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On Saturday 24 October 2020, The Metropolitan Opera resumed its presentation of online concert performances staged in Europe. Hostess Christine Goerke was not available at this time because she is in quarantine after returning from Detroit where she performed Brünnhilde in the Michigan Opera Theatre Scenes from Wagner's Götterdämerung. Effervescent Angel Blue, who was to have sung Mimi in the San Diego Opera drive-in La bohème, replaced Goerke and lyrically talented Ana Maria Martinez replaced Blue in San Diego. Sometimes opera is like a relay race.
Soprano Diana Damrau and tenor Joseph Calleja, both long time Met Opera stars, performed a program of arias and duets live online from the Cappella Palatina of the Royal Palace of Caserta, less than an hour's drive north of Naples. Since Act I of Puccini's Tosca is set in a church, this huge chapel with its 'live' sound provided a perfect setting for the 'Mario! Mario!' duet. Calleja strode across the marble church floor with a commanding presence. His voice is perfect for Cavaradossi and he sang with great attention to detail, working with the site's acoustics to spin glorious pianissimi.
For Damrau, the choice of operas offered her a chance to sing new music since her lyric voice is developing a bit of heft. What she lacked in dramatic color she made up for in charm, gesture and attire. Her Tosca wore black and white, but the jacket was marabou. From Act I, the program skipped to Act III for 'E lucevan le stelle' (The stars were shining) which showed off the cream in Calleja's voice to perfection as he sang the beauty in the life he would soon lose. Damrau countered with Tosca's climactic Act II aria 'Vissi d'arte' (I have lived for art), telling of her pain and desperation, feelings many artists currently experience in this time of pandemic.
After the Tosca scenes, the artists got a rest while the online audience saw a snippet of Damrau's intermission interview with Anita Rachvelishvili before she sang a passionate 'Addio del passato' (Goodbye to the Past) from the final act of Verdi's La Traviata. The live concert continued with Damrau and Calleja's rendition of a duet about a girl who says she loves a different boy every day, 'Una parola, o Adina ... Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera' (A word, Adina ... Ask the flattering aura) from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love). Here, Damrau was in her element and her Adina was a flesh and blood coquette who won the heart of Calleja's bumbling country boy.
Inhabiting a completely different character, Calleja sang Renato's tragic 'Ma se m'è forza perderti' (But if I force myself to lose you) from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) with warm tones and dramatic colors. Damrau chose Rossini and sang the dramatic coloratura aria 'Bel raggio lusinghier' (Beautiful Flattering Ray) from Rossini's Semiramide with flowing roulades of freely emitted notes that blended in the live sound of the chapel. It would be interesting to see her do that role on the opera stage someday.
Calleja portrayed a strong Don José in the 'Flower Song' from Bizet's Carmen, 'La fleur que tu m'avais jetée'. In the duet from that opera with Damrau as Micaëla, 'Parle-moi de ma mère' (Tell me about my mother) made me wonder what their lives would have been like if Don José had never met Carmen. Damrau and Calleja took another short break as Angel Blue introduced an interview bit with Renée Fleming and Calleja's rendition of the heart-piercing final aria from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
When the artists returned to perform live, it was fun-time! Damrau sang 'Höre ich Zigeunergeigen' (I hear Gypsy Violins) from Kálmán's Gräfin Mariza in German, and even danced while pianist Roberto Moreschi showed his virtuosity at the end of the piece. Calleja offered a rousing version of Agustín Lara's 'Granada' and they joined forces in Ernesto De Curtis' melodic and timely 'Non ti scordar di me' (Do Not Forget Me).
At this point, Calleja spoke of missing the Met Chorus and Orchestra and I think readers will join him on that thought. Live performance with orchestra will return, but we have to get rid of COVID-19 first. Damrau and Calleja concluded with an exquisite rendition of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria dedicated to COVID victims. It was a delightful morning with two artists we miss hearing on a regular basis.
Copyright © 26 October 2020
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