Netrebko and Villazon disappoint in Met's "Lucia"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By MIKE SILVERMAN, Associated Press Writer

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NEW YORK —  It should have been the most glamorous of nights at the opera: the return of Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko, reunited with her longtime stage partner, tenor Rolando Villazon.

Instead, their joint appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" on Monday night proved nearly as ill-starred as the fate of their characters in this tale of love, betrayal, madness and murder.

Netrebko, fresh from six months of maternity leave, looked ravishing if a bit plumper than before, and opened the night in splendid form. Her penetrating sound, cushioned as if by a thick coating of honey, was as striking as ever. If anything, her voice seems to have grown in size without losing any of its allure.

Her characterization was well thought-out, too. Though she appeared too happy and healthy to be at risk of madness in her opening duet with her beloved Edgardo (Villazon), in subsequent scenes she persuasively showed Lucia losing her grip on reality. In one memorable image, after her brother, Enrico, has tricked her into believing Edgardo is unfaithful so she will marry another man, Netrebko crumpled to the floor and tried to scurry away on her back from Enrico's outstretched arms.

But "Lucia" is all warmup and no payoff unless it climaxes with a dazzling Mad Scene, and it was here that Netrebko disappointed.

Appearing in a blood-drenched wedding gown after she has killed her bridegroom, Lucia holds forth for 16 or so minutes of solo singing that combines plaintive strands of melody with extreme coloratura fireworks to mirror the unraveling of her mind.

Netrebko simply lacked the vocal agility to pull it off. She stinted on much of the usual ornamentation and failed to hit the final high E-flat squarely. The applause that followed was surprisingly tepid for a scene that usually stops the show in its tracks.

For Met audiences who have heard both Natalie Dessay and Diana Damrau triumph as "Lucia" in the last 18 months, the question is why Netrebko should undertake the role at all when her voice is so much better suited to other repertory.

As for Villazon, he sounded in bad shape from his first entrance, an ominous rattle infecting his high notes. During his solo outburst in the wedding scene, his voice cracked and he froze for several seconds, then continued a half-tone lower. Before the curtain rose for the final act, general manager Peter Gelb announced Villazon "was not feeling well" but would continue. He made it, just barely, through his final scene, but the ovation he received was surely more a sympathy vote than a true endorsement.

It's especially worrisome to hear this once-promising Mexican tenor in such ragged shape, since he suffered a vocal crisis nearly two years ago and stopped singing for several months. This was his first Met appearance since he resumed his career in early 2008.

The other soloists fared better. As Enrico, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien pushed his polished sound to its limits, but he created a powerful study in cruelty. Russian Bass Ildar Abdrazakov sang sympathetically as Lucia's tutor, Raimondo, though his lowest notes were barely audible. As Arturo, Lucia's hapless husband, tenor Colin Lee made a promising debut, singing his few phrases with fresh and ardent tone and all but stealing the scene with his memorably self-satisfied demeanor.

Marco Armiliato conducted with a few ragged patches, understandable since the new cast didn't have the benefit of a full orchestra rehearsal.

There are three more performances over the next two weeks.


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