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Met Opera at the Movies: I Puritani

By Joseph So / January 8, 2007

Anna Netrebko
Hard on the heels of the success of the Julie Taymor Magic Flute, the Metropolitan Opera chose Bellini’s I Puritani as the second instalment in its Met at the Movies project. Given that most theatres were sold-out last week and people had to be turned away, Cineplex wisely added an extra theatre at the Sheppard Grande in Toronto. While there was a sprinkling of young children for Magic Flute a week ago, the audience this time around was your typical opera-going crowd and just about zero popcorn munching. Judging by their reaction during and after the show, the Met’s I Puritani was a hit.

The quintessential bel canto opera, what counts in I Puritani is voice, voice, and more voice. This revival of the totally traditional and somewhat aging production by Sandro Sequi served as a vehicle for Russian bombshell Anna Netrebko. She is arguably the hottest soprano on the operatic firmament today – flawlessly beautiful face, a gleaming soprano, alluring stage persona, all packaged in the body of a supermodel – what more can one ask for? We were lucky that the Met did not simulcast the rough opening night performance, plagued by cancellations and indispositions. Critics carped on Netrebko’s high notes then, but by January 6, her top was free and easy, even if her coloratura wasn’t the last word on accuracy and spin, and her trill was distinctly sketchy. Costumed in a gorgeous white dress – Netrebko must have been the most glamorous Puritan in history – she emoted liberally and at one point, threw herself on her back, stage front and center, singing with her head dangling down the orchestra pit! Such histrionics by a lesser singer would elicit laughter from the audience, but in the hands of La Netrebko, it all seemed so charming and natural. It helped when she had good chemistry with her Arturo, as she revealed to the audience in a backstage interview hosted by none other than another great diva, Renee Fleming.

Netrebko was surrounded by worthy partners in this production. Tenor Eric Cutler recovered from his illness to deliver an ardent and beautifully sung Arturo. It was wise of him not to attempt the interpolated high F in ‘A te, o cara’, opting for only a D-flat. The other standout was Canadian bass John Relyea (Giorgio), who outshone a workman-like Franco Vassallo (Riccardo) in their showstopper duet, ‘Suoni la tromba’. The only weak link was mezzo Maria Zifchak in the thankless role of Queen Enrichetta. The Met chorus sang well, although sour notes from the women are occurring far too frequently these days. Patrick Summers, a stalwart at Houston and San Francisco Operas, conducted with a good understanding of the bel canto style.

The simulcast showed announcer Margaret Juntwait chatting with Beverly Sills, a great Elvira in her day. She certainly had a thing or two to say about this piece! One appreciated the roaming reporting of Renee Fleming, but many die-hard fans, including this writer, would have preferred the Opera Quiz. Everything appeared to be going swimmingly on the Met stage, the same could not be said about the local venue. I was at the Sheppard Grande Theatre Three, and right in the middle of the Mad Scene, the picture became pixelated and eventually stuck, while the sound was normal for a time. Then both picture and sound disappeared completely and the computer flashed warning messages that brought unintended hilarity from the audience. The whole incident lasted only five minutes but the damage was done. I was sitting about six rows from the back of the theatre, slightly to the left side. Unfortunately for me, I was sitting directly under a rogue speaker that crackled mightily with every fortissimo, ruining the digital sound. A word of advice to Cineplex – please fix your defective equipment! The picture was too dim, but it could be the production itself. With low light levels, the colours were very muted and muddy.

I don’t want to be such a curmudgeon by ending a review with a negative comment, so let’s just point out how wonderful it is to go to your local theatre and see fabulous singers the likes of Netrebko and Domingo, and we have the Met and Cineplex to thank. I look forward to the next four instalments of the series.

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