Certainly no booing last night, as The Metropolitan Opera’s packed house of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette la prima seemed to be comprised of both Alagna’s and Netrebko’s fan club entourages. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Alagna was off to a strong start in front of the packed house, and although he impressed quickly, he tired noticeably, tampering-out shortly before the first intermission. Fair enough, since this performance has funky breaks, and finally splices a proper intermission only after the first two hours have elapsed.
It wasn’t until after the intermission that Alagna started reverting to a reoccurring issue that peppered Acts I-III: Sharping. Scattered through Act I, II, and III, he would at times rise-up to a sharp landing. By the second half, he was ####’ing all over tha ##ing place. Roberto Alagna? More like Al Sharpton. It was only during his duets with Netrebko that he was able to level-out and come back down to Gounod’s markings. The audience didn’t seem to mind, as his stage presence was charismatic and sprite, and he certainly won over his fans in Tiffany & Co. blue, well-tailored ensembles (tight pants & fitted jackets were favored).
However, the notes that he nailed sounded good, with decent control, as well as most of Acts I, II & III. His diction was (obvs) outstanding, clear, and bright. His acting was not overtly hammy, and he had a nice light and convincing touch. But something was up with Roméo’s stage exits, as just about every single egress was marked with a quick sprint off the stage into the darkness of the wings. He was srsly channeling Napoleon Dynamite.
It also seemed that Alagna was not terribly synchronized with Maestro Domingo, or else his breath-control had waned. Or more rehearsals were needed. Or maybe someone forgot to bring Alagna his sugar cookies and orange juice. One aria he ended at least a dozen measures before Domingo completed the orchestral phrasing to couch it. Oh Alagna, how you charm us with your 45ish-going-on-21 physique, deepest tan, and naiveté. Regardless, he looked great [not sweaty, very good color], put lots of energy into his blocking, and worked extremely well with Netrebko who reciprocated and flattered his interpretation. His voice, when he had good control, filled completely the vast theater hall.
Netrebko, on the other hand, was impossible to cut-up. She was in perfect form, dramatically and lyrically. Her accents, her control, and her dynamic were everything the audience could ask for. She nailed it, and left nothing desired. She was able to pull off every range of emotion, a convincing and addictive performance. She came across as having understood her role thoroughly (not, however, played as a petulant 14-year-old, colored more as a slightly sophisticated college girl), and was synchronized intrinsically with Domingo. Her luxuriant voice was like a huge embrace, streaming through the hall and stunning the audience. Ok, well, her pronunciation is kinda teh suck compared to Alagna’s, but she looks better in stilettos than he does so whatevs.
The Prologue introduced the immense MET chorus and Johannes Leiacker’s sets, everyone in the chorus dressed in those garish colors seen at a yae olde renaissance fair. Under white lights it was a bit too circusy, but when washed and toned under the yellow floodlights, it was perfect. I remember reading that the Capulets and Montagues were dressed in opposing colors like Bloods & Crips, but it seemed more like Paint ‘N Swirl had hit the stage.
This two-year-old production had made its inaugural debut at the highly anticipated MET premiere during November 2005, created by Guy Joosten. Joosten took the concept of “star crossed lovers” literally, and filled the stage and scenery with celestial images. The floor was an immense checkerboard wood in tan and dark brown. Above that sat a raised circular platform that revolved and pitched according to action and scene, with astrological signs painted on the border. Above the stage there was a floating mobile of rings and orbs that turned at whim. Behind the circular stage, icky photo images of galaxies, moons, and eclipsed suns flickered. Super lame. Like stock photos they would have put on mouse pads circa 1995. Like a bootleg PowerPoint presentation. The background scenery consisted of sliding panels of faux wood that were etched/painted with Italian Renaissance architecture. Among the various scene transitions that seemed to be constantly spinning, there was great cohesion, sealing the story well.
With Netrebko’s appearance in Act I, all eyes were drawn to her, as she traipsed around the stage in a luscious Barbie pink dress and little matching shoes. Ah! Je Veux Vivre Dans Le Reve (the Waltz Song) was an obvious hit, Netrebko beguiling, charming, and flirtatious, her coloratura finely tuned. The applause and cheers were much louder, more concentrated, and more sustained than Monday night’s Lucia.
Act II’s courtyard was devoid of foliage or green, which kind of sucked, and made me feel like I had sawdust in my throat. Eeewww. No gardens, no trees, no flowers. Alagna’s L'amour, L'amour! was vary niiiice. i like. Netrebko appeared in a white nightgown, loose hair, looking splendid.
(Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard. Image: Columbia Artists Management Inc.)
Act III’s memory was mostly the man-pants Isabel Leonard’s Stéphano (pictured above...i just had to drop an image because she's so cute!) in her MET debut, who awed the audience and sent them into the rare laughs shared for the night. The fight scene, which always breaks my heart, was poorly choreographed. Or again, it seemed like there weren’t enough rehearsals. It wasn’t convincing or well-timed, and gawd knows OC loves herself a fight scene. I fear that so many resources were tied into facilitating the new Lucia that this production fell along the wayside. The one cool thing about the fight scene however is that the round platform began spinning and then tilted, which I'm convincing myself was done in homage to Flash Gordon’s fight with Prince Vultan on that Hawk-Man planet. So kewl!
At the first intermission, reeling a few minutes before 10 pm, it was apparent that Alagna et cetera had been performing for at least two hours (not counting warm-ups). This R&J version restored about a half-dozen cuts, so it ran long, but for Alagna, it was like twenty minutes too long.
Act IV boasted the now-famous gorgeous floating, spot-lit bed suspended on cables, a completely dark stage with only pin-pricks of light filtered through. The effect was as though the lovers were floating in the heavens. Va! Je T'ai Pardonne was sumptuous, as Alagna and Netrebko fooled around convincingly on the sheet-draped bed, Alagna in blue capris and Netrebko in a nightgown. It was less hawt than Massenet's Manon, but much more tender. Netrebko’s Dieu! Quel Frisson Court Dans Mes Veines! was accompanied by wonderfully detailed acting, making her inevitable decision most wrenching and fraught with unseen danger.
Act V was brilliant. They both slammed it, and C'est La...Salut! Tombeau Sombre Et Silencieux! almost made OC shed a tear. Almost. Alagna's voice broke sorrowfully over his notes. They extinguished their love only as their lives respired their last. But at the end of the night, truth be told, we rilly missed Rolando!
(Above: the Metropolitan Opera house for Gounod's Roméo et Juliette on September 25, 2007, one night after the 2007-08 season opener.)