Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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The Madness of Ms. Netrebko

December 30, 2006

Anna Netrebko as Elvira Walton
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera 2006
Anna Netrebko is the only reason to see the current revival of Bellini’s I Puritani currently at the Metropolitan Opera. But that is certainly reason enough. Of course, she’s been through this before. This was much the same situation in her first go at playing insanity while appearing in Lucia di Lammermoor in LA where she was fantastic in an otherwise woefully bad production. Audiences love her and it is easy to see why. She has a charming stage presence and strong acting instincts. She also sang more than well. Yes, she is no Joan Sutherland or Callas – but frankly this is as much a strength as a weakness. Her bel canto technique is not flawless, but the vocalists who do belong to that club these days are very, very few and Sutherland isn’t coming back any time soon. It’s time for people to move on with their lives. Netrebko has plenty of strengths across the board that make her performances thrilling to watch as it was tonight. I like Netrebko because she takes risks, which is a good thing because in this ridiculously outdated production she has to do something. Tonight, in the second performance of the run she does, in fact, sing a small portion of her aria in Act II laying on the stage with her head and hair draping into the orchestra pit. No doubt this is over the top, but she did it and she totally gets away with it.

Opera can be so educational. Apparently, not only did the Puritans have strict rules forbidding dancing and drinking, they also maintained the firmest prohibition against acting as evidenced by the immobile chorus on stage last night. The stage hands could have just as easily rolled these people on and off stage with dollies as have them ambulate. The supporting cast was not much better in this area, though Franco Vassallo (Riccardo) and John Relyea (Giorgio) were serviceable. Eric Cutler who was originally scheduled to sing the role of Arturo was still out sick as he was at the opening earlier this week, and the thankless task of covering fell to Gregory Kunde. The less said about this painful episode the better. Of course, worse than all of this is probably the single dullest staging I have seen of any opera this year. (And with some of what San Francisco trotted out this year that is saying a lot.) While Mr. Gelb appears to be doing his darndest to let some light into the coffin-like atmosphere that pervades the Met, there are clearly still plenty of areas to work on. One can only wish him the best in this apparently Herculean task.

Perhaps he could ask Paul Groves to hang around and have sex with whoever needs a little assistance. I hear it does wonders for what ails ya.

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