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Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Grand Slam: Lucia, Luisa, and Three Tall Women

Jessica Pratt as Lucia
Yesterday I went to the matinee performance of Luisa Miller. I expected it to be wonderful, and it was. Everyone had settled into their roles more than at the premiere, and the love of the audience seemed to give the singers an extra jolt of energy. The death scene between Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Beczala was gripping and Domingo was so heartfelt and still offers a master class in Verdian style that one could forgive the occasional lack of, well, baritonal voice. It was a beautiful afternoon and I'm glad the performance was captured for HD.

Then after it was over I decided to impulsively buy a ticket for the evening's Lucia di Lammermoor. I'd heard good things about the Lucia, Jessica Pratt. And this was alas one of her only two performances this season. It was unlike Luisa Miller a gamble, as I really hadn't heard much of her besides a few Youtube videos. And I think most of the audience was unfamiliar with her too, as the auditorium was depressingly empty for a Saturday night.

But about midway through the performance you could sense a buzz, an excitement, as people seemed to realize they'd stumbled into a great performance. By the Mad Scene the somnolent Met had turned into a screaming, frenzied gladiator's arena. 

Yes, Jessica Pratt is the real thing: an accomplished high lyric-coloratura who knows this score inside and out and can manage most everything the role requires without trouble. Her voice is one of those inverted triangles -- she sounds unremarkable in her middle register. Pleasant, but not memorable. So the very centrally written "Regnava nel silencio" had me thinking, "This is it?" But her upper register is another voice -- brilliant, loud, projects beautifully. In the sextet in that final note her voice was the one that carried over everyone else's. As might be expected her cadenzas were written so her voice could sit in the higher tessitura and she capped her big numbers with blazing money notes that the audience loved -- a high F at the end of her duets with  Raimondo (Vitalij Kowaljow), two long-held E-flats after both "Il dolce suono" and "Spargi d'amoro pianto."  I was sitting in a balcony box and could see the prompter applauding vigorously after "Il dolce suono."

Dramatically she wasn't the most exciting performer. Her approach to the role was more an old-fashioned display of vocal pyrotechnics. But eh, who cares? I'm reminded of this review of another Aussie soprano. A description of Nellie Melba's Lucia:
Melba was in excellent voice last night, and consequently she was heard to the best advantage. It would be easy enough for a genuine actress to make the rĂ´le of Lucia theatrically effective in spite of the hollowness of the pretty music, but no one ever does act it, and consequently the public has come to accept it as a part in which the unaided exhibition of vocal technics is the whole issue. This is a good attitude for Mme. Melba, for she never acts, even when she thinks she does. But she sings admirably, and last night her work was up to its best mark.
There are some vocal imperfections: Pratt's trill is uneven. It's there but effortful. It's not the kind of rustling beauty of, say, Joan Sutherland (another Aussie)!  As mentioned the middle of her voice doesn't make nearly the impact as her upper register. But it was a triumph -- unlike Olga Peretyatko earlier in the season, she can sing this music with panache and style.

Grigolo, photo @ Richard Termine
Her colleagues were ... interesting. Vittorio Grigolo put on a display that would have made the most hardened burlesque performer blush. His voice is a fine instrument -- loud, pingy, with no trouble negotiating the music. However he seems to be singing in another era of opera. The veristic breaks in the musical line, the declamatory style, the overacting, it was ... unique. He made no effort to blend his voice with Pratt's in "Verrano a te." He also decided to interpolate his own mad scenes into the opera. At the end of Act 2 he threw the ring on the floor (expected) but then ran around the stage shoving people and furniture aside before grabbing a sword and attempting suicide several times before his sword was confiscated. He fell in a heap onstage as the curtain fell. In the final scene he lay prostrate on top of the prompter's box for "Tombe degli avi miei" and then at the news of Lucia's death he apparently decided that now was the time to make his debut as Escamillo in Carmen as he took his cape and waved it in front of some imaginary bulls. I don't know what opera he thought he was singing last night. It wasn't Lucia di Lammermoor.

Entire cast at curtain calls
Massimo Cavaletti's (Enrico) career mystifies me. Wobbly, colorless baritone, devoid of any charisma, doesn't act, can't sing the music. And it's not as if there aren't a bevy of baritones who can sing Enrico. Vitalij Kowaljow (Raimondo) was much better. Mario Chang showed much promise in the brief role of Arturo. Roberto Abbado led an exciting performance in the pit, with very few diva indulgences. Loved the glass armonica (expertly played by Frierich Heinrich Klein). In perahaps the nicest moment of the evening Jessica Pratt walked over to the glass armonica player at curtain calls and pointed for the audience to clap for him.

Is Jessica Pratt the next Joan Sutherland? Maybe not, but she is a great Lucia whom I hope to hear a lot more of in the future.

Here are the curtain calls:


Three Tall Women, photo @ Brigitte Lacomb
On Friday night I went "blind" into a Edwin Albee's Three Tall Women. Didn't know anything about it other than it was supposed to be good. And my god. What an amazing theatrical experience.  Jackson and Metcalf tore up the stage in a funny, biting, and ultimately chilling study on life and mortality. Edwin Albee based both "A" (Glenda Jackson), "B" (Laurie Metcalf), and "C" (Alison Pill) on his mother. And in the play as in real life Albee left home at the age of 18 and rarely returned. The reasons for the breakdown of the relationship are vaguer in the play. In real life, his adoptive mother never accepted his sexuality. There's an interesting article about the topic here.

B, A, and C in the first half -- photo @ Sara Krulwich
The first half of the play is more comic: a fiery, flinty, filthy rich 92 year old woman (Jackson) is alternately cajoled and humored by her caretaker (Metcalf). A young lawyer (Pill) is pushing the old lady to sign some legal paperwork. The old woman's ramblings are alternately funny (the long monologue about a bracelet on her husband's "pee pee" had the audience in stitches) and hair-curling (her racism and bigotry so common-place that her caretaker simply shrugs it off). Jackson barely moves from her seat as she recounts the old lady's life with so much unapologetic gusto that the audience loves her, even when she reveals herself to be a horrible person. I'd never seen Jackson onstage before. What an actress! Metcalf is brilliant here in not letting Jackson completely steal the play. Metcalf has less lines but her body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions are as funny as Jackson's monologues. Pill disappears somewhat -- "C" has few lines and Pill can't command the stage the way Jackson and Metcalf can. This talk-fest is cut short as the old woman suffers what seems to be a stroke.

In the second half A, B, and C emerge as the same woman in three different phases of life. C is 26, B is 52, A is 92. I don't want to give too much away but suffice to say the play's tone turns darker as one learns about all the pain, anger and disappointment behind a life that on the surface screamed "white privilege." Director Joe Mantello makes no attempt to make the three actresses act less distinct -- Jackson still speaks in her plummy British accent, Metcalf still exudes the kind of earthy humor that's made her so successful on shows like Roseanne, and Pill is still brittle and juvenile. But that's the brilliance of it -- the differences between the actresses turns the story into a Rashomon as we're never sure if A, B, or C are reliable narrators. The play's final moments are chilling. Glenda Jackson as A and Laurie Metcalf as B absolutely deserve Tony's. This was bar none the best thing I saw on Broadway and off-Broadway this season.

Attending Luisa Miller was quite fun as I got to meet both people I've known online and some pretty famous singers. To Rowna, Sophia, Helmut, and Ellen: so great to finally meet y'all in person! And here's some pictures at the stage door.

My signed program

A great quartet of singers, no?

4 comments:

  1. Agree with all of this, especially the audience size and warming response to Ms Pratt, almost white hot by the end. Better correct Mr Chang's first name, Mario according to the program ... also you might note that Ms Pratt, while born in England, came to Australia aged 11 or 12 ... not sure if she considers herself to be Aussie but must have had most of her training down-under I would have thought. Just me being patriotic, perhaps. And that is part of the reason I attended twice in the one week - to 'wave the flag'. Both magnificent nights at the opera. I sat next to a newby from South Brooklyn on one side and an elderly opera fan from Romania on the other. Both had eyes and ears popping! Thanks for your insightful review. Andrew Byrne, Sydney, Australia, currently visiting New York.

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    1. Oh sorry, I knew it was Mario but because he sang Arturo ... this is why you shouldn't write after attending double-headers hahaha. As for Pratt I knew she lived in Austrailia but I don't know if she self-identifies as Australian. As for her high notes they reminded me of another two great Aussie coloraturas -- Melba and Sutherland. Hope you had a great trip!

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  2. Hi Ivy,
    Another terrific review! I like Grigolo's voice and passion and have seen him in all of his Met roles so I put up w/his antics. Can you imagine him giving a recital accompanied on the piano by Lang Lang? The audience would need Dramamine.

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    1. I think a performance with both him and Angela Gheorghiu would be fantastic. The two of them would fall into the orchestra pit trying to outstage each other.

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