Saturday, November 21, 2009

Met Trittico: Racette's Wrenching Angelica

Few singers seem to divide audiences today the way Racette does. I've been with her from the start - it is, quite simply one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. In opera today few sopranos "sit" in my ear so completely in whatever role she takes as does Racette.

I have always found Racette a "throwback" to so many of the singers of the 40's 50's and 60's - Albanese, de los Angeles, Kirsten - with a shimmer and a radiance to the voice and unafraid to put all those extramusical sounds (grunts, gasps, sobs) that were pretty much robbed from most singers post 1970-'s, which are damned by many today as too "over-the-top." My God, people, "over-the-top" is what opera is all about in the first place? Heart-on-sleeve emotions being let loose in volcanic explosions that while unseemly (or downright dangerous) in real life - in opera allow us all to feel. Racette does that for me.

I remember reading nothing but rave-after-rave after each of Racette's Trittico performances in San Francisco just a month ago and waiting in restless anticipation for last night's prima. I was not disappointed. There were some bumps in the orchestra, tempi and synchronization gaps, but minor blips that will all iron out as they tend to do in repeat performances. Unfortunately, my Sirius connection fizzled completely about 10 minutes into Schicchi.

In listening, what was amazing to me in both roles I heard was the streak of independence I'd never really heard in all three roles before - not like this. Giorgietta - even the tougher ones - tend to have a slight "wimpish" factor, but there was muscle in Racette's delivery - not just vocally, but in the character. She didn't sound as beaten down as Giorgietta usually seems but rather a still vibrant young woman on the verge of a new life - with husband OR lover. Lucic - a favorite of mine as well - felt a mite one-dimensional as Luigi early on and the tessitura felt a little uncomfortable until midway - by his "Ritorna" scene though the emotion was pouring out of him and he (as Michele always can) broke my heart. By "Nulla Silenzio" everything he had was boiling and from that point on I was teetering on the edge of my seat.

Giorgietta's re-entrance for the final scene is one of the biggest teases in all of opera: we all have seen what's happened, we know what's next and that little "foreplay" is nearly unbearable. I think this is one of Puccini's most brilliant theatrical moments and it is UNBEARABLE to wait for that chilling denoument!

Antonenko thrilled me in Rusalka last season - and in the Gala. And again last night. What an exciting "masculine" tenor sound his is. It's almost ferocious and again, while singing his passionate arias and duets with Racette I had that "feel of yesteryear" sound that was pure old-fashioned grand opera and I loved it!

Blythe made not just a meal, but an entire banquet out of her brief scenes as Frugola. The sound is truly a force of nature and she is such a great vocal actress that even just across the airwaves I sensed that grand bag lady's joie de vivre. Brava!

Where Racette shone the most - as one would expect - was her intense, beautiful Angelica. Her opening arioso was so delicately sung, the phrasings absolutely exquisite. Additionally, her diction is superb, every perfectly rolled "r" the tying together of vowels - ever word clear and painted like a picture. This is the kind of singing that makes my heart explode. Something else happened in this Angelica that I rarely sense even in some of the greatest interpreters of the role - and it came in Angelica's interactions with her other sisters in those middle sections of the drama that can sometimes feel like filler in a lax performance. Here, they burst with rustic life that felt natural a part of every day and Puccini's genius shined through yet again.

Even over the airwaves Blythe's entrance as La Principessa had a sort of Grand Inquisitor feel to it that was chilling. The voice was like molten lava and I truly got the relationship between aunt and niece and it was a bit terrifying. Her aria truly sounded like she was having a vision - and again Puccini pours on effect-after-effect that the air almost seems to change before your eyes. Amazing.

The independence I mentioned in Giorgietta was even more present here - creating a backstory for Angelica that made me go "Aha!" To Auntie, Angelica was ALWAYS a coltish, independent gal and when Angelica confronts her several times, it is with real backbone. Here especially, Racette reminded me of Sills' performance in the role as she stood up to her Aunt and it made for some gripping - and chilling - theatre.

This Senza Mama was one of the most remarkable I can recall hearing. Breathtaking, heartbreaking, each phrase nuanced beautifully and simmering with passion. Every single line was infused with intensity and this address to her child was simply shattering.

"ed aleggiare intorno a me,… ti sento…
sei qui… mi baci… m'accarezzi.

The simple repeated "sei qui . . . sei qui" gave me the shivers - the same as could be heard in her voice - then the excited little kisses melt into a deep caress

"Quando in cielo con te potrò salire?" the voice grew deep again - with an old-school glottal attack in "salire."

At "Dillo alla mamma, creatura bella" - I don't know what the singer was doing, but I "saw" Angelica whispering in her baby's ear in an almost metaphysical experience that quite took my breath away. How she held on for nearly ten seconds to the final A -even letting the breath and sound fizzle to a gasp took my breath away. Lest anyone think that that "A" was the limit, the following sequence - one of the most beautiful in the opera - led through a long held, perfectly placed high C that was literally pinned onto the final "Lodiam."

Still, little prepared me for the explosion of the "mad scene" with Racette shaping this music as I've really heard very few do before in the past 30 years. She was hanging onto high notes, sobbing between them in a manner that was nearly unbearable in its poignancy and I felt like a voyeur or an intruder witnessing the most private moment of this tragic girl's life. The manner in which Racette stretched forever holding out the High C of that final desperate "Salvami" as they angels offered their salvation was overwhelming in every sense; I was choked up - almost immobile with grief at this girl's death yet simultaneously bursting with joy at the mother and child reunion. Who but Puccini could do this to me? Mio Dio.

The roar that went up as the curtain rose on Racette alone on the stage was volcanic and long. It was also, in my opinion, very well earned. It was an exquisite, enormous performance and now, a day later, I'm can still think of almost nothing but. Brava, Patricia!