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Jan 27, 2009, 12:59:01 AM1/27/09
The house was full tonight for Rolando Villazon's return to the MET
after almost a year and a half, as Edgardo in Lucia, and for Anna
Netrebko's first MET Lucia, but whatever drama is in the libretto and
music was overtaken rather quickly by Mr. Villazon's vocal
difficulties with the role, and with the apparent state of his voice,
at least at this moment and in this role in a house as large as the
MET. From his entrance, warmly applauded, including by me (I'd heard
him last a few months ago in Hoffman at Covent Garden), the voice was
simply not in good repair. There was a real bleat throughout the
range, and it was pretty clear that anything above a G was going to
get short shrift. Most of the upper notes (and the first scene is a
difficult one - high and wide ranging) were at best sketched in or
touched in passing (and hardly in tune), and he and Miss Netrebko (who
is obviously quite supportive of him) cut short the final Bb of the
duet to something that barely got them into the tonic barline. My own
perception had been that, earlier in the duet, he'd actually exchanged
with her the two lines, taking the 'lower' line and not the upper line
as written, but it may be that he was singing some of what was written
was was simply inaudible.I thought that even the size of the voice was
a bit limited from what I'd last heard in the house, although that's
somewhat more difficult to tell.

The second-act, however, held a moment of heart-stopping disaster. He
lauched into the curse quite convincingly, I thought - he'd been good
enough in the sextette, but I thought had cheated a bit on phrases -
and nailed the initial high As, but you could here that he was
throwing eveything he had into them, and really driving the voice up
from below unmercifully. Then, he got the the key phrase, "Ah, ma di
Deo la mano irata", where the tenor picks up the A (again) that the
soprano's been singing along with him, sustains it with contempt and
anger, and though it's not written into the score, rises to a Bb,
holds it and plunges down to an e in the staff on vi disperda (if you
don't think you know the music of the words, it's the moment when he
typically casts Lucia down in disgust just before the final chorus of
the act). In any case, there's no orchestra underneath the tenor at
this moment - he's all alone - and after holding the A for a few
seconds, and just before he'd rise to the Bb, Rolando just stopped
singing. The entire entire stage, orchestra, and for that matter
audience was frozen for perhaps 7 or 8 seconds in total silence. It
was obvious he'd lost the note, and his voice, he couldn't rise to the
Bb, and it wasn't clear whether he'd walk off stage, speak the final
few words, or whether the orchestra would just be signaled to come in
and finish without him.

In the event, he resumed on the A (briefly), went down and the act
finished, although obviously he was almost inaudible in the final
concertato and Miss Netrebko somewhat flustered. I don't have the
impression he cracked - I think he just didn't have the note and knew
it, and at least he had the courage to find it again and finish.

The third act (there was speculation he would not sing, but Mr. Gelb
came out and announced not just that he was sick but would continue,
asking our indulgence (which would have been the tactful way to handle
it) but said something like, "As you can hear tonight, Mr. Villazon is
not feeling well...." which I thought unnecessary) at the MET involved
the duet with the baritone, the most martial music of the opera, and
then of course the great final scene. Oddly, or happily, some of the
beat in the voice seemed to disappear in the duet, and he actually
sang more of the notes - he still sketched in the upper quarter of the
voice, but he was really pushing and setting himself and with that
kind of effort - but the duet isn't quite as high, and I don't think
rises above one or two As.

The tomb scene one wanted to go well for him, but I thought the beat
was back in the voice. Still he managed a sustained Bb just before the
Fra Poco, and sang this music very well, quite remarkable considering
what mental state he had to be in. I thought things were still going
well, but as he got to the very final phrases of the Tu che a Dio
(there are two virtually identical phrases (il Nume in ciel) that rise
to a G at the top of the staff) he completely dropped the second
phrase - completely obvious here because there's no doubling in the
instruments for it - I presume to manage the Bb at the end, which he
did in a fashion.

I feel for this man - he is incredibly engaging on stage -
particularly when he's not manic - has a real sense of the words, and
wants to give 100%, and coming back to the MET tonight, with the
telecast two weeks away, had to be tremendous pressure. Perhaps he was
genuinely ill, but I don't think the vocal estate was much different
than what I heard at Covent Garden a few months ago - our house is
much larger, the role is more exposed in a funny way, and even at
Covent Garden there were vocal problems, although the nature of the
character of Hoffman let him act them away. Far be it from me, or
from any of us, to second guess a professional singer's career, or to
sit in judgment, but while I simply felt for him in the second act, I
thought that the cheating in the third was unacceptable and there is a
legitimate question, I believe, about whether Mr. Villazon will put
his voice at the service of those roles, perhaps circumscribed in
number, which he can still do well, or whether he is going to continue
to engage, as he has in the past, in a kind of wrestling match with
roles for which he is simply not suited, and to which no amount of
stubborness, intelligence and manic energy can let him serve properly.
Tonight was perhaps simply a matter of 'getting through', and he's to
be applauded coming back for the risks of the third act - I suppose
from a career point of view, withdrawing from the third act could have
been calamatous. But the longer term pattern of behavior has not
reassured me that he thinks his role is to serve the music, rather
than bully it, and were I he, I would withdraw from the rest of these
performances and return for the Nemorinos later in the season.

For those who crave Miss Nebtrebko, I will only say that I thought
this was her best showing ever in the house - although that, to me,
isn't quite the compliment it would be coming from others. In the
second act in particular I thought her very fine, with a real view of
the character, a beautiful sense of line, and if she could
consistently sing at this level musically and artistically I would be
happy indeed. She is good enough in the coloratura - it is not ideally
fleet, but it doesn't sound labored to me - and she tends to go flat,
above a B - the two Ebs were both strikingly bad, each perhaps a
quarter tone (the first a little more) shy of the note - but I thought
that the beauty of the voice really is in legato singing, and she
seems increasing able to convey (at least to me) a sense of repose and
care of phasing when he is not pushed by the music. I find her most
disturbing feature to be a tendency to start many, many phrases behind
the beat - is this something which she learned watching Makarova in
St. Petersburg? - but the voice itself is lovely and a real lyric
size, at least in the upper octave. She'd make, I think, a very fine
Magda in Rondine, if only in a slightly smaller house. I also found,
oddly, that her pronunciation, which never seemed to me very Russian,
now sound much more so, particularly in some of the 'oo' vowels, and
wonder if that's her or me. Still a fine if not a spectacular evening
for her.

Ildar Abdrakakov ws a fine Raimondo and Mariusz Kwiecien, though with
a lovely sound, still seems to me to hector at the upper end of his
range. Marco Armilato conducted well enough, but surely deserves
praise and respect for seeing Mr Villazon through his difficult

Jan 27, 2009, 2:49:45 AM1/27/09
On Jan 27, 12:59 am, "" <>

Oy. Probably one of the worst moments outside of the long final scene
for an Edgardo to have some kind of vocal issue, right at the moment
he's matching the Lucia on that A before he tosses her to the ground.
It sounds like it was a very uncomfortable 7-8 seconds of
silence...I'm sure everyone on the stage was staring at him, what was
his demeanor like?

When I saw the production in late 07 with Dessay, Mariusz (love ya
pookie!) became ill right before the Wolfscrag scene. An announcement
was made and another baritone - not recalling who - finished the
performance. In any case, hopefully Villazon will recover from
whatever happened and go on to do the rest of the run. Just as a
curiousity, who's the cover for the role?


Ken Meltzer

Jan 27, 2009, 6:08:03 AM1/27/09
On Jan 27, 12:59 am, "" <>

When I saw Villazon sing this role in Pittsburgh some years ago, he
was every bit the equal of the best singers I saw in this role-Kraus,
Pavarotti, and the young Richard Leech, . You can imagine how painful
it must be now for Rolando Villazon to go out on a stage of major
opera houses, unsure of whether the voice is going to cooperate. He's
such a nice person, that you can only hope he will find a way to put
it all together again.
BTW, the pain you were feeling during this performance came through
loud and clear in your review. I was reliving similar past
experiences with favorite vocally-challenged artists!
A friend of mine, a wonderful voice teacher, always says: "This is not
a business for the weak of heart."


Jan 27, 2009, 10:25:41 AM1/27/09
On Jan 27, 12:59 am, "" <>

I read the opera reviews in The Times whenever they appear, and these
days I am struck by the superiority of REG's reviews to those that
appear in the newspapers. Keep them coming, Richard!!

In awe,


Jan 27, 2009, 10:38:40 AM1/27/09
On Jan 27, 12:59 am, "" <>

I will take exception to one or two brief moments in Richard's reveiw,
though in principle I do certainly agree.

The leaving out of the second "il nume il ciel," while not tradition,
is something I have heard before, and in recent years, aslo. Stephen
Costello did it in one of his recent Lucias in Baltimore, and possible
his single Lucia at the Met- I am not sure about this latter

In the past I have heard the following tenors leave out this second
repeated "il nume il ciel." Konya, Peerce, Hadley (on a 1994 bdcst.
that Sirius played last week!) Corelli, in his one complete Met
Lucia, Shirley (when filling in for Tucker in 1972) and probably quite
a few others. So this didn't bother me so much. What happened in Act
2, though, was very worrysome. I won't attempt to descripe it. Richard
did an excellent job.

My heart goes out to Rolando, who did finish the opera like a real
pro, with some very lovely singing to boot, but in many ways, I
suppose the damage was done in that more than pregnant pause near the
end of Act 2.

I don't know who the cover might be, but my money would be on Beczala,
who is here now, rehearsing and soon performing Onegin. He has done
this production (to great acclaim) this past Fall, and would be the
tenor of choice o=in the international moviecast, of course, if
Rolando cannot go on.

But- I feel Rolando will go on, and conquer. Maybe it's because I know
him, and he indeed is one of the very nicest people I have ever met-
singer or not. He is suffering greatly through this crisis, I and i
hope and pray that he does indeed overcome, and quickly.


Jan 27, 2009, 1:41:22 PM1/27/09
Many thanks to all for the comments and corrections as well.

I do not know who any of the covers are for this cast.

Everything I have heard about Villazon is that he's an incredibly
sweet guy, and I my heart first went to him, not when he did the
Boheme at City Opera, where he was just adorable, but at his first New
York recital, where he unselfconsciously recited bits of TS Elliot
between sets.

Ed, or others, one question. I had not been aware that other tenors
omitted that penultimate phrase. If you don't sing it, then there is
just almost complete silence where the voice would be, except for a
very slight accompaniment. My question, if anyone remembers, is
whether, when the phrase is left out, someone does something with the
orchestration so that it at least fills up the blanks and doesn't make
it sound so awkward - in other words, so an instrument 'sing' the
phrase, in the same way that you often have an instrument fill in the
tenor line in In Questa Reggia when it's done as a concert solo?


On Jan 27, 10:38 am, "" <>

> Ed- Hide quoted text -
> - Show quoted text -

Jan 27, 2009, 2:51:46 PM1/27/09
On Jan 27, 1:41 pm, "" <>
> ...
> read more »- Hide quoted text -

> - Show quoted text -

No, as far as I recall, there is no other instrument when a tenor
doesn't sing this. All other performances sounded like last night. You
knew the tenor was dropping out, and it was quite glaring due to the


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