Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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December 28, 2007

Ms Netrebko, pretty in pink
Photo: Guy Joosten/Met 2007
It’s holiday time in New York and the city is flooded with tourists, not unlike myself. Everywhere you turn, Russian is spoken which makes the city seem more and more like London or my own beloved West Hollywood. In any event, there was definitely a Russian crowd out on Thursday at the next to last performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Roméo et Juliette starring Anna Netrebko. This is the second outing for a staging by Guy Joosten – originally developed for Natalie Dessay – that is most notable for how static and unmoving it is. He does have a strong visual concept – astronomy. Which is not lost on the audience as evidenced by my neighbor’s comment to her husband “You see they are star-crossed lovers.” Oh, now I get it. What is most surprising about this whole affair is how dated it looks on only its second outing. Joosten seems to go out of his way to avoid any of the ripe dramatic staging possibilities Gounod littered his score with. The chorus stands around like some clothed Renaissance version of Vegas showgirls, too pretty to move. Meanwhile, outside of a floating bed trick, there is so little for the principals to do they are forced into the whole rolling around on the floor business to hold the audience’s attention.

But honestly, no one came to see this production for reasons other than Ms. Netrebko who turned in yet another stellar performance. Although there had been some grousing last week about her singing during the HD broadcast two weeks ago, she was in fine voice tonight and wowed the audience. Her Act IV aria is still astounding as it was the times I heard her in LA three years back and her acting is still top drawer. Everyone in the room only had eyes for her. The only exception to this, however, was Matthew Polenzani. Which is particularly unfortunate considering that her was cast as her umpteenth Romeo this season. Polenzani sounded fine but often looked like his mind was elsewhere. He looked and sounded less like a young lover than somebody’s nebbishy nephew holding down the job due to family connections. Having listened to several Roméo broadcasts and seeing this one, there is no question that Mr. Villazon’s absence from this run is acutely felt. What could have been a tour de force is now a star-vehicle. But when your star is Anna Netrebko, maybe that is not such a bad thing.


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