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Metropolitan Opera Opening Night Gala

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Another Met season, another Placido-thon on opening night. Act 2 of Fedora would seem to be a strange choice for a gala, except that who can complain when Mirella Freni is on the stage? The woman is a living legend, the true embodiment of diva, certainly the last of her generation. Her voice rang strong, true, and mostly clear as the princess who falls in love with her husband’s assasin in spite of herself (Yeah, this is one of those opera plots that give opera plots a bad name.) Cynthia Lawrence was a perky Olga, and Dwayne Croft as de Siriex suffered in comparison to Patrick Carfizzi’s Borov (a much smaller role). Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet made a cameo as the foppish pianist Lazinski. PD was obviously energized by the presence of his costar, and after a few worrying cut-off phrases he emerged with a gorgeously sung “Amor ti vieta” which rightfully earned a loud ovation.

The next act was Act 2 of Samson et Dalila, an opera I’ve never cared for, especially in the violently colored Elijah Moshinsky production currently playing. Olga Borodina, quite visibly pregnant (there’s an interesting story twist!) made it almost tolerable with her too-sexy-for-words “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix”. Sergei Leiferkus, whose voice has never attracted me, once again suffered the indignity of that AWFUL costume and makeup (head-to-toe orange body paint topped by a tiger skin robe. Gaaah.) in his few moments as the High Priest.

Finally, the fourth act of Verdi’s Otello seeming a bit anticlimactic out of its dramatic context, wrapped up the evening. Renee Fleming has been paying attention to her critics. She floated through the Willow Song with a minimum of swooping and crooning, which pleased me more than is polite to say. Placido came into his own in this act, in what is deservedly his signature role. His death scene never fails to give chills, and it made this viewer seriously wish that the rumors that he may be retiring this role are premature. He obviously still has a great deal to tell us about this infinitely fascinating character.

It was amusing to see Juan Pons and Greg Turay reduced to bit players as Iago and Cassio, respectively. Jane Bunnell once again sang a wonderfully sympathetic Emilia. Throughout the night, James Levine and the Met orchestra were spot-on.

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