BWW Reviews: A Great Week for Haircuts at the Met, from BARBIERE to NIXON

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The Met on Demand had another week of exciting performances, from the divine [Rossini's IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA] to the, well, the divine [Adams's NIXON IN CHINA].

BWW Reviews: A Great Week for Haircuts at the Met, from BARBIERE to NIXON
Mattei, DiDonato, Florez. Photo:
Ken Howard/Met Opera

While I loved BARBIERE--and have heard it with many of the great singers from the last half of the 20th century and on at the Met (plus the amazing Callas recording)--this stood up with the best, with its star-studded cast in radiant voice (multi-faceted Peter Mattei as Figaro, the amazing Juan Diego Florez as Almaviva/Lindoro and the fabulous Joyce DiDonato as Rosina). But it was NIXON--and the "haircut" that Mao gave the American president--that caught me, and proved the great value of the "Met in HD" series, beyond bringing opera to audiences around the world (and capturing performances to watch again and again).

Why? It picks up the details of which the opera is filled and putting then right in our faces. Of course, John Adams's score (his first opera!) is miraculous in its infinite styles and Peter Sellars produ--ction is endlessly fascinating, it is Alice Goodman's libretto [poetic and historic] that I believe brings us into the hearts of darkness--of Nixon and Kissinger as well as Mao and Chou En-Lai, China's first premier.

BWW Reviews: A Great Week for Haircuts at the Met, from BARBIERE to NIXON
NIXON. Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

There are the close-ups of the dangerous, self-serving aspects of Kissinger, making Pat Nixon into a real person but, perhaps, the contrast of Nixon trying to talk about issues while Mao was being very philosophical. [Some of it taken almost verbatim from the transcript of the conversation between the two leaders.] She captured it all and gave Adams the material to turn out a score filled with tension and harshness, verve and vigor.

For a first attempt at an opera score, Adams did an incredible job in encompassing everything that made these characters come alive. Though he's often thrown into the minimalist category with Philip Glass, Adams is much more than a Glass acolyte. He also made it a quintessential American opera, filled with experiences that we all can relate to.

BWW Reviews: A Great Week for Haircuts at the Met, from BARBIERE to NIXON
Ken Howard/Met Opera

He gave every character a style of its own--Nixon's staccato style of speaking (Adams compared him to Verdi's Simon Boccanegra) via James Maddalena; Robert Brubaker's Mao as the Siegfried, the heldentenor of the piece; Pat Nixon (Janis Kelly) something of the ingenue but providing unexpected insights to the events at hand; the shrill, yet surprisingly earthy, Madame Mao (Kathleen Kim); Kissinger as the pompous, lascivious, self-aggrandizing know-it-all (Richard Paul Fink); and Russell Braun as the eloquent, lyric Chou En-Lai.

Though the opera premiered in 1987 at the Houston Grand Opera, time has not stood still for it. It may take place in 1972, but subsequent history is taken into account, according to director Sellars, who originally suggested the opera to Adams and is known for attention to details [sometimes over-attention], with the choreography [particularly in Act II] by Mark Morris a marvelous plus.

Adams conducted the piece himself, bringing a nuanced performance from the great Met orchestra, while the Met's peerless chorus under Donald Palumbo, filled the stage with detailed singing and acting.

One question: Why hasn't the Met done this great masterpiece again?

In short, NIXON and BARBIERE make a great case for subscribing to the Met's On Demand Service. (If you need any more convincing, take a look at the free clip of Leontyne Price's final opera performance, singing "O, patria mia" from AIDA.)

Here's a look at what free performances from the Met will be shown on demand next week:

Monday, April 6 - Verdi's AIDA

Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Anna Netrebko, Anita Rachvelishvili, and Aleksandrs Antonenko. Transmitted live on October 6, 2018.

Tuesday, April 7 - Puccini's LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST

Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, and Lucio Gallo. Transmitted live on January 8, 2011.

Wednesday, April 8 - Verdi's FALSTAFF

Conducted by James Levine, starring Lisette Oropesa, Angela Meade, Stephanie Blythe, and Ambrogio Maestri. Transmitted live on December 14, 2013.

Thursday, April 9 - Wagner's PARSIFAL

Conducted by Daniele Gatti, starring Katarina Dalayman, Jonas Kaufmann, Peter Mattei, and René Pape. Transmitted live on March 2, 2013.

Friday, April 10 - Gounod's ROMÉO ET JULIETTE

Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, starring Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo. Transmitted live on January 21, 2017.

Saturday, April 11 - Donizetti's DON PASQUALE

Conducted by James Levine; starring Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, and Mariusz Kwiecien. Transmitted live on November 13, 2010.

Sunday, April 12 - Mozart's COSI FAN TUTTE

Conducted by David Robertson; starring Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Kelli O'Hara, Ben Bliss, Adam Plachetka, and Christopher Maltman. Transmitted live on March 31, 2018.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow