Steve Rubin, publisher at Henry Holt and, long before that, a music writer on the New York Times in its glory days, has sent us this closeup account of the music director’s comeback last night.
Anyone who was present at James Levine’s comeback in the spring with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall knows that there is nothing at all to fret about this cherished maestro other than his lack of mobility. Last night, he returned to the opera house where he has conducted more than 2,500 performances to lead one of his specialties, COSI FAN TUTTE.
He was at the height of his powers, appearing from nowhere in a hydraulic lift and fashioning a performance of great buoyancy, elegance, beauty and tremendous verve. He clearly adores this piece, and has his band mesmerized into doing anything he wants. This was red-blooded Mozart, with a rhythmic vitality that was irresistible.
Would that the stage had followed suit. This production from the 90s is pretty in a generic way (my friend Suzanne called it “summer stock,” which is perfect.). The quartet of young lovers were all fine, but the opera really depends on the two troublemakers, Despina and Don Alfonso, to move the action along. Alas, neither Maurizio Muraro nor Danielle de Niese was successful. The former is a tired bass who lost his voice by the end of a very long evening; the latter mugged shamelessly and had a terminal case of the cutes, although she sang beautifully.
The star of the show for me was Matthew Polenzani, who was singing above a cold, but nevertheless was splendid. Ferrando fits him like a glove, much better than roles like Alfredo or Nemorino. His “un’aura amorata” was gorgeously phrased and sung. Susanna Phillips was a spunky Fiordiligi,who sang her fearsome arias fearlessly. All her voice lacks is character. Isabel Leonard is always interesting, and she was a lovely Dorabella. Rodion Pogrossov’s smallish voice is not ideal for the Met, but he threw himself into Gugliemo with abandon.
As is usual these days, the interval was interminable, stretching a long evening unnecessarily.
Welcome home Jimmy.