Armida at the Met: On Sirius
Well, while Chloe Sevigny, Maggie Gyllenhaal and other gliterry types may have been in the house, the focus at the Met last night was Rossini and opera's own glamor gal, Renee Fleming.
I don't understand those who call this opera "dull," as I've always found it to be a richly textured, highly theatrical work - perhaps a bit more Rossinian "bubble" than his other seria-type works but that (to me) is never a bad thing. Ms. Fleming did not have her best night last night, but it was hardly the disaster that some are calling it; one online poster said it was a complete disaster and that he'd never felt more embarassment for a singer than he did for Fleming last night. Must've been one of his first trips to the opera, or an even bigger "Pollyanna" than I'm supposed to be. The coloratura felt labored, a bit aspirated early on, but as she warmed up, more natural and the first act came off rather nicely by the time the curtain fell.
Act II sounded a bit more problematic from Renee and by "D'amore al dolce impero" I was fairly concerned about how she would fare about an hour from then. There were breathing and pacing problems, the coloratura did not feel at all right and more "squeezed" between the barlines than freely flowing through the measures, but she made it through. Oddly, while I often feel Fleming's emotional take on a role is a bit generic or glossed over, when she DOES inhabit a role, she does so fiercely and beautifully, (such as her Desdemona and Tatyana) and even when things were not always going perfectly last night, I nonetheless felt that SHE felt Armida very strongly. That counts for a lot to me.
The third act, however, may have been her best overall, and by the time of the final scene/rondo, Fleming had found her pacing and, letting it all out actually brought not only a passable Rossinian style, but genuine excitement and fireworks. I was holding my breath and could feel the tension and thrill in a "will she make it/won't she make it" way and she sure as hell made it! I'm betting future performances will find her even more relaxed into the role and finding her rhythm within it. I remember being a tad disappointed in the Pesaro recording (not all her fault), but having my entire world rocked when hearing the live broadcast of the OONY performance from Carnegie a bit later.
The Tenor Sextette assembled by the Met for this production did an outstanding job, particularly Messrs. Brownlee and Banks - two of my favorite Rossini tenors, today. Mr. Zapatta's voice isn't one I'm particularly attracted to, but I liked his work here. Mr. van Rensberg's vocalism has always been a bit "dry" for my taste, but again, I found him more on gracious ground here than I have previously so in Handel or Mozart. During the tenor trio in the final act I found it impossible to keep my face from hurting from too much smiling out of the sheer joy of the damned beautiful thing!
I don't get any of the complaints about Riccardo Frizza and the Met band making this "boring." I felt the score sparkled along beautifully and in a vivid, animated fashion that was paced just about perfectly. The ballet that some complained felt too long, simply breezed by over the airwaves. Bravo, Maestro! Of course I couldn't see the thing, but was surprised (why?) at the booing. I'd never tell someone not to boo if they feel so strongly about something, but these days it seems if some find something even mildly not to their liking, "booing" is the panacea. Wrong.
One thing I "felt" about the staging (and this is pure assumption, I understand) was that Ms. Zimmerman might have been playing it a bit safe. Having read descriptions, seen photographs and listened last night it all did feel a bit "pleasant" which, given the story, bothers me at least a wee bit. This is not a comedy but a wild tale of anger, lust, betrayal and loss jammed into an opera seria by a master: that wildness did not come across frequently enough for me, though it did do so beautifully (and thrillingly) in the finale).