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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Opera Review: A Voice to Die For

Angela Meade sings Il Trovatore at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Die hard: Angela Meade as Leonora, having just drunk poison in Act IV of Il Trovatore.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Wednesday, Jan. 16. 

That date was circled on the calendar for many New York opera lovers as the one night that soprano Angela Meade would sing Leonora in this year's revival of Verdi's Il Trovatore. In fact, it was the only night that the Met had scheduled for this talented soprano, in the middle of January. At the Met, January is where unloved revivals and obscure operas (La Rondine, Le Comte Ory) are sentenced to play before half-empty theaters. (Luckily, opera lovers know this, and plan accordingly!) While this performance turned out to be Ms. Meade's second Leonora of the season (she substituted for an ill Patricia Racette in the Saturday night broadcast) the Washington State-born soprano did not disappoint.

Angela Meade has made her reputation in the last few years as a bel canto specialist, taking on difficult high-lying roles that require great delicacy and vocal technique. Here, she entered to a round of applause, rewarding her admirers with a sumptuous "Tacea la notte", with velvety high notes that floated through the perfumed, nocturnal atmosphere of the aria. At the entrance of the rivals Di Luna (Alexey Markov) and Manrico (Marco Berti), she shifted gears, singing with athletic prowess above the stage and capping the ensemble with a spectacular high note.

In Act II, the whirlwind plot of Trovatore turns to the relationship between Manrico and Azucena, the vengeance-obsessed gypsy played here by Stephanie Blythe. Ms. Blythe was clearly battling some sort of ailment, which caused this talented mezzo to fudge the first high note at the end of "Stride la vampa." She recovered and delivered a tonally variable but absorbing narrative, pulling the listener deep into her story and the complex maternal bond she shares with her "son." Those inconsistencies stayed with her throughout her performance,  although she did not lack in dramatic intensity.

Mr. Berti was a potent Manrico. His first, offstage romanza provided hints of the good things to come: a ringing top and enough tonal beauty to coo with Ms. Meade in "Ah sì ben mio" in Act III. He then provided fireworks of his own with an heroic "Di quella pirra," sweeping the listener off in a wave of macho posturing.

Manrico and Di Luna are brothers and mirror images, so it fit that Mr. Berti was well matched on the machismo front by Mr. Markov. His dark, satisfying instrument supplied burnished tone to "Il balen del suo sorriso," making the Count an almost sympathetic figure--even as he plotted Leonora's abduction. Christophoros Stamboglis was a solid Ferrando, although an annoying comic book laugh marred the end of his Act I scena.

In the final act, it was Ms. Meade who provided musical and dramatic focus. She sang a seemingly effortless "D'amor sull'ali rosee" with great power and beauty of tone, with two perfectly floated  pianissimo high Ds, mesmerizing the audience. This run of splendid singing continued through the famous Miserere (with Mr. Berti sounding resonant and plaintive from his offstage perch) and the heroine's final suicide. With this degree of talent, it speaks volumes as to why she is not engaged at the Met more often.

From the first drumroll, Daniele Callegari led a rhythmic, involved performances that gave singers room to breathe but emphasized forward motion and narrative drive in the choral scenes. These were superbly turned by the Met's redoubtable chorus--one of the house's greatest assets. David McVicar's production of this opera remains one of the Met's better shows, with its grim battlefield visuals inspired by the "black" paintings of Francisco Goya.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.