Review: Listening at the Met, After James Levine

Review: Listening at the Met, After James Levine

With Tuesday’s “Figaro,” I could see how this is true. The main treat was the Met debut of the German soprano Christiane Karg as Susanna. Her voice has beguiling sheen and clarity, like a classic lyric soprano. Yet when Susanna became agitated with the count, or exasperated with her beloved Figaro, Ms. Karg sang with dusky textures and a piercing sound rare for a lyric voice, and commanded the stage with vibrant, sassy acting.

Alas, her Figaro, the bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, sounded leathery and blunt. Mr. Pisaroni made a suave Almaviva; the shimmering soprano Rachel Willis-Sorenson was a poignantly melancholic Countess. The mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi, singing the pageboy Cherubino, has an unusual yet appealing voice: focused and radiant, yet tinged with graininess. She proved a natural playing an adolescent male who spends the opera pining after, and aggressively flirting with, women — also not a spectacle easy to watch nowadays. The conducting of Harry Bicket, though full of lively stretches and bold interpretive touches, was at times scrappy.

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Angela Meade in the title role of Bellini’s “Norma.” Credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Ms. Meade and Ms. Barton sang together in “Norma” twice at the Met in 2013. Their performances then came across as splendid works in progress, but on Tuesday they delivered on all their promises. Ms. Meade has rare gifts: a deep, rich sound with unforced carrying power; impressive agility; instinctive feeling for supple phrasing and expressive color.

But she lacked some temperament and dramatic depth. Not anymore. On Tuesday she conveyed fiery intensity and poignant vulnerability. In the demanding aria “Casta diva,” Ms. Meade sang Bellini’s ornately embellished phrases with velvety legato; climactic high points in the flowing melody soared over the orchestra, elegantly conducted by Joseph Colaneri.

Ms. Meade ably conveyed the other dimensions of the complex character: the scorned lover who, violating sacred vows, has born two sons to a Roman officer; the sisterly friend who discovers that the priestess Adalgisa is her romantic rival. Ms. Meade still seems like she’s working at intensity; it doesn’t yet come naturally. But in bursts of blazing passagework she was wholly convincing.

With her sumptuous sound and innate feeling for expressive color, the marvelous Ms. Barton excelled as Adalgisa. She captured the novice’s panicked confusion to find herself caught in a romantic triangle. Yet during impassioned passages Ms. Barton’s smoldering singing made clear that this outwardly meek character is a bundle of yearning.

You could imagine why the Roman consul Pollione (the tenor Joseph Calleja, having a rough, nasal-toned night) has cast Norma aside for the seemingly innocent Adalgisa. Ms. Meade and Ms. Barton were so compelling that I almost forget about David McVicar’s muddled production. What I couldn’t forget was what was going on backstage, and across America.

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