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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 5

Metropolitan Opera

by Philip Anson / February 1, 1999

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It was a Zeffirelli autumn at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, with numerous revivals and a few controversial new productions. Bizet’s Carmen, in Franco Zeffirelli’s recent bright, busy new Met staging (seen Oct. 26, 1998) showcased debuting French-Spanish mezzo Beatrice Uria Monzon, who didn’t displace vivid recent memories of Denyce Graves. The Met’s marvellously pompous Sonja Frisell production of Verdi’s Aida (seen Oct. 27, 1998) gave us Russian mezzo Olga Borodina’s wonderfully Theda Bara-ish Amneris. Her middle voice was sweet and rich and she made nice use of chest voice. Soprano Sharon Sweet (Aida) gave a strong performance once she warmed up. Domingo’s conducting was lackluster. Soprano Maria Guleghina is perhaps the best of the Met’s present Toscas (seen Oct. 31), an excellent actress with the correct physique du rôle - tall, brunette, and aristocratic, with just the right vocal mix of lyricism and spinto power. American tenor Richard Leech was a disappointing Cavaradossi and Parisian baritone Alain Fondry’s Scarpia was disastrous. David Hockney’s sunny, playful production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (seen Dec. 14, 1998) was memorable for German baritone Matthias Goerne’s vocal and dramatic triumph as Papageno. His duets with Pamina (Dawn Upshaw) were the opera’s high points. The Met’s new production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (seen Dec. 15, 1998) was massive and lugubrious despite being heavily gilded in a most unScottish manner. Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas stole the show. American soprano Ruth Ann Swenson did her best as Lucia but she needs to work on her coloratura (the stunning young soprano Elizabeth Futral made a riveting Met debut as Lucia a few weeks later). Franco Zeffirelli’s "overstuffed" new Metropolitan Opera La Traviata (seen Dec. 16, 1998) is not his most tasteful production but it is undeniably impressive (especially Flora’s party with acres of lacy red paisley fabric, showers of party ribbons, and female dancers dressed as cows. American soprano Patricia Racettte was very good as Violetta, pounding the auditorium with her huge voice. As a lyric or dramatic soprano, she has a big career ahead of her (she’ll be making her Canadian debut at the Lanaudière Festival in June). Argentine tenor Marcelo Alvarez debuted as Alfredo, displaying a thrilling Italianate top range - the all important "money notes" - recalling Del Monaco and Di Stefano. Alvarez and Vargas are surely the Two Tenors of tomorrow.

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