It’s a game of one half at the Met’s Cav and Pag

Review by voice-savvy New York writer and publisher, Steve Rubin

Those perennial soul mates, CAVALLERIA and PAGLIACCI, got a bit trampled lady night by a concept that set them both in the same Sicilian village, but about 50 years apart. David McVicar’s opulent production, making full use of the Metropolitan’s turntable, worked rather nicely in CAV and bombed disastrously in PAG.

From the start, in CAV, it was Santuzza’s show, and she never left the stage.  The attractive Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroeck, threw herself into the proceedings with her usual sincerity and commitment. She often was upstaged by chairs that were not only omnipresent, but had to be moved by choristers, and the ever revolving turntable stage.  It was fun to watch, and the black and white costumes made a statement of what I don’t know, but it was eye-filling. During the ravishing Intermezzo, McVicar had the choristers carry candles and it was a beautiful sight to behold.  Westbroeck has a genuine dramatic soprano, and she is an honest singer, so there was no lunging into chest voice, and none of the excesses we associate with verismo.  But when she flung out her huge soprano, it often had a decided wobble.  This was an A-for-effort endeavor, but idiomatic it wasn’t. The other singers, Marcelo Alvarez and George Gagnidze, both tried to approximate Italianate singing with varied results.

 

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too many chairs…

The tenor and the baritone were back in PAG, in a production that was so tawdry and vulgar it was actually depressing.  Joining them was Patricia Racette, who played Nedda like a has been hooker, and sounded like an over-the-hill soprano.  There were lots of vaudeville touches, many of them unnecessary, and McVicar cast Canio as a drunk, adding to the coarseness of the proceedings. I cringed during the play-within-the-play scene, it was so unsympathetic. Alvarez gave it his all, which I would rate as B, and Gagnidze threw out huge high notes in a strangulated voice. Many of the secondary singers were lovely.

In the pit was Fabio Luisi, the only Italian around, but you’d never know it.  He conducted both operas with restraint, polish and finesse. The orchestra played beautifully. But where was the passion?  Sorely absent.  Worst of all, Luisi kept the magnificent Met chorus in check, but even his wrong-headed subtlety, couldn’t keep those wonderful singers down.

 

UPDATE: And another half-half review here from Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes. Apparently, the mule had vocal problems and the Met couldn’t find a stand-in.

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  • Gosh, Norman, you really need a better correspondent from New York. There are several writers at Parterre.com who would no doubt gladly trade up to Slipped Disc.

      • Agree with all comments on Pag. Making a farce out of the Prologue was bad taste as was the rest of the tawdriness of the production. Galloping dancers to the mule skinner song was ridiculous as was the agonizing unimpassioned reading of the Intermezzo. The austere rotating set was just a gimmick to save the Met the cost of a village scene and peasant costumes. All in all a terrible experience.

    • Maybe the critic has lost his ability to get inspired. It was one the most passionate performances of the season, in the pit at least. Thank you Fabio!

    • I agree. This production of Cavalleria joins Tosca, The Ring, La Traviata, Rigoletto and La Sonnambula ( to name a few) in the pantheon of monstrosities foisted upon us by Mr. Gelb’s stage directors. Where to begin? The chairs (reused properly in Pagliacci,) the turntable (round and round it goes, why it does, nobody knows,) the “dancing” choristers in the church scene (in order to remain facing the audience as the turntable inexorably rotated, the choristers hopped from foot to foot and the two sacred statues listed like boats in a squall.) I could go on and on. Using the same set for Pagliacci was a rare example of Met frugality, but substituting a kitchen sitcom for the original’s commedia dell’arte was just another of the evenings directorial mistakes.

  • Some people seem to always be dissatisfied. The role of a critic is not writing nasty things. Surprisingly enough, the majority of comments on the internet are full of enthusiasm for the brilliant singing and acting of the cast. Maybe they have seen or heard (radio broadcast) a different production? IMHO, such brilliant singers deserve more respect, especially if so many people (including myself) loved yesterday’s performance. Are they all wrong? Or maybe you, critics should sometimes keep quiet instead of writing such unpleasant, subjective “reviews”. Do you feel better when you criticise today’s top opera singers?

  • I tend to agree with Steve criticims: in particular I couldn’t find very well my way through the orchestra who to my liking and habits played a bit too slow and lacked that vibrant brio and majesty that I associate with the beautiful score of CAV, Santuzza was really difficult to hear in the first half, particularly in Il Signor non è morto, when my heart was crying in pain….And the duetto Santa-Turiddu didn’t have the right tempo all along. Alvarez, though not at his best, hasthe right tone of voice that helped to remind that we were listening to Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana!

  • Mr. Rubin’s and Mr. Saltzman’s comments are completely correct. It was my first visit to the MET and I’m very disappointed. The Cav/Pag production showed once more how star directors spoil dramatic works. In Pag a Laurel & Hardy slapstick vaudeville isn’t necessary. It ruins the plot completely and a rotating turntable in Cav doesn’t set things in motion, when the director makes a lot of mistakes. Such productions are familiar with German opera houses. Americans call it Eurotrash, I think. The singers presented the usual mixture of artists which is today’s standard. Some try to sing and some can’t sing anymore. You may hear better singers at German municipal theatres. Concerning the MET it’s a very poor result.

  • @ SDreader….redacted]….those who fit the poor quality of the MET at this moment, a company that insists that plastic surgery fixes the real entity….. that being, art, which is the soul, the essence of any good house which respects this truth.

  • I agree 100% with Harry Saltzman. Both productions were terrible. Making a farce out of the Pag Prologue was unforgivable, as was the tawdriness of the rest of the production. Galloping dancers in Cav was the height of nonsense.

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