BWW Review: Met's Round-the-World, At-Home Gala Proves 'Music is Nutrition for Our Souls'

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BWW Review: Met's Round-the-World, At-Home Gala Proves 'Music is Nutrition for Our Souls'
Met violists and Joyce DiDonato in Handel's
"Ombra mai fu" in tribute to violist Vincent Lionti.
Photo: Richard Sasanow from live broadcast.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis that is gripping the world--and keeping so many people in quarantine--the Metropolitan Opera managed to pull off a brilliantly executed music coup. It connected stars, chorus members and orchestral musicians in an "At-Home Gala"--a combination fund-raiser for the Met with wonderful entertainment.

And, yes, the complex technology worked (most of the time, at least)!

The event, which took place 'live' on Saturday afternoon, EDT, was available on demand from the Met's website until 8pm EDT on Sunday evening in New York. It was co-hosted by the company's general manager, Peter Gelb, with its spirited, exciting music director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

There were more than 40 participating artists--not including the many members of the company's world-class orchestra and chorus¸ under Nezet-Seguin and chorus master Donald Palumbo. The director was Gary Halvorson, with music producers David Frost and Andrew Mellor on the orchestral/orchestral-vocal selections.

BWW Review: Met's Round-the-World, At-Home Gala Proves 'Music is Nutrition for Our Souls'
Met musicians and chorus members with
conductor Nezet-Seguin (fourth row, third from left).
Photo: Richard Sasanow from live broadcast

They were caught on Skype in their homes in Asia, Europe, Canada and the United States--some accompanied 'live' while others sang to prerecorded piano tracks made to their specifications.

Among my favorite performances--some giving us the opportunity to hear beloved singers in different roles--were Jamie Barton in fierce "O don fatale" from DON CARLO, Angel Blue in a melting "Depuis le jour" from LOUISE and Michael Fabiano in a heart-rending "Kuda, kuda" from EUGENE ONEGIN, repeating performances they had done at Carnegie Hall last year at the Richard Tucker Awards Gala.

The winner of this year's Tucker Award, Lisette Oropesa, gave a gorgeous "En vain j'espere," from ROBERT LE DIABLE (which she's performed at La Monnaie in Brussels).

Diana Damrau--who gave up soubrette roles long ago--did the charming duet, "La ci darem la mano" from DON GIOVANNI as Zerlina with her husband, bass Nicolas Teste as the Don. Peter Mattei, who is scheduled to do the new production of that opera at the Met next spring, opened the concert with a sweet-voiced version of the Don's canzonetta, "Deh vieni non tardar," accompanied by Lars David Nilsson on accordion ("an instrument not usually heard in the opera house," quipped Gelb).

In another Mozart aria, the wonderful bass, Rene Pape--usually heard in Verdi and Wagner--took on "In diesen heil'gen Hallen" from DIE ZAUBERFLOTE (prerecorded). Also prerecorded were Anna Netrebko in a Rachmaninoff song (Opus 4, No. 4) and her husband, Yusif Eyvazov, in a lovely "Che gelida manina" from LA BOHEME. The aria for the opera's Mimi, however, was 'live," with Nadine Sierra's thoughtful, beautiful "Si, mi chiamano Mimi."

On the bel canto side, Lawrence Brownlee (with Myra Huang on piano) contributed a soaring "A te, o cara" from I PURITANI, while Erin Morley showed she's ready to move up from ingenue, with a lively "Chacun le sait" from LA FILLE DU REGIMENT, accompanying herself on piano without missing a high note. Javier Camarena added "Nel furor delle tempeste" (including the long cabaletta) from Il PIRATA, scheduled for next season at the Met.

On the French side, there was "Baigne d'eau mes mains" from THAIS, from the husband-wife pair Nicole Car and Etienne Dupuis and Elina Garanca pulled "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" out of her bag of tricks from past CARMENs. Anita Rachvelishvili gave a smashing "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from SAMSON ET DALILA.

Gunther Groissbock's potent contribution was "Wie schoen ist doch die music" from Richard Strauss's comedy, DIE SCHWEIGSAME FRAU, while Sonya Yoncheva did a lovely "Song of the Moon" from Dvorak's RUSALKA. Michael Volle brought the amazing "O du, mein holder Abendstern" from TANNHAUSER, with Anthony Roth Costanzo very much at home in "Pena tiranna" from Handel's obscure AMADIGI DI GAULA.

Not all the music was classical. Matthew Polenzani used his clear, clean tenor in a beautifully rendered "Danny Boy," accompanying himself on piano in this song about "love, loss, devotion." Bryn Terfel with his wife, harpist Hannah Stone contributed a particularly moving version of Alma Androzzo's "If I Can Help Somebody," ending with the simple phrase, "then my living shall not be in vain."

The trickiest of the performances, of course, were the orchestral/choral works led by Nezet-Seguin and Palumbo, which coordinated superbly, shown with the multiple musicians on screen, all in their separate venues. Nezet-Seguin explained how he pulled off the "Intermezzo" from Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and the Prelude to Act III of LOHENGRIN, by doing a kind of conducting version of "air guitar," without musical accompaniment. This then went to the Met's Director of Adminstration, Thomas Lausmann, who played it on piano and made a video that was sent out to the orchestra. The results, as they were in NABUCCO's "Va pensiero," were amazing.

Perhaps the most poignant of all the selections was the tribute to violist Vincent Lionti, a victim of coronavirus. The other members of the viola section were joined by Joyce DiDonato in the breathtaking "Ombra mai fu" from Handel's SERSE. (JDD contributed the quote, "Music is Nutrition for Our Souls.")

That's just my personal list, because there were lots of others to remind us of the joys of hearing 'live' music. Here's the full list of the participating soloists:

Ildar Abdrazakov, Moscow, Russia; Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak, Le Raincy, France; Marco Armiliato, Lugano, Switzerland; Jamie Barton, Atlanta, GA; Piotr Beczała, Zabnica, Poland; Angel Blue, Alpine, NJ; Lawrence Brownlee, Niceville, FL; Joseph Calleja, Mellieha, Malta; Javier Camarena, Zurich, Switzerland; Nicole Car and Etienne Dupuis, Paris, France; David Chan, Closter, NJ; Anthony Roth Costanzo, New York, NY; Stephen Costello and Yoon Kwon Costello, New York, NY; Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé, Orange, France; Joyce DiDonato, rural Spain; Michael Fabiano, Bonita Springs, FL.

Renée Fleming, Virginia; Elīna Garanča, Riga, Latvia; Gunther Groissböck, Lugano, Switzerland; Jonas Kaufmann, Munich, Germany; Quinn Kelsey, Toronto, Canada; Isabel Leonard, New York, NY; Ambrogio Maestri, Lugano, Switzerland; Peter Mattei, Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden; Erin Morley, New Haven, CT; Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov, Vienna, Austria (prerecorded); Lisette Oropesa, Baton Rouge, LA; René Pape, Dresden, Germany (prerecorded); Ailyn Pérez and Soloman Howard, Chicago, IL; Matthew Polenzani, Pelham, NY; Anita Rachvelishvili, Tbilisi, Georgia; Golda Schultz, Munich, Germany; Nadine Sierra, Valencia, Spain; Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone, Wales, UK; Elza van den Heever, Montpellier, France; Michael Volle, Berlin, Germany; Sonya Yoncheva, Geneva, Switzerland.

Piano accompanists included Bryan Wagorn, Howard Watkins and Jendrik Springer.

For more information about the Met, including how to contribute, see the company's website.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow