarantined homes around the world, m thank you millions of times to the Met management and to TV Director Gary Halvorson for this fabulous show. It broke new technical ground and hopefully is only the beginning of opera at home.
Photos of Javier Camarena and Jamie Barton from the Metropolitan Opera.