sat 13/04/2024

Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala livestream review - classy joy and sorrow in domestic settings | reviews, news & interviews

Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala livestream review - classy joy and sorrow in domestic settings

Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala livestream review - classy joy and sorrow in domestic settings

Top voices giving generously to raise funds in often dodgy Skyped sound

Congeniality award: tenor Lawrence Brownlee takes over from Diana Damrau, Nicolas Testé and their childrenMetropolitan Opera

So many of the world's great opera singers inviting us to look through the keyhole at a carefully presented version of their lockdown lives over four very variable hours, such bad sound for the most part (Skype, like Zoom, catches the voice but loses the accompaniment).

But that's not the point, nor would it be politic to pick out the few turkeys; these were all personable, supremely gifted human beings giving of their time and their artistry to raise money for New York's Metropolitan Opera (how the house has treated its artists and crew financially since lockdown is another matter altogether, and not for enlarging upon here). The whole was certainly much more important than its parts, moving and/or funny as so many of those were.

The live component - very much the majority of the contributions - was a huge risk to take, and it nearly all worked; only lovable Australian soprano Nicole Car and her baritone partner Étienne Dupuis, one of three performers who played as well as sang, were lost in action for a whole, but retrieved later. And besides there were substantial, highly professional pre-filmed opportunities for the magnificent Met Orchestra and Chorus to shine, secure in the natural musical leadership of the adorable Yannick Nézet-Séguin, an inspirational Music Director. He's a born presenter as Met CEO Peter Gelb is obviously not. Gelb should have pulled back from saying that “his” chorus love working together and facing challenges as so many around the world do not – really? – and from flagging up Anna Netrebko as the “reigning diva” when other sopranos had sung with greater musicianship and better pitch than she did, pre-recorded giving a Rachmaninov song heavy bags of temperament in a Vienna studio. Met Opera galaNothing could have better showed how Nézet-Séguin, passionate and thoughtful musicianship incarnate, floats a supporting line than two of his contributions: conducting an inevitably moving multiple-screen account of the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco (pictured above) and accompanying one of the Met’s concertmasters (we in the UK say leaders) David Chan in the glorious "Méditation" from Massenet's Thaïs – as perfectly in sync as if they had been in the same room (YNS was commenting and playing from the Montréal apartment he shares, as he nicely pointed out, with his husband and three cats).

Highlights? For sheer joie de vivre, the bottled sunshine of Erin Morley in Marie’s rousing barracks song from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment – out-Sutherlanding La Stupenda in some extra high notes, accompanying herself with relish on the piano, rounding it all off with a ‘Vive Le Met’ sign designed by her daughter.

For soulful reflection early on, there was Renée Fleming in a phrase-perfect floating of Desdemona’s “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s Otello. Who does Renée’s hair at this time, one wondered? And that was an interior I could live in, alongside tenor Matthew Polenzani’s spacious home where he sang a very lovely “Danny Boy”. There was classy self-framing, too, from another self-accompanied artist, Austrian bass Günther Groissböck (pictured below), having placed a Met model on his grand piano and a facemask over a statue of Wagner before another moving meditation, and a rarity compared to most choices, the noise-hating Morosus’s epilogue from Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau, ending on a low E flat. Gunther Groissbock in Met galaBlustery melodrama worked much less well in domestic surroundings – let’s not say whose – but a succession of young sopranos I’ve yet to see in the UK offered total class: Golda Schultz, Angel Blue, Nadine Sierra, Lisette Oropesa. Some tenors showed off too much, indulging themselves in a way that would presumably be slapped down by YNS at the Met – OK, it’s a gala – while others like Lawrence Brownlee and Javier Camarena were just charming; they share the Congeniality award with Morley and the delightful domestic duo of Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé in Mozart’s “La ci darem la mano” (concluded with a guest appearance from their kids – quick work with Zerlina from this Don Giovanni).

There was more easy charm from Bryn Terfel, the only British singer represented (specifically, Welsh) and his harpist wife Hannah Stone in a wise, counter-intuitive choice, Alma Bazel Androzzo's "If I Can Help Somebody" (representing the only black and woman composer, still going at 107). More time for grieving came from a pre-filmed Joyce DiDonato and the Met violas, conducted by Nézet-Séguin, paying homage to their much-mourned colleague Vincent Liotti, who died from complications related to the coronavirus, in Handel’s “Ombre mai fu”, otherwise known as “the Largo from Xerxes” (pictured below). Counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a born communicator as we know from films of his work with inner-city schools, offered further Handelian food for soulful thought in "Pena tiranna" from Amadigi di Gaula. Joyc DiDonato and Met violasYes, it was a very long session, given 40 singers plus the orchestral/chorus contributions, but you could, as I did, watch the first two-thirds live and the rest the following day (sadly, the gala has now run its 24-hour stint, but many excerpts like Morley‘s above should be available on YouTube). It would have been good to have a short blurb from the singers about the context of their chosen numbers; I guess subtitles would have been impossible given the live nature of the event. That’s the nature of the gala, though: it’s more about the singer than the song. And no gala will ever go down as a more singular homage to the time, or a greater testament to the importance of letting voices and instruments be heard to bring balm or catharsis to viewers and listeners in lockdown, than this one. No rating; again, that's not the point. Give if you can here and/or (as I've chosen) to musical organisations supporting young artists, who are most in need of support.

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