Old wine in new bottles

 

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Listening to the MET broadcast of Rigoletto brought to mind how important it is to see Opera as much as it is to hear it. But for those of us who grew up back in the good ol’ days of MET broadcasts on the radio, with Milton Cross narrating (no HD back then, folks), not having the visual aspect of opera productions in front of our eyes is no big deal. We are used to visualizing our own stagings in our minds’ eyes.

And given a choice between Michael Mayer’s bump and grind take on Verdi’s masterpiece and my imagination’s very own, I’ll take mine any day.  

Back in the day, when we were old and solvent enough to afford buying a ticket to the MET, we grew to accept and willingly suspend our cynical disbelief when we saw the overweight Luciano Pavarotti parading around the MET stage in a costume a bit too tight or him. Nor did we mind many a matronly Gilda pretending to be a virginal 15 year old. When you had a sound like that of Joan Sutherland’s or Mirella Freni’s, all you had to do was to close your eyes and let that sound wrap itself around you.

All was not that much better back then than it is now. No Sherrill Milnes around any more..? No problem: there’s Serbian baritone Željko Lučić already occupying his shoes. Some dyed-in-the-wool opera fans will probably complain that Lučić can’t pop the high G’s and Ab’s and A’s that came so easy to Milnes in his prime. But, look, Verdi did not write any of those notes for his Rigoletto, Felice Varesi, and that did not seem to have any negative effect on either composer or singer.

No great Gilda’s today? I beg to disagree. Olga Peretyatko is a fine Gilda, even if those stunning Sutherland trills and high notes are not that easy to come by these days. And Stephen Costello has moved quickly into the big leagues, singing a terrific Duke. And he looks the part.

Andrea Mastroni, the broadcast’s Sparafucile, is just about the only basso profundo that I can think of in today’s business. His cavernal, black sound reminds me of that of the great Italian basso, Giulio Neri. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a voice like his. Good for the MET to bring this fine young artist to America.

So, where’s my beef? Well, it’s no beef but a mere observation. The MET, under Peter Gelb’s erratic leadership continues to trot out conceptual productions that, to my mind, contribute nothing to the cause of popularizing opera or to giving us, old and recalcitrant opera goers any new insights. We end up time and again with old wine in new bottles.

Frankly, I can pick up a nice bottle of a California or French vintage at my local liquor store and enjoy it in the company of like-minded good friends without having to plunk down either $25 for the HD presentation or, worse, an outrageously-priced ticket to the big house.

Rafael de Acha

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