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By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 29 SEPTEMBER 2011 — In contrast to my previous lamentations over PBS’s presentations, their collaborations with the Metropolitan Opera on the HD transmissions (check local listings) are far more commendable, though there too the cameras are far too mobile and there are far too many close-ups that show most singers disadvantageously.

Rossini’s delicate comedy Le Comte Ory is too often treated these days as slapstick comedy, which is the approach taken by Bartlett Sher to the great joy of the live audience. The Met has lavished a sterling cast on the work, with Diana Damrau (Countess Adèle), Joyce di Donato (Isolier) and Juan Diego Florez (Count Ory), alongside Stéphane Degout (Raimbaud) and Michele Pertusi (Tutor). The difficulties for the singers are multitudinous between the high notes (written and unwritten) and coloratura, but all come through unscathed. There are times when one wonders in what language the performance is being sung, but generally all come through with high marks. I was less enamored of Susanne Resmark’s Ragonde, neither fleet enough of voice nor sufficiently solid in the lower register. Michael Yeargan’s flimsy sets made me nostalgic for Saul Steinberg’s 1962 vision for Juilliard and the Spoleto Festival. Catherine Zuber’s costumes were a curious mixture, but the Countess’s devotion to various shades of pink was wearying. Maurizio Benini gave the score the lift it needed for the Met auditorium, but it is definitely one of those works that needs a smaller, more intimate hall for maximum effect.

Diana Damrau and Joyce di Donato in Rossini's Le Comte Ory
Photo courtesy of PBS

The same may also be said of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, an extended conversation lasting well over two hours without interval. Updated visually to the 20th century, some of the dialogue is anachronistic to say the least. That said, Renée Fleming as the Countess Madeleine came into her own with the final scene, the glory of the work. Too many of the close-ups found her with a generalized expression of delight and little else. Sarah Connolly’s sharply-focused Clairon is well-matched by the slightly undersung if over-emoted Count of Morten Frank Larsen. Joseph Kaiser makes the most of the lyric opportunities offered by the role of Flamand, while Russell Braun is a light-weight rival for the Countess’s affections. Peter Rose’s self-important La Roche gives solid underpinning to the big ensembles, while Olga Makarina and Barry Banks are ideal as the caricatured Italian singers. Andrew Davis is perhaps too stolid for a score that needs a lighter hand, while John Cox’s production is efficient, which these days borders on high praise.

Renée Fleming in Richard Strauss’s Capriccio
Photo courtesy of PBS 

I was less impressed by Il Trovatore as the singers seemed to be attempting an emulation of the casts of my youth but without the vocal wherewithal, except of course for Dolora Zajick whose Azucena clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress. In addition, she is the only one who can do justice to Verdi’s melodrama. At almost 60 she remains a throwback to an earlier age of singers. Marcelo Alvarez does not have the heft for Manrico, though we also do not require that the role be bellowed as was once common. Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s lyric baritone does his best but where is the thrust for the big moments? Which leaves Sondra Radvanovsky whose flutter is not my cup of tea nor is her tendency to sing flat on occasion. If there is any one who is mistreated by the camera, it is she, as her silent movie posing does not really work in the 21st century. David McVicar’s notion of emotional stress requires much unnecessary rolling around on the floor. Marco Armiliato gives a rousing reading, but neglects the subtleties of the score.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque. He has been opera critic for Opera (U.K.) and Opera News (U.S.A) for thirty years and was elected to the International Music Critics Association (UNESCO) in 1996. Long before the existence of "blogs", Mr. Kasow kept an Opera Diary for Culturekiosque. Opera fans can access the archive of his intensely personal, ongoing commentary on the opera world here.   

For collectors of opera and vocal recordings, please click here to access Operanet's archive of CD and DVD reviews

Headline image: Juan Diego Florez in Rossini's Le Comte Ory
Photo courtesy of PBS

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