Francis Muzzu

Opera Stars perform at home in Met Gala

11:06, 4th May 2020
“What do you think of the new curtains?” Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak
In response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Met has launched a fundraising campaign, The Voice Must Be Heard, and mounted a hugely ambitious gala concert featuring star singers performing in live stream from their homes worldwide – a daunting technical challenge for all.

As  General Manager Peter Gelb promised in his introduction, ‘This is your chance to peek inside the homes of some of your favourite stars’.  Yes, let’s be honest, that why a lot of us were watching in the first place; it promised to be less about vocal colour and more about shades of wall, curtain and cushion.  But the power of performance burst through immediately with Peter Mattei’s smooth opening aria from Don Giovanni, accompanied by accordion, and was compounded by Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna romping through a duet from L’elisir d’amore.  Once it all got going it swept its audience along with gusto, never lingering too long in any one place as we whizzed from Lugano to Chicago, Malta to Florida.   Sombre notes came from Renée Fleming’s Ave Maria from Otello, exquisitely spun, and Ombra mai fu, given in memory of Met violist Vincent Lionti who succumbed to Covid-19, and performed with simple purity by Joyce DiDonato and Mr Lionti’s violist colleagues .   Spirits were lifted by soprano Erin Morley accompanying herself on piano, and tripping through the coloratura of La Fille du régiment with glee, revealing a sign made by her daughter saying  ‘Vive le Met’ at the conclusion.   Matthew Polenzani also self-accompanied and sang Danny Boy with as much elegance as that song has probably ever received.

Some performers managed to engage overcome the rudimentary technology and connect with the audience better than others.  Overall, it worked well and it was fascinating to hear voices shine in such simple aural conditions, though one does wonder what the neighbours thought, and whether Jamie Barton’s accompanist’s head eventually exploded under the onslaught of sound – she certainly didn’t hold back as Eboli.  Elīna Garanča surely smashed her ice maiden image for once and for all with a zesty and slightly self-mocking Carmen, an unflappable Günther Groissböck overcame being surprised having a surreptitious slurp as he was ‘on’ before his allotted time due to a glitch in linkup with the previous performers, and Javier Camarena had to explain that he still had his cabaletta from Il Pirata to belt out when Gelb attempted to curtail his performance.  Elza van den Heever’s performance was pretty much derailed by the poor connection (so don’t move to Montpellier – the broadband is dreadful).   Lisette Oropesa nailed an aria from Robert le Diable with thrilling confidence.  Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé had fun singing ‘Là ci darem la mano’, almost but not quite upstaged by their kitchen and children.  When Damrau hangs up her tonsils I hope she gets to front a TV show of some sort, she is a joyous communicator.  The only miscalculation was when the closing star Anna Netrebko didn’t actually perform live but in a pre-filmed segment, which seemed rather a diva touch when everyone else was prepared to make a potential fool of themselves – despite her fulsome introduction by Gelb, which seemed unfortunately dismissive to the other singers, it wasn’t explained why she didn’t enter into the spirit of things.  But Gelb’s somewhat shadowy personality does not make for a natural presenter, and it would perhaps have been more fun to have left the job to the sunnier Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin – or Unique, as Gelb constantly referred to him.  (I know it’s awkward to correct the boss, but someone should tell him.)

Tasteful of Montpellier: The stylish Elsa Van Heever

And sorry to keep you waiting, but what about the home furnishings?  Questions abound.  Why on earth did Anthony Roth Costanzo have what appeared to be the head of John the Baptist atop his piano?  Was René Pape’s black and white room decorated by a teenage boy?  Was Michael Fabiano’s Miró lithograph real?  Who designed Renée Fleming’s expensively understated sitting room?  Why does Jonas Kaufmann seem to have seats from the Bayerische Staatsoper auditorium  at home?  And Jonas, were those yesterday’s T-shirt and jeans you were wearing?  Some performers went all out on the starorial front: thank you, Sonya Yoncheva!) And above all, we saw shelves, miles of them from all around the world.  And so the coveted Opera Now Award for Best Shelves goes to Elza van den Heever, whose interior design is both elegant and personal – just gorgeous.   Maybe Montpellier’s not so bad after all.



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