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Monday, October 31, 2016

Mattila Returns to Met, Richard Tucker Gala

Mattila and Dyka, photo @ Ken Howard
Karita Mattila's return to the Met after a five year absence was basically everything a beloved diva (and the audience) could hope for -- a great role (Kostelnicka in Janácek's Jenufa), an adoring audience, and a voice that is intact and needs no apologies. No it's not a young voice and Kostelnicka is a role often associated with sopranos of a certain age but Mattila's voice actually seems to be undergoing an Indian summer. It's remarkably warm, steady, and full of volume and richness. There was no veristic screeching. And no one decided to sprinkle ashes during her curtain calls.

Mattila is one of those rare complete artists. Her voice was just a bigger part of her detailed, charismatic portrayal of this tormented woman. First of all, Mattila is still beautiful, so when Kostelnicka sang about how she was once the most desired woman in the village but frittered away her youth, you believed her. Second of all, the energy she put into her performance lifted the entire evening. She deserved her ovations, and I hope she returns to New York for many more evenings. She's wonderful.

Her colleagues were not on her level. Oksana Dyka (Jenufa) has a large, penetrating voice with a fairly large range. Too bad she's one of those singers who sings completely through the nose, so what comes out is a shrill, unpleasant whine. She has a wobble too. Her portrayal of Jenufa was that of a mopey plain-Jane type, so different from Mattila's own portrayal in 2003 (which I saw, and remember). Mattila was vibrant and sensual -- no surprise that Jenufa got knocked up so quickly. Dyka looked like a sad sack even before Steva abandoned her. Daniel Brenna as Laca was even more unappealing. His voice was sturdy but his characterization almost non-existent. A menacing scowl was the beginning and end of his "acting." Laca honestly seemed more creepy when the curtain fell than at the beginning of the opera, which sort of belies the hopeful, even joyous finale.

The smaller roles in the little Moravian village were better cast. Veteran mezzo Hanna Schwarz made a strong impression as the Grandmother. Joseph Kaiser as the village playboy Steva had the kind of slick, cheap appeal you recognize (and hopefully avoid) at bars. Ying Fang was lovely as Jano, and Clarissa Lyons as Karolka was pretty and fresh-voiced. Conductor David Robertson seemed to be going for a Straussian shimmer in the orchestra. Great, except the folk rhythms of Jenufa were lost. The production by Olivier Tambosi is most remembered for the gigantic boulder that takes up almost the entire stage in Act Two. There's really not much else happening. No idea why this particular production has made the rounds in stages all over the world -- in London, San Francisco, Barcelona, Hamburg, Helsinki ...



Carnegie Hall on October 30 was crowded up to the vertigo-inducing nosebleed seats (where I was sitting) for the annual Richard Tucker Gala. The winner of the 2016 Richard Tucker Award is Tamara Wilson, who should satisfy the voice buffs that complain about how singers don't have big voices anymore. If you want a loud ringing voice with an amazing top, Wilson's your gal. Right now she needs some refinement in terms of presentation and interpretation. Her "Dich, teure Halle" had none of the radiance that's so important in this aria. The Act One trio from Norma was screamed -- no other word for it. Lucrezia's prayer from I due Foscari  showed more than pure muscle. There's a voice in there, just think the overall packaging has to be improved. Or maybe she needed more rehearsal time.


A photo posted by @anna_netrebko_yusi_tiago on

This year's gala had only one cancellation (Mr. Netrebko I mean sorry great spinto tenor of the future Yusif Eyvasov) and a pretty verismo resistant lineup. Javier Camarena, Lawrence Brownlee, Jamie Barton and Joyce DiDonato are fine singers but they can't and shouldn't sing Cilea. This meant that the singers got to sing their music instead of bawling out the usual Tucker Gala-type blood-and-guts arias. Maybe for this reason SuperDiva Anna Netrebko had a mid-performance encore of -- wait for it -- Cilea's "Io son l'umile ancella." Her earlier effort was that other verismo staple "La mamma morta." Anna Netrebko's virtues were all there -- the volume, the plush timbre, the instinctual ability to know what her audience wants and to give it to them. Anna is opera's version of comfort food. An over-eager fan ran up to the stage between numbers to give her an oversized bouquet, which Anna accepted with the hauteur of, well, Adriana Lecouvreur.

Other highlights: Lawrence Brownlee and Javier Camarena trading high notes in "Ah, vieni, nel tuo sangue" from Rossini's Otello, Joyce DiDonato singing a piece that actually had been written for her (an aria from Jake Heggie's The Great Scott), Larry Brownlee's aria from Dom Sébastien, Jamie Barton and Joyce DiDonato in the very un-gala like duet from Giulio Cesare, Renée Fleming (about to make her stage farewell to opera in Der Rosenkavalier) bidding farewell to Manon's little table. All of them displayed a vocal refinement that's rarely on display in this gala. Jamie Barton also sang "Mon coeur." She's got talent in spades. Oh yeah, Kristine Opolais, Nadine Sierra, and Joshua Guerrero also sang. Opolais's selections (Song to the Moon, Un bel di) she could probably sing in her sleep. She looked great in her gowns, that's all I'll say.

So that's a wrap. And to think ... I really might not hear any Cilea until next year's gala.

8 comments:

  1. So happy about mattila, she was completely tremendous and after a rough period the voice seems be doing fine. I don't know how often you saw mattila prior to this but in its prime the voice was one of the most beautiful I've heard live and the artistry was just icing on the cake. She an waltraud Meier were the two formative female singers who made me appreciate the performance art aspect of opera more thoroughly and both started my Wagner and janacek obsession. Hope she returns, though as of now I'm not sure what role would be an ideal vehicle.

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    1. I heard Mattila quite often in her prime. I saw her in the original run of Salome (one of the greatest nights of my life), also as Jenufa. Right now I'd love for her to sing Kundry. I think her voice can do it. Ortud? She still has so much to offer.

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    2. She's scheduled to sing Kundry a season or two from now in Finland. That's exciting but I have some reservations. I'd personally rather hear an Ortrud from her which I'd imagine would be perfect. If the met wiki page is accurate she'll be singing Judith in a couple of seasons as well and that role should lie perfectly for her.

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  2. Hey, Ivy: Great review, perceptive and articulate as always. I was also at the Tucker and agree with all you say. I really wish they had been able to find a spinto tenor to take the Chenier selections that were vacated by Yusif's cancellation. The only quibble I'll point out is that Guerrero's first name is Joshua, not Joseph.

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    1. Thanks correction made. As for spinto tenors who are in the NYC area I'm surprised they didn't get Marcelo Alvarez (presumably in town for Manon Lescaut rehearsals) or Marco Berti (in town for Aida). Not saying they would have been great but ...

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  3. Does anybody know exactly what Mr. Eyvasov was to have sung? And he couldn't sing with a broken leg? Didn't Ms. DiDonato once sing a whole run of Barbiere at Covent Garden in a wheel chair? And Ms. Lawrence did do some staged performances (in addition to many concerts) even after polio made her unable to walk.

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    1. He was supposed to have sung "Un di" from Chenier and "Vicino a te" with Anna Netrebko.

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    2. Thanks. Would have been great to hear Vicino a te with Ms Netrebko

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