If you love opera and opera galas, I sure do and have participated in a good number of both, you will absolutely adore this. I certainly did, and can't get enough of a number of segments. The gala does look beautiful, the sumptuous, if slightly old-fashioned Die Fledermaus decor will take anybody's breath away, and it is photographed absolutely beautifully. The music is equally magnificent, and played with great power and sensitivity by the orchestra and conducted with discipline and a crystal-clear love for the music. The chorus do a superb job as well.
Die Fledermaus bubbles along like bubbles on top of a champagne glass. It is as said beautifully designed, and has such zest and terrific delivery of humour that you are completely swept away and mind you this is just one act(Act 2) we're talking about. Every single performance is spot-on. Barbara Daniels, a superb Minnie a year later at the Met in La Fanciulla Del West, is a very charming Rosalinde, with Barbara Kilduff matching her as Adele. Hermann Prey I have always regarded as one of the greatest Eisenstein, and I still stand by that. Ann Sofie Von Otter, ever the communicative and always riveting to watch performer, is in great voice as Prince Orlofsky and plays him very characterfully. Dwayne Croft relatively early on in his career makes a promising impression as Falke.
The Act 3 Rigoletto performance is every bit as good. I think there are better Rigolettos out there than Leo Nucci and also ones that make a stronger impression with Rigoletto's last heart-rending and chilling uttering La Maledizione, however he does sing strongly and conveys the malevolence, authority and pathos of his character well. Cheryl Studer is a very poignant Gilda, her top notes just float and are beautifully shaped and Gilda's vulnerability is very convincing here. Birgita Svendon is one of the best Madalenas of recent years, firm in voice and seductive in characterisation. While Nicolai Ghiaurov is not at his best, the 60s-70s were his glory days, his voice is still huge and beautiful with an authority and nobility to it, and he does make for a sinister Sparafucile. But the star here is Luciano Pavarotti. Often criticised for his acting, his Duke of Mantua, one of his best roles I think, is full of energy and personality, and he is in great voice, ringing top notes, superb musicality and diction so clear that you can dictate it on a piece of paper.
Otello is equally superb. Act 3 is incredibly intense and boy was it here. The orchestra send up a storm in the thrilling ensemble piece. Placido Domingo's Otello is magnificent, brutally powerful and tormented, this is not a case of someone just playing Otello, like Del Monaco and Vickers this is an example of someone who IS Otello. His voice is also in great shape, more baritonal than usual but he does better than most with that kind of voice at the top. Mirella Freni, the ultimate Mimi and Cio Cio San, matches him perfectly as a delicate, poignant and sometimes intense Desdemona, while Justino Diaz-much better than his still credible one in Zeffirelli's film-is evil-incarnate as Iago. I particularly liked seeing Met stalwart Paul Plishka as Ludovico, all the supporting roles are well performed actually but it is the three leads that really captivate.
And where will we be without mentioning the guest stars? There are some really superb ones here. Some may be put off by Kathleen Battle's diva-ish antics but her voice is still sweet and beautiful, while June Anderson, often compared to Sutherland and quite understandably, just as striking vocally. Aprile Millo, one of the best lyric-spinto sopranos of the past 25 or so years(for me she is the best Aida since Leontyne Price), sings a breathtakingly moving La Mamma Morta, and Ferrucio Furlanetto sings with his usual firmness and wonderfully-studied acting, he is a great actor who always seems to know and understand his roles. Samuel Ramey sings To Dream an Impossible Dream, which is good but doesn't show off his beautiful voice so much. Hermann Prey is a charming and light-hearted Papagaeno as well. There are three highlights here, Thomas Hampson's hilarious Largo Al Factotum, Mirella Freni's affecting Io Son L'Umile Ancella and Pavarotti and Domingo's very nostalgic In Un Coupe...Oh Mimi Tu Non Piu Torni.
Sadly, with all these great things comes a disappointment, and as much as it pains me to say this that disappointment is Sherrill Milnes singing Maria. Now I love Milnes, he is one of my favourites especially as Rigoletto, Scarpia, Iago and Tonio(I can think of very few baritones who came close to him in his prime), but apart from a commanding presence, a good feel for the song and a great entrance(you could tell he was enamoured with those two ladies and I am not surprised) the performance does see him in one of his worst ever vocal states, with a ragged and flat-tuned sound and I got the sense that it was too low for him as well. As a matter of preference I didn't care for some of the introductory segments as well, they seemed overly-stuffy for my tastes and didn't make me laugh all that much.
Overall, a truly magical gala, truly the Met in top form. 9.5/10 Bethany Cox
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