Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Dress of Many Colors

January 26, 2010


My recent weekend in New York ended with a concert from the world-class Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall under James Levine. It was a bit of an Oreo cookie of an afternoon – a familiar favorite whose best part was a delicious center part. Bookended by Schubert’s unfinished Eighth symphony and Beethoven’s Fifth which closed the program was a wonderful mini-recital from soprano Diana Damrau. She appeared in the crazy patchwork gown she wears on the cover of her latest recording “Coloraturas” and she focused on material that spectacularly showed off her adept acrobatics. She started off with eight familiar Strauss Lieder including “Morgen!” and “Das Bächlein”. She gave intense and thoughtful readings of both and closed the set eventually with “Amor,” which more prominently featured the vocal acrobatics she’s readily capable of. This was all prelude, however, to Zerbinetta’s aria from Ariadne auf Naxos which she dispatched with real humor and lightheartedness mixed with real power and control. She was clearly having a great time and the audience shared it with a huge ovation. She came back on stage several times afterward and then gave a true encore singing the last portion of the aria again, clearly hamming it up with Levine perched on his stool nearby. It was lovely in just about every way and an expert bit of cross promotion for the opera. The Met will be opening Ariadne next week and while Damrau will not be in it, she will be singing Marie in La Fille du Regiment with Juan Diego Florez as she takes over for Nathalie Dessay in the Laurent Pelly production that was so warmly received everywhere. As much as I like Dessay, Damrau is fairly spectacular in this production, which she gave a test run in San Francisco to loving audiences last Fall. (And as an extra bonuse, Meredith Arwady who played the Marquise de Berkenfield in San Francisco will be returning the the Met stage in this revival as well. She's great.)

But back to the rest of the cookie. Levine and the Met Orchestra can pull out the drama in a flowing and smooth production with ease, and both the Schubert and Beethoven got the full body workout. The Schubert fared better and was rather lush. The Beethoven, however, was decidedly overcooked with big gestures drowning out any detail. It was not an inappropriate approach, but not the most convincing one. It’s always great to hear the Met Orchestra play music that they don’t get to do everyday even when it’s familiar to the audience. But it’s hard to deny the orchestra’s strong suit and even here, it was the relationship with a vocalist that showed the group off in the best light.

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