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Nostalgia at the Met

Updated: May 1

This week's free livestreamings from the Met Opera bring us three historic performances. And lots of slightly more recent ones - but this post is about nostalgia.


Perhaps the most significant - though sadly the least excellent production - is the exit performance by Leontyne Price, longtime star at the Met (she had become a European star years back). So recently - her Met debut was in 1961 - she became as the Met history delicately puts it, 'the first African American superstar singer—one who was indispensable and around whom the company planned its season repertory'. She took all the lead Verdi roles, but sang Aida, the Ethiopian princess, at the Met from 1961 until her farewell appearance in 1985. From all accounts, she was one of those divae you'd love to have met. Of her farewell, she said: ″I’m trying to exhibit good taste. I prefer to leave standing up, like a well-mannered guest at a party.″


Good taste: Leontyne Price in 1994 - photo Jack Mitchell

Hers was a brilliant voice, glorious to hear even on YouTube recordings. And she sang wonderfully in this exit performance. Pity that (as so often in Aida productions - including the one screened two weeks back) the tenor wasn't up to her standard, making the plot even more improbable. ( Cast is: Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, James McCracken, and Simon Estes.) Listen in for her Aida, and don't worry about the unimpressive Ramades. The NYTimes review forewarns: 'Miss Price's singing during her Nile Scene duet with Radames produced even subtler artistry than her big aria, though to far less noisy applause, as she cajoled her lover to desert to the Ethiopian cause. The tone here was genuinely buttery, carefully produced but firmly under control and recognizably Price-like. Phrases took on a seductive sinuousness that coaxed James McCracken, an otherwise gross and insensitive Radames, to try for nuances of tone and volume. Mr. McCracken, who began inauspiciously with a loudly bleated, untuned ''Celeste A"ida,'' had nowhere to go but up.' Los Angeles Times was more damning, describing McCracken as 'a heroic, overstuffed, vocally threadbare Radames who could barely negotiate “Celeste Aida.” ' Pity it wasn't Corelli.

But then, it was Leontyne Price.


She's on our screens this Saturday, May 2 (Melbourne time): Verdi’s Aida


Incredibly, the Met has lost the original Playbill for this performance - but they've put up a document with a synopsis and two interesting essays about the opera. Read Program 


And then, yes, there's nostalgia with a full-on good cast! A sniff of nostalgia, with music from Mozart, will do us all good in the time of COVID19. On Tuesday, Melbourne time, the Met streams their 1998 performance of Marriage of Figaro for which they assembled the dream cast. Notes about the opera here from our course in 2017.


For this performance, Renée Fleming is a sweet Countess, Cecilia Bartoli brings out the wicked in Suzannah, and Bryn Terfel is brilliantly relaxed and singing his best as the hero of the piece. An interesting review in the NY Times commented 'the big vocal talents onstage remade Mozart's roles in their own image'.

Remaking those roles: Fleming, Bartoli, Terfel and Croft

From the Washington Post: 'Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" ("The Marriage of Figaro") stands apart from all other operas not only because of its seraphic score but also because of its radiant, truly civilized acceptance and affirmation of humanity.

Sweet glory - Renee Fleming sings 'Porgi amor'

From the opening scene, we have the feeling that we know these characters (in their 20th-century incarnations) and that -- despite their abundant flaws -- we love them all. None of them needs touching up, and if the heroes are not especially heroic, the villains are not so terribly villainous, either. This is the human race in all of its frivolity, lust, silliness -- and sweet glory.'

Listen to Renee's 'Porgi Amor' here.


(You can see Fleming again in Strauss's Capriccio on Friday, May 8 Melbourne time.)


And the other classic of the week? Not as cheery an ending, but star power and an opera classic - Puccini’s La Bohème from 1977, starring a charmingly middle-aged appearing Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti. (There's a post about the opera below in this Blog.)

Want some reading between operas? There's an intriguing piece on Scotto after retirement in Politico.

It includes this comment: 'Though a far more stable personality than Callas, she was not without her scandals, her temperament, her grudges. For one thing, the name “Pavarotti” was rigorously excised from [her memoir] More Than a Diva; he is strictly “a certain tenor” in stories of his laziness and selfishness, and he was even scrubbed from the discography in the back.'


Reflect on this as you hear their famous duet: "O Soave Fanciulla" .


...and for the rest of the week at the Met.... here are the operas, with Melbourne dates. All are up at 9.30am on the date listed, thru to 8.30 am the following day. Just go to metopera.org.

Saturday, May 2 (Melbourne time): Verdi’s Aida

Transmitted live on  January 3, 1985

Sunday, May 3 Verdi’s Luisa Miller Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Piotr Beczała, and Plácido Domingo, conducted by Bertrand de Billy. From April 14, 2018.


Monday, May 4 Borodin’s Prince Igor Starring Oksana Dyka, Anita Rachvelishvili, and Ildar Abdrazakov, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. From March 1, 2014.


Tuesday, May 5 Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro Starring Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Susanne Mentzer, Dwayne Croft, and Sir Bryn Terfel, conducted by James Levine. From November 11, 1998.


Wednesday, May 6 Thomas’s Hamlet Starring Marlis Petersen, Jennifer Larmore, Simon Keenlyside, and James Morris, conducted by Louis Langrée. From March 27, 2010.


Thursday, May 7 Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin Starring Susanna Phillips, Tamara Mumford, and Eric Owens, conducted by Susanna Mälkki. From December 10, 2016.


Friday, May 8 Strauss’s Capriccio Starring Renée Fleming, Sarah Connolly, Joseph Kaiser, Russell Braun, Morten Frank Larsen, and Peter Rose, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. From April 23, 2011.


Saturday May 9 Viewers’ Choice: Puccini’s La Bohème Starring Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti, conducted by James Levine. From March 15, 1977.




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