Redhead Reigns in the Met Premiere of Roberto Devereux

     On Thursday night the Met presented its premiere of Donizetti’s last of his three “Queen operas” Roberto Devereux. In a new production by Sir David McVicar, Sondra Radvanovsky starred as Queen Elizabeth (despite not playing the title role), Matthew Polenzani was Roberto, and Mariusz Kwiecien and Elina Garanca were the Duke and Duchess of Nottingham. Maurizio Benini conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchetra and Chorus.

 

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth in Sir David McVicar’s production of Roberto Devereux

 
Ms. Radvanovsky sang full throttle, her high register dominating the entire performance. Her high D at the end of the opera rang brightly and contained unbelievable substance. Not only she did she manage to impress the audience with her vocal fireworks, but also with her uncanny impression of Queen Elizabeth; Hobbling with a cane and constantly throwing herself into hysteric fits of frustration. At the very end, she faces her own death by staring into a white light shining on what appeared to be her tomb in Westminster Abbey. Wig-less and sans cane Ms. Radvanovsky dramatically collapsed to give a striking close to the end of the Donizetti Tudor Trilogy.

     Ms. Garanca made the most of her relatively small role as Sarah, the Duchess of Nottingham. Her first aria “All’afflitto è dolce il pianto” was incredibly serene and legato. She grounded large ensembles powerfully and provided richeness in smaller ensembles, especially in her Act III duet with Mariusz Kwiecien. One wishes she could have brought her Jane Seymour to the Met when the first Queen opera, Anna Bolena, was performed (she cancelled the run due to illness). Mr. Kwiecien was dramatic stagewise, yet his singing did not match the dark and vengeful colors of his character. Throughout the evening he sang largely at the same volume, presenting a lack of contrast. Mr. Polenzani played a brutish Roberto, acting as a catalyst for Ms. Radvanovsky’s outstanding rages. He exemplified his middle register nicely, however, due to possibly pushing, his high register began to sound more raw as the evening went along. Maestro Benini conducted the orchestra and chorus fervently, with only a couple of minor pit and stage disconnections.

     Sir David McVicar’s single dark and candlelit set provided a small and chamberesque feeling for such a grand scandal. In all three acts, chorus members or supers are on stage trying to eavesdrop on the four main characters’ conversations. McVicar was quoted as having said he wished to create a “very febrile, claustrophobic, [and] candlelit world”. One felt claustrophobic in the audience in that we, like the supers or chorus members, were eavesdropping on the Queen’s scandal along with them.

     Performances of Roberto Devereux run through April 19. Don’t be like Queen Elizabeth handling Roberto’s death warrant; Buy tickets before it’s too late!

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Musing about the Met’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann

On Saturday night the Met’s last performance of this season’s run of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann took place. Under the baton of James Levine the cast included Matthew Polenzani in the title role, Jennifer Johnson Cano as Nicklausse, Laurent Naouri as the four Villains, Audrey Luna as the doll Olympia, Susanna Phillips as Antonia, and Elena Maximova as Giulietta.

Audrey Luna and Matthew Polenzani in the Met's Les contes d'Hoffmann, © Corey Weaver, Metropolitan Opera

Audrey Luna and Matthew Polenzani in the Met’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, © Cory Weaver, Metropolitan Opera

Hoffmann is one of Levine’s specialties, as he has conducted it over twenty times at the Met alone and extensively at the Salzburg Festival. As a result, he kept everything under control. The Met Orchestra played gorgeously; the winds particularly played with sensitivity and sparkle. The Met Chorus was fantastic as always; the men’s chorus especially outdid themselves in the Luther’s tavern scenes with the drinking choruses and “Chanson de Kleinzach”. The very stage presence of Bartlett Sher’s production is complicated, as characters from one act appear in others where they are not included in the libretto. Having clones of the doll Olympia stalking and waltzing around mechanically in Giulietta’s palace was disconcerting, but entertaining nonetheless.

Personally, I have always thought of Matthew Polenzani as a light Mozartian tenor. His Hoffmann was a very Mozartian one; slightly reserved, controlled, and never belted. Even at climaxes, such as the end of Act I when Hoffmann realizes that Olympia is only a robot, he did not push himself over the edge. His companion, Jennifer Johnson Cano sang very richly and darkly, similarly to how Kate Lindsey sang the role earlier in the season. As they are both young, one feels that their voices could develop further in the future in order to inhabit bigger French mezzo roles such as those in Susan Graham’s repertoire. With her costume and the dark set, Johnson Cano managed to blend in as the transparent, ever-watching Nicklausse. Naouri was cleverly and entertainingly evil throughout the evening. He seemed to particularly enjoy being Dr. Miracle, as he clinked his flasks and conducted Antonia from a chair. It was astounding how he did not have to reach down to access his lower register; it seemed as if he was sitting right on it, especially in the ‘A’ to ‘D’ slide in “Scintille diamant”. His diction was impeccable; it probably helps that he is a native speaker and he lives under the same roof as former Met soprano Natalie Dessay.

Laurent Naouri and Matthew Polenzani in the Met's Les contes d'Hoffmann, © Cory Weaver, Metropolitan Opera

Laurent Naouri and Matthew Polenzani in the Met’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, © Cory Weaver, Metropolitan Opera

Audrey Luna was truly out of this world. Her multiple ‘Ab’s, ‘G’s, and ‘F’s above high C rang through the house. Those made up for the rest of her register down below, as her entire range has adopted the same strident nature as her high notes. Susanna Phillips was marvelous as Antonia. The part truly fits her voice well. Her top bloomed in “Elle a fui, la tourterelle”, even more than in Musetta’s Waltz earlier this year. Maximova’s sound was a bit closed and narrowed in her Giulietta. Her duet with Polenzani in Act III was balanced, however.

Unfortunately the Met is not rumored to be bringing back Hoffmann in the next few seasons. It would never be too soon for this Offenbach masterpiece to return to the Met stage.