Thursday, May 21, 2009


I went to see Rossini's La Cenerentola at the movies last night--the last of the Metropolitan Opera HDTV broadcasts for this season, the encore of the May 9 performance. I was one of a small handful of people in the audience not over 65, and I can safely say that it was the only time I've seen a nun in a wimple at River East 21, but it was still quite rock and roll. The only (rokkritik) word for Rossini is propulsive.

I'm glad there was a whole seat between me and other viewers because I couldn't help bouncing around in ways you wouldn't in an opera house--tapping my toes and paddling my paws and such. I was all twitchy just waiting for it to start, eating my pretzel and ICEE (you gotta have snacks), thinking about how great (horrible) a singalong opera would be and how great opera-based Movie Quiz!-style questions would be, as fierce opera queens vied to be the first to bark the right answer.

Lawrence Brownlee sang a beautiful prince, although again, as with Florez in the other Met HDTV production I saw (Barber of Seville), he is a very technically accomplished and very short tenor without an enormous amount of acting range (he had two spressions: angry/not angry). The last scene, with the giant wedding cake, was cool but also seemed designed to try to make him really super-tall, no foolin, although he looked a little like a short candle on top.

That isn't very nice of me. Sigh. I mean--shoot. Whatever it takes, right? Can .01% of the world do what he does? But there's no way around the fact that this is a movie, not an in-person performance--if I were at the Met listening to his voice fill the hall I think I wouldn't have the same reaction that I do watching it all on a 2-D screen, whether I want to or not. Although really for me this is more about acting ability than height.

Elina Garanca, on the other hand, almost looked like a movie Cinderella who happened to be an opera star. I have never seen anybody appear to expend so little physical energy singing--not only that, singing the way you have to to hit those crazy Rossini runs and fill that house. For the first two minutes she was onscreen and off and on the rest of the opera I was sure she was lip synching. It was only towards the end and her big ballbuster finale (bootleg version here--turn it all the way the frick up) that you could even really see her intakes of breath or mouth open significantly. She must have the lungs of a thousand synchronized swimmers, not to mention unholy acoustics collapsed right there into her head--it was really kind of amazing the way her mouth distorted only as if she were talking when she sang, even during big changes in volume and speed. Combined with the fact that she has the looks and poise of an animated Disney heroine, it was pretty surreal (and brings up the inevitable specter of Cecilia Bartoli, at the other end of the mezzo twitch scale).

As I said I've only been to two of these HDTV broadcasts, but I am convinced that part of why they work is actually seeing singers expend effort--sing--perform--close-up. Blips and glitches and beads of sweat don't mar the experience, they add to it. It's like watching sports. This is what you can't see from even the closest seat, really, in person. So when somebody makes it look so effortless, as with Garanca, it's almost a little flat, especially as your mind is already casting about, processing the acoustics of a miced performance and trying to match up all the visual/audio cues. She has an astonishing voice, though, with a really interesting full lower range. Would love to hear her do other roles.

Most of the singers were really wonderful, period, especially John Relyea as Alidoro, who altogether is very hot with his slightly stephenkingsy good looks and unbelievably deep voice--I almost died listening him during the half-time show. Thomas Hampson was the MC, asking the questions, and he was dorky, I thought. He has a slightly strangulated, Wink Martindale kind of speaking voice, with a weird lateral lisp, and his interview style made me wincey.

It didn't matter though, nor the fact that the imagery on screen felt mutely-lit and dark, nor that not all the speakers were on (I think?), nor that the pantomime of the evil stepsisters was kinda tedious. The whole experience was fun. The ensemble singing was especially exhilarating, such as in "Questo รจ un nodo avviluppato," with all that fierce, contained power. Rossini is just cool. Watching the orchestra during the overture was an amazing experience--he really makes musicians work. I love feeling his giddy autocratic joy in the pyrotechnics and aching beauty he demands of performers, hundreds of years later.

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