|Mattila and Dyka, photo @ Ken Howard|
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.
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.