The sun was just beginning to set when the Metropolitan Opera's cameras focused on a small hillside platform overlooking the Mediterranean Sea as it cooled the white sands of the French Riviera below. Tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, husband-and-wife in real life, chose Èze, France, as the perfect locale from which to sing their program of arias and duets. Kurzak wore a soft, flowing gown printed with butterflies. Alagna wore a dark suit with an open-necked white shirt.
The fact that Kurzak was singing dramatic music with her exquisite light lyric voice was not a problem since the duo was accompanied by the Vienna Morphing Quintet rather than a full orchestra. They opened with 'Vogliatemi bene' ('Love Me') the Act I duet from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Her sound was lyric. Her top notes were clear and easily reached. He had commanding dramatic tones but a few of his highest notes were not smoothly delivered. Standing on either side of the stage when they began, only late in the duet did this Butterfly and her Pinkerton meet physically.
The Vienna Morphing Quintet played a significant instrumental introduction to the next selection. 'Ah! lève-toi, soleil!' (Ah rise, Sun). Their first violinist is a gem and I wish I knew his name. After the introduction, Alagna sang this tenor aria from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. I wondered if he was asking the sun to slow its journey because the concert was totally dependent on natural light.
Then came a piece that brought vocal sunshine to the stage. Kurzak sang 'Una voce poco fa' ('A Voice Just Now') from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). She intoned it with exquisitely clear, clean coloratura and showed the ability to both flirt and command. Continuing with 'Caro elisir' (Dear Elixir) from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love), Alagna put on a hilarious drunk scene, going from slightly tipsy and drinking from the bottle to being completely soused. As Nemorino, he even stuck a line from an old popular song in the middle of his music before holding his beloved Adina close and popping his cheek instead of kissing her.
From the Donizetti comedy, Alagna turned to a sad Puccini aria sung in front of a gallows, 'Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano' (Let her believe I'm free and far away) from La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). Alagna had a tear in his voice and he made the audience care about his character.
The artists followed the Puccini with some knock-down drag-out verismo from Mascagni, 'Tu qui, Santuzza' (You Here, Santuzza) from Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry). Santuzza asked to speak with Turiddu and he said 'Not now'. She kept asking him not to leave her but he made it clear that he had already fallen in love with another woman. She knelt and begged him to stay and he tried to comfort her without agreeing to stay. Finally, in a fit of anger, she warned him of trouble if he were to leave her. Alagna and Kurzak made the stage sizzle with their intensity.
After the heat of that duet, the duo took a break while the audience viewed a short interview and a delightful rendition of the duet 'Parlez-moi de ma mère' ('Speak to me of my Mother') from The Met's HD rendition of Bizet's Carmen. Kurzak gave the sometimes uninteresting Micaëla a realistic personality.
I am still wondering why Alagna and Kurzak placed the 'Ave Maria' from the last act of Verdi's Otello before 'Già nella notte densa' (Here in the dense night) from Act I of that opera. No matter, the 'Ave Maria' was a moving prayer that brought tears to my eyes. The duet was the perfect music for the fast falling Mediterranean night when the Pleiades were low and Venus had begun her trip across the sky.
Just enough light remained for three charming renditions of songs sung in languages spoken by many viewers. They sang and danced to the waltz from Lehár's The Merry Widow, 'Lippen schweigen' (Silent Lips). They added tambourine and trumpet for Mendoza y Cortés's 'Cielito lindo' (Beautiful sky) and Kurzak played the spoons for Denza's Alpine tram song, 'Funiculì, Funiculà.' Here's to Alagna, Kurzak and the Met for taking a chance on the weather and the light. The concert turned out gloriously.
Copyright © 17 August 2020