As you can probably guess, in the whole Ariadne v. Zerbinetta stakes of this opera, I’m usually on the side of the trilling, coloratura’d one. But last night was not usual. Nina Stemme as Ariadne was the only singer in this cast who makes things more than routine. More than that, she is FANTASTIC. New fan here.
The Vorspiel was disappointing. The production is overstuffed with Merry Antics from Zerbinetta’s troupe, the stage cluttered. Nothing zoomed or zinged or zipped, it just sort of ambled. The orchestra seemed asleep at their scores. (Though I think the chamber scoring of the whole score is a bad fit for the Met’s size, and I suspect a lot of detail was lost.) Sarah Connolly’s Komponist was respectably and musically sung but without vocal breadth or glamour. Jochem Schmeckenbecher a well-sung but dully characterized Music Teacher.
The Oper was better. Petrenko seemed to connect with the orchestra, everything balanced out a bit more. But the big thing is Nina Stemme’s Ariadne, which is magnificent. She has a giant, darkish, round sound with bright top notes, very expressive and beautifully musically sung. We so often make compromises with dramatic voices:
- “The voice is huge but so ugly”
- “Big sound, but no musicality at all.”
- “Nicely sung but the voice isn’t really large enough”
- Our favorite: “Decent singing but what an immobile lump onstage.”
Nina Stemme requires no compromises, she's got pretty much everything. Beautiful singing and a good, convincing actress to boot, with what this production gives her. She was quite funny in the prologue, and magisterial in the Opera.* Shame that Petrenko rushed through “Es gibt ein Reich,” I wish we could have heard those high notes held a bit longer--OK, I should go hear her as Brünnhilde or Isolde, I know. I hope she will be singing more at the Met in the future, it’s really shameful that up to this point her only credit is a Senta from ten years ago. (Side note to those who know me: She’s Swedish. I continue to insist that everyone and everything that comes from Sweden is AWESOME.)
I enjoyed Kathleen Kim’s Olympia in Hoffmann last December very much, but as Zebinetta she didn’t offer Stemme much competition in the vocal compare-and-contrast. She’s cute and has a sweet voice, but not nearly the magnitude of personality or variety of expressive colors to make Zerbinetta more than a caricature. Compared to Stemme's march through rage, vulnerability, excitement, and more rage, she was just bubbly. She’s in the songbird mode, and while Zerbinetta’s aria demands chirping it also requires a much wider emotional range, and quicker changes between moods. The more lyrical parts of the role had little impact, particularly the Vorspiel duet with the Komponist. There was some fudging in the last section of the big aria, and her trill isn’t particularly good, but it’s a marathon.
Tenor Lance Ryan was out sick, and unfortunately cover Michael Hendrick was sick too, but bravely went on. Poor guy, it wasn’t the most pleasant experience for anyone concerned, but he sounds like he has a good voice, and I hope to hear him under more favorable circumstances at some point.
(Does anyone else think the nymphs’ lengthy hyping of Bacchus’s appearance is unfortunate? Has there EVER been a hot heldentenor Bacchus? Couldn’t they go on about how great his spirit is or something instead? We can acknowledge that most heldentenors aren't lookers and get on with it but the text just reminds us. Repeatedly.)
The Rhinemaidens, I mean the nymphs, by the way, were beautifully sung, particularly Tamara Mumford’s Dryade. This production has them rolling around on these high dress things, and the ladies have to emote solely with their elbows. But prettily done. Zerbinetta’s backup singers were unobjectionable, if occasionally inaudible. I could have done with less mugging but I guess that’s the production’s fault. I wasn’t sure if all the comic stuff was really supposed to be funny (which it wasn’t, but this business is hard to pull off) or intentionally dumb and annoying, in which case it wasn’t ridiculous enough. I think the intentionally dumb angle belongs to another production, one with a more radical perspective on the piece.
The production, originally by Moshinsky, is traditional in the prologue and a little more fanciful in the opera. It involves many of those sliding panels we know and hate from Bartlett Sher’s Met productions. And who should the set designer be but Michael Yeargan, who designed Sher’s Barbiere and Hoffmann as well (he also designed the current Don Giovanni, which probably featured sliding panels but I’ve blocked that particular night at the Met from my memory). Oh well, the panels slide endlessly to no clear end but the final tableau with Bacchus is nice, and the colors are beautiful (an attractive color scheme in a Met production! what a concept!).
Confession: once I got the measure of things, secretly I was hoping for the other Ariadne, the one in which it rains, the fireworks are canceled, and the two shows are performed separately. Then I could leave before Zerbinetta and her team came out. But I landed in the wrong timeline where the plane DOES crash and got the usual crazy smashed-together one. No Desmond in my timeline, very disappointing. Also, aren’t we all glad Lost is back? Three cheers for surreal desert islands.
Next!: I’m not sure! The Met is quiet this month. I may write about The Bridge Company’s Tempest shortly! Otherwise, Attila! Do you know Pierre Audi? If you do, you will know why I am very intrigued to see this!
*However, I didn’t like how the production has Ariadne drop back into the persona of the Prima Donna from the Prologue when Zerbinetta first enters. The Opera is something much more interesting than just an extrapolation of the Prologue’s events, and going back into the Prologue mode breaks the mood.
Video Bonus: Nina Stemme sings the Liebstod