Saturday, April 26, 2008

Juan and Natalie Play Palookaville

Juan Diego Flórez took a near-unprecedented encore at the Met last week, in Daughter of the Regiment (nine high C’s). Mr. and Mrs. Buce caught up with the show today at the Palookaville multiplex and we can see what the excitement is about. Flórez indeed puts on a remarkable show, but it was also a good lesson in the unfortunate side effects of this kind of promotion. That is: the Met’s Daughter is a remarkable show all round, and the Flórez bravura number is only one, and maybe not the greatest, of its virtues.

I had heard about the encore, but I hadn’t read any of the reviews or commentary, so I didn’t know what a complete, fully-formed, well-intergrated morticed-at-the-joints production we have here. Also, how it succeeds in taking a big risk.

Daughter is, of course, a total war horse, but the production is nearly new. The most notable feature is a lot of new spoken dialogue—surely a tremendous risk with any classic, although perhaps a little less risky with a free-floating comedy than it would be with something solemn and marmoreal like, say Otello. Anyway, the dialogue works, and “works” not just in the sense of “not failing” but in the sense of actually adding something to the show. In its original form, Dialog is an extremely good-natured boy-meets-girl romance (if built on the silliest possible premise). The dialogue adds a layer of acerb comedy—comedy that is good enough in its own right, but also sufficient ot add a texture of complexity and irony to the whole stew. So, a much better opera (to my taste) with than without.

This is one of the operas that made Luciano Pavarotti famous, in company with Joan Sutherland (it’s also the opera that ended Kathleen Battle’s Met career when Joe Volpe canned her sorry soprano ass after some backstage misbehavior back in 1984). I’d say Flórez is at least a fit successor to Pavarotti—maybe not quite as marvelous a piece of machinery, but more thoughtful and reflective, with a more precise sense of what he is doing. And the guy is buff, equal to all kinds of acrobatics and capable of hoisting his leading lady into mid-air. Compare Pavarotti who you suspected of scarfing down an extra plate of pasta between scenes.

Thing is though, for all Flórez’ high C’s & stuff, Natalie Dessay as his lady is at once his match and a necessary complement. She didn’t sing so much as shout her way through the performance, with a lot of her own areobatic stage play—but with voice enough of her own to keep up with her co-star. Indeed, just after Flórez belts out his high notes in “Ah, Mes Ami,” Dessay presents herself as his foil with her farewell song, “Il faut partier,” made not a bit less touching by the fact that she’s wearing pants and an undershirt, and tugging a rope line of laundry. More: Flórez himself said that he found his second-act aria (which is less flashy) more difficult than the first, and he certainly did it credit. Dessay, by the way, comes across as just as physically fit in as her co-star. When we saw her at Santa Fe a couple of years ago, we remarked on how tiny she seemed. She is pretty small; but arms like those betray that she spends not much more time at the conservatory than she does at the gym.

And the encore: actually, Flórez didn’t do it for us, which was fine with me. He took a long, long ovation and you could see him working his throat; we actually thought he was going to. But just as well: this encore stuff shouldn’t get to be a habit. Indeed I have to say I suspect there was a good deal of marketing in it to begin with: I think I read somewhere that Peter Gelb, the major domo, asked him several weeks ago if he thought he might be up to it if, you know, the need arose. The need arose and so did Flórez rose to the need, and Gelb got one of those unbuyable rounds of pulibicity he seems to be good at.

Fn.: My friend Toni offers an Amazon review of the London version of this rendering here, and of an earlier Flórez performance here.

1 comment:

JoWynn Johns said...

Toni sent me to read this post and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hope I get to see this performance. Not a Florez fan (his voice grates on my ears), I haven't seen him in this role and I'm willing to give him the chance to win me over.