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Hello! Is that the Met? We can’t hear you….

Our Manhattan opera chasers Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes went to see a second-cast Verdi Otello. The singers were good, when they could hear them, which wasn’t all of them or all of the time. Read all about it here.


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  1. Steve de Mena says:

    Pretty amateurish “review”. Except for Thomas Hampson, no other singers, or the conductors, named.

    • Catriona says:

      Indeed. How are we supposed to comment on this important issue of being unable to hear the singers, if we do not have the cast (which I have subsequently found on the internet of course) in the review? Regarding the issue itself, this is not peculiar to the Met, but please, don’t immediately blame the singers. If the cast is as listed below, then there should have been little problem in hearing the singers since they are all big-voiced seasoned pros except Emilia who I would guess is a YAP artist:
      Conductor: Alain Altinoglu
      Desdemona: Krassimira Stoyanova
      Otello: José Cura
      Cassio: Alexey Dolgov
      Iago: Thomas Hampson

      Might it possibly have been that the orchestra played a little bit too loud???????

      • Ignacio Martínez-Ybor says:

        Of the singers involved I have heard live José Cura, who has a solid, powerful, round, dramatic instrument, capable of being heard in large spaces, as I have heard him, and Thomas Hampson, not as large an instrument as Mr. Cura’s but a beautiful singer.

        From personal experience I can add that at the Met, “Rear Orchestra” are THE WORST SEATS IN THE HOUSE, though prices may not reflect it. The overhang from the Parterre et al. kills the sound, the more so the more “rear” it is. Peculiarly, though there are overhangs in levels above through Dress Circle, sound does not suffer.

        • Marshall says:

          I know that house very well-and have sat and stood nearly everywhere over the years, I agree with everyone, that the rear orchestra is the worst, but all the overhangs are bad-Grand Tier and up. However as bad as they all are you can still gauge voices-just sort of like hearing them through some muffling material. A good trick if you can pull it off-is the first row of a new section-usually at a great decrease in price but nearly as good. I’ve sat, e.g in d, I think it is in the Grand Tier-you’re really not fully under-so sound is just as good. One row back-bad.

          Don’t know Cura-I’ve heard it’s a good size voice but bellows-Hampson-an elegant singer once had a moderate sized voice-always a bit soft grained-but in recent years his voice has become quite large-no problem with volume in later years.

  2. John Kelly says:

    Also not so sure why these two get such strong billing on so august a musical blog for the reasons outlined above. However, I don’t care what anyone says, the seats at the back of the orchestra under the overhang are among the worst in the house (naturally this is not reflected in the ticket price) so if you go to the Met consider yourself warned.
    Their point about excessive coughing is well made and applies to all NY musical venues. Japanese, Dutch and German audiences are as silent as the Prommers listening to the fourth movement of Mahler 9. The NY audiences are bronchitic and inconsiderate as a matter of course and if the ushers had a “yank the coughers” policy they would need to double staff and would be “yanking them out” every few minutes all over the house. Hell, I even remember a Rosenkavalier at the Met when, after Pavarotti’s cameo Italian tenor (no expense spared back in the 80s) a couple GOT UP and pushed their way out of their row in the most expensive orchestra seats in the house, making everyone get up to let them out. You can’t make this up. I haven’t.

    For further elucidation on the behavior of NY audiences from someone well qualified to comment, see John Adams’ blog for a wonderful pisstake…….

  3. The reviewers were sitting in the rear-orchestra. It isn’t the best place for the voices to have carried over the orchestra and the balance to be assessed.

    There is always an issue over the size of voices. Big people do not necessarily produce big voices, and likewise with small people. The issue is to do with the bone structure in the face and neck. A small person with the right facial bones and neck dimensions can have a big voice provided their support mechanism (i.e. their ability to breathe and use breath control) is sufficiently developed. That is as much a matter of training as it is physique.

    In order to carry an orchestra the timbre needs enough of the right sort of harmonics to cut across the orchestral sound.

    The roles written for Spinto and Dramatic Soprano are at their most taxing when they demand control at the softest dynamics. Really going for it is easy in comparison. Long phrases, controlled portamento and floating that high note ppp demonstrates the real skill in a large voice. Verdi demands this of his Sopranos so often (as does Wagner)

    Conductors do need to be mindful of the overall effect. It is easy to blame the singers.

  4. Fabio Fabrici says:

    If you can’t hear them, it must be the MET. Because the MET is big, some say too big for good opera acoustics.

  5. why on earth does norman keep promoting these terribly amateur bloggers? they don’t seem be able to write anything specific or authoritative about opera or classical music at all. how old are they??

    • I agree. They seem to get way too much space for what they have to offer.

    • They are opera novices. They report their experiences honestly and without clutter. I learn something from every post – more than I do from some expert, jaded, paid critics.

  6. Marshall says:

    This is a review?

    I stumbled on this blog looking for reviews of the Met Troyens. May well be my short coming, but I had never encountered it before. And then I read the Troyens’ review and reacted to it, initially not realizing who had written it-for nothing else on this blog is done that way. Both that and the Parsifal “review” did works of such magnitude a grave injustice. I have no idea why these people were chosen as opera reviewers for such an otherwise serious blog, but to pretend that they are up to the task is delusion. (Thinking he is Milnes’ son, how can he have such a primitive knowledge and perception of opera?) By the way, I haven’t “learned” a thing from any of their posts.

    This is not a case where where we marvel at the clear, uncluttered perceptions of innocents-you know, from the mouths of babes.-and see something in a new light through unjaded eyes-no, these are just the casual reactions of the ill-informed, and thus far uninteresting. Actually it often comes across like Ma and Pa Kettle come to the big city and go to the opera.

    You know we all began somewhere-and they could do some more homework before they attend these operas-read background material, know the text, listen to a few recordings-Is that too much to ask?

    Maybe it’s time to admit this is a failed experiment? Look at all the dismissive comments it’s generated.

    Now will this be allowed to be posted?

  7. I saw this same production, with the same cast, and had no problems hearing, apart perhaps from the storm at the beginning, where Hampson and Dolgov’s voices were sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestra and sound effects. Hampson was quite interesting as Iago – sang the Cassio’s dream section gloriously. Cura is a really unpredictable singer and must be a bear to manage for the conductor (in this case Alain Altinoglu, who was outstanding). The best performance of the evening, however, was Stoyanova. Such a clean, beautiful voice and so convincing in this role.

    As for the issue of the Met acoustics, I’ve always maintained that you’d be better off up in Family Circle than you would be in the rear of Orchestra. Best seats for the money are in the Balcony.

    • Ignacio Martínez-Ybor says:

      One more thing: somewhere the cast at this performance is referred to as “second cast.” I hope this is not meant qualitatively, just, well, chronologically, as this cast: Cura, Hampson, Stoyanova, is far stronger than the first, including Mme. Fleming, a good Desdemona, but not a great one when one has been lucky to hear the likes of Renata Tebaldi and Margaret Price.

    • Murray Lane says:

      Unpredictability is a good thing. If you go to theatre to see the same old tired shit, you might perhaps be better off playing a filmed version of the opera, if what you want is predictability. Equally, you seem to be quoting reviewers almost verbatim, so perhaps I should remind myself of the possibility you might find making up your own mind quite a daunting task.

      • I have no idea what you’re talking about. For what it’s worth I enjoyed Cura’s Otello.

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