Musical Diary

Written by Jay Nordlinger on . Posted in Posts.



Sunday, Nov. 21



In recital at Alice Tully Hall this
afternoon is Christine Schafer, the great hope of lieder-singing. She is a German
soprano, young but wise, who has studied with, among others, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
and the late, remarkable Arleen Auger (whom Schafer resembles in important respects).
A couple of years ago, Schafer put out a Schumann album that was so refreshing
and impressive that it earned Gramophone magazine’s Solo Vocal Recording
of the Year award, no minor distinction. Lieder–the reams of German art
songs composed by masters (and others) from Mozart on–need singers of exceptional
insight and technique for them to come fully to life, and Schafer, happily,
meets all the requirements.


She has chosen an appetizing program
for today, consisting of 12 of the Mörike Lieder of Wolf and the
Poemes pour Mi by Olivier Messiaen (which are, if you will indulge the
paradox, French lieder).


Eduard Mörike was a poet of near-endless
variety and sensitivity, and Hugo Wolf took to him with deep understanding and
total artistic success. Schafer begins with one of the best loved and most difficult
of the Mörike songs, "Schlafendes Jesuskind," about the
sleeping Christ-child. This is an "exposed" song–soft and spare,
with little for a singer to fall back on–and therefore a pisser to lead
off with. Schafer does not seem fully prepared for it; she may not be adequately
warmed up. She sounds a little breathy and hesitant–nervous, even, which
would not be beyond the realm of human comprehension. The voice is not especially
beautiful, but it is intelligently deployed, which is the main point in this
sort of singing. Schafer flats on the final, ethereal syllable, kind;
fortunately, she has only just begun.


By the time she reaches the beguiling
"Verlassene Mägdlein," she has gained strength. This is music
of emotional and psychological complexity, and Schafer handles it deftly and
unobtrusively. She is no less convincing in "Der Feuerreiter," which
is a little scena, almost operatic in character, full of intensity and drama.
In the winsome "Er ist’s," however, Schafer lacks swing, and
the voice seems strangely feeble, bordering on anemic. Better is "In der
Frühe," in which the soprano is fragile without being broken (Alice
Tully is the right setting for this music; it could even be smaller). The concluding
song is "Neue Liebe," whose poetic power Schafer fully conveys.


In the second half of the program–the
Messiaen–Schafer is even more assured. The intermission, and the trials
of the Mörike songs, have done her good. Her French is heavily accented,
but this is easily overlooked, as Schafer makes up for it with an obvious affinity
for this luminous and odd little song-cycle. She has the sense to let the music
speak for itself; she does not attempt to enhance what in fact cannot be enhanced,
but only defaced. She sings simply, transparently, as Auger did–which is
a lofty comparison. There is little that is contrived or forced (or cute or
hammy) in this singing. Most satisfying about the Poemes is that Schafer
presents them as a whole, seamlessly unified, with no fragments, interesting
or not.


Of the five encores, the most memorable
is a brief, early song of Alban Berg. It lasts no more than 50 seconds, but
it is an unadorned, honest little prayer, and with it Christine Schafer touches
the very heart of the lied. A great hope, indeed.



Sunday, Dec. 5



The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is
back out of the pit and onto the stage of Carnegie Hall, for an afternoon of
showing off. And why not? A machine so capable and finely tuned should not be
confined to the garage, or limited to pulling trailers.


Its conductor, James Levine, opens
with Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, the shimmering, radiant
little beauty that Schoenberg composed before he became fully Schoenberg. Levine,
curiously, is seated while conducting this piece, reflecting, in a way, the
modesty of his interpretation. This is a most chamber-like Verklärte
Nacht
, recalling its forerunner, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. Carnegie
Hall assumes some of the intimacy of a Viennese salon. The orchestra displays
a nice ensembleship: Its members are used to playing together, and they listen
to one another with care. Yet this performance is lackluster in spots–too
subdued and matter-of-fact–and not all of the entrances are clean (which
is typical of your average orchestra, but not typical of Levine’s). In
the end, Levine gives a correct and satisfactory reading, but not one to haunt
your dreams–which may seem too high a standard, but hey–consider the
performers.


Next comes "a break away from
the everyday" (as an ad slogan once had it): Messiaen’s Et exspecto
resurrectionem mortuorum
, for winds and percussion. The strings have had
their turn in the Schoenberg; now it is their friends’. This is a strange
and wondrous creation–like its composer–and the Met forces make a
first-rate case for it. The unison tuba playing, for example, is excellent.
(How often does a critic have an opportunity to comment on unison tuba playing?)
In relatively understated ways, the agony of hell is expressed in this music,
as is the bliss of heaven. Messiaen tries to say as much as possible with as
little as possible, seeming to revel in his compositional austerity. Levine’s
performance is a model of order, evenness and intelligence, cool but passionate,
in its Messiaenic way. In his orchestral and chamber outings with these players,
Levine likes to showcase unusual repertory, and he has certainly succeeded here.


After intermission comes a star–growing
ever brighter–from the opera world: the Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina,
who has wowed audiences, most recently with her Amneris in the Met’s Aida.
She will not sing opera today, however; instead it is Ravel’s Sheherazade
and, to close, Berlioz’s Mort de Cleopatre. Borodina’s glories
have been enumerated in this space before, but here is an abridged version:
She is rich but thin, heavy but light, lush but supple. She bends her voice
to whatever is required. Almost never does she execute something in bad, or
even questionable, taste. Her French, to be sure, is wretched–Christine
Schafer is practically Regine Crespin by comparison–but Borodina is a major
singer of our time, and Levine seems to agree. Ten years ago, he trotted around
Jessye Norman in exactly this music; now it is Borodina at his side, confirmation
of her greatness, if any were needed.


In between the two pieces for soprano,
we should not forget, came Debussy’s Danse sacree et danse profane,
for harp and orchestra. This might, believe it or not, have been the performance
of the day: suave, graceful, enchanting. The piece provides a thorough test
of the harp, and the soloist, Deborah Hoffman, passed it admirably. The entire
performance was perfectly French: everything in balance, every color to the
fore, a fairylike haze left in the air. Chouette, quoi?



Saturday, Dec. 11



Tristan time, the hour that
musical New York has been waiting for all year. The Met’s Tristan und
Isolde
features the great Wagnerian hopes of the present age: Jane Eaglen,
an English soprano, and Ben Heppner, a Canadian tenor. The success of Wagnerian
opera–at least of Tristan, maddeningly difficult to cast–seems
to rest on these shoulders. Eaglen and Heppner did their first Tristan
last year in Seattle; the Wagner-loving population of the world, which undergoes
cruel periods of famine, shouted for joy. New York could not wait to get the
pair in its clutches, under the baton of James Levine, one of the most penetrating
Wagner conductors in history. This would be a Tristan for all time, one
to remember and savor when hunger set in again.


It is a good one, yes–but one
that falls short of expectations, even of expectations properly framed. Heppner,
on this night, does his part. He knows this music, and he knows the role. His
sound, in the course of the five hours, is steady, fully supported and, aside
from the occasional rough patch, gleaming. This is a lyrical Tristan, with no
barking and just about zero crooning. Heppner has stamina too, and, though the
performance is uncut (a rarity), it seems that, at midnight, he could still
go another hour or two. Each of us might quarrel with him on particular points,
but Heppner deserves to be classed with Jon Vickers, Wolfgang Windgassen and
the rest of the men who have tackled tenordom’s most punishing role.


Eaglen, sadly–at least, again,
on this night–is rather less successful. She has all the power requisite
for Isolde, and her technique, for the most part, holds (despite some shaky
intonation), but her performance is a musical failure. Her approach to Isolde
and her music is rather standoffish, as if she were afraid to clasp the treasure
upon treasure that Wagner offers. She is weirdly empty of feeling, merely checking
off the notes as they come, unwilling to ride the crests of the music, unable
to transmit to her audience the passion, sensuality and tragedy of her story.
She is a humdrum, indifferent Isolde. The love duet–one of the dreamiest,
most ecstatic stretches in all of music–is damnably drab, and it is mostly
Eaglen’s fault. Equally unacceptable, the "Liebestod"–the
"love-death" that ends and crowns the opera–is nothing, a wet
noodle, just another aria, or a snatch of recitative, utterly lacking in wonder
or transfiguration or even something like happiness. This is a cheat.


Levine, too, it must be said, does
not pull his oar. He conducts a restrained, small-scaled Tristan–which
is both understandable and welcome–but he renders the score something very
close to dull, which is astonishing. He does not drive the opera where it needs
to be driven, does not breathe life into his wan soprano, and so leaves much
of the music cold on the page.


There is, happily, a little show-stealing.
Though all eyes (and ears) are on Eaglen and Heppner, the night’s heroes
are Katarina Dalayman, as Brangäne, and René Pape, as King Marke.
Dalayman is a Swedish soprano with a glorious instrument–juicy, strong
and thrillingly communicative. Pape, a German bass, was no less than spellbinding,
vocally, musically and psychologically. He not only triumphed in the part, he
inhabited it, and his monologue will not soon be forgotten by those in attendance.
Pape has (a) beauty, (b) power and (c) understanding, and in equal measures.
What more could be asked of an opera singer is hard to imagine.


Almost never does a production of
an opera–an unwieldy, multifaceted affair–fire on all cylinders; and
that is why we all leave our seats both grumbling and exulting.



Friday, Dec. 17



Ah, but here is a performance that
does, in fact, fire on all cylinders. It is of Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore,
and it features the couple whom so many love to hate: Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto
Alagna. This pair, married, but tempestuously, if you believe the gossip, is
notorious for selfishness, imperious demands and a lack of collegiality. They
are said to be exemplars of the worst opera-star airs; but as they are also
exemplars of excellence in bel canto, who the hell should care?


Let us begin, not with the soprano,
but with her husband, Alagna, a personable and lavishly gifted Parisian of Sicilian
parentage. No one ever looked more like Nemorino, the lovesick Italian
rustic who can "only sigh." Alagna scampers and darts and jumps around
the stage with enviable agility. No one ever sounded more like Nemorino
should sound, either. Alagna’s tenor is both virile and tender, graceful
but not too small, somewhere between, say, Alfredo Kraus and Jussi Bjoerling.
There is a lovely bloom in his upper register, and his technique is well oiled–liquid,
flexible, easy. His intonation is, quite simply, perfect. Best of all, he is
brimming with musicality, completely reliable in both cavatina and cabaletta.
His big aria, "Una furtiva lagrima," a hackneyed old thing, is a newborn
babe, decorated by pretty interpolations. He milks the piece, but you would,
too, if you could, like that. And–this may seem small, but it is of earthshaking
significance–the distinction between his high G and his high G flat at
the end is perfectly clear, and smashingly effective. Most tenors blow this.


And the little woman? Not too shabby
either. She has a slightly bottled voice, with some Callas-like steel in it.
(Actually, it is a typically Romanian voice, as befits a siren from that singer-rich
land.) Like her husband, she sings blissfully in tune. She has a full sound
up top, not birdlike, which is precisely what is desired in this music. And,
again like Alagna, she is very, very musical: all the correct dynamics and phrasing
are there. She puts on a clinic in bel canto–everything has the ring of
rightness.


To gild the lily, Dmitri Hvorotovsky,
the elegant Russian baritone, is present, as Belcore. He produces his usual
aristocratic and even sound, but, unfortunately, he is often too far to the
back of the stage, and is thus not adequately heard. Present, too, is Paul Plishka,
a splendid and resplendent figure, who, at this late-ish stage of his career,
is the ideal Dulcamara, the "doctor" who peddles the potion that Nemorino
eagerly guzzles. Plishka, a bass from Pennsylvania, is full of life and, like
his colleagues, musical to his toenails.


It might be noted as well that the
set and costumes are pitch-perfect–colorful, gay, merrily Italian, mainly
pink, giving the impression of a Valentine’s Day card from Hallmark. At
the end, with perfect timing, a banner is unfurled: "VIVA L’AMORE!"


You have perhaps noticed, in this
little entry, the repeated use of the word "perfect"? It cannot be
helped–as is, every now and then, once in a blue moon, when we are at our
absolute luckiest, the case.


Musical Diary

Written by Jay Nordlinger on . Posted in Posts.



He opens with Brahms’
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and something is wrong, desperately wrong.
It is no good. Previn is usually superb in this music, but tonight he is indifferent,
limp, uninspired. He and the orchestra are merely phoning it in. At one point,
the orchestra gets horrifyingly tangled up–and in music so familiar! Previn
does not even manage to generate enough sound at the end, which is astonishing.
Rarely has he been so bad.


He continues with a work
of his own, the Piano Concerto, written in 1984 for Vladimir Ashkenazy. The
soloist is Horacio Gutierrez, a Cuban-American pianist of extraordinary agility.
He is a tad sloppy tonight, but on the whole acquits himself well, as he usually
does. As for the work itself, it is pure Previn, which is to say an amalgam
of styles. Its opening is reminiscent of that of the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto
(lead actor in the movie Shine a couple of years ago), and it also has
touches of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. As with a lot of other Previn, the concerto
is a little cute, a little clever and, yes, movie-ish. But it has splendid moments,
including truly gorgeous suspensions. Its Andante recalls, somewhat, the (ravishing)
slow movement of the Ravel G-major concerto; its rondo is raucous, jazzy and
effective.


Concluding the evening is
a work that Previn practically owns: the Enigma Variations of Elgar.
Now that Adrian Boult is no longer with us, Previn is world champion here–and,
fortunately, he is back on form. This is Elgar with real blood in it. Previn
knows the arc and structure of this piece, conducting it, you might say, as
a composer. He infuses the work with tremendous dignity and majesty. The unison
playing of the strings is particularly powerful, hymn-like, with a religious
intensity. The beloved "Nimrod" variation is no less than spellbinding.
Previn has earned his ovation.


But why does he continue
to be so underrated? It is possible–just possible–that there lingers
a bit of anti-Hollywood snobbery. In which case, everyone should simply get
over it.



Tuesday, Oct. 19

The Philadelphia
Orchestra is in Carnegie Hall, with the Yugoslavian (that’s what we used
to call him, and them) pianist Ivo Pogorelich. Only he’s not here. He has
begged off for "personal reasons." Replacing him is Andre Watts, the
monster technician from America (though his mother was from Hungary, mother
of so many pianists).



Watts is–a fascinating
disaster. Few can play the notes he can, at the speed he can; he is the epitome
of relaxed power. To think of what a great musician could do with that technique!
Tonight’s concerto is the Rach Second, a piece that Watts has played a
zillion times (and, a few of those times, perhaps even well). He and the Philadelphia’s
conductor, Wolfgang Sawallisch, have a serious disagreement over tempo: Watts
wants to go faster; Sawallisch stubbornly ignores him. Also, the orchestra is
strangely loud. Much of Watts’ fingerwork, however dazzling, is for naught,
because we can’t hear it. The first movement is joltingly boxy: Sawallisch
does not quite get the music’s free-flowing Romanticism; Watts, as he so
often does, plays in episodic fits. And, though we can see Watts pounding, this
is a rather anemic performance. Whatever force there is is merely superficial.


Before the second movement
begins, we have to wait for a stream of latecomers. Sawallisch, as is his wont,
has started at 8 on the dot–which does no good at all, because everyone
is simply made to wait after the first movement, interrupting the flow of the
performance (not that this particular performance has much). Most people understand
that a concert will begin about five minutes after the designated time; when
this understanding is upset, this is what ensues.


The Adagio is, if anything,
even more offensive than the Moderato. In the orchestra phrases go unfinished,
and the flute and clarinet solos are pathetically weak. Watts is flat-out unmusical,
with sudden and nonsensical crescendos and decrescendos, in a parody of musicality.
In the final Allegro, Watts obviously can’t wait to be alone, straining
against the conductor’s more sluggish pace. His octaves–"They
are like a lawn mower!" he once boasted–are appalling. He has succumbed
to sheer showmanship, and the performance is nauseatingly vulgar.


The audience, of course,
goes stark-raving mad: standing, stomping, screaming, adoring. But Watts has
delivered an insult, not least to another virtuoso, the composer, Rachmaninoff.


The second half of the evening,
however, is as magnificent as the first was deplorable. Sawallisch and the Philadelphians
traverse Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14, a great and bleak work, more a
song-cycle than a proper symphony. The soprano is Christine Brewer, an American,
and the baritone Hakan Hagegard, the veteran Swede. Brewer is incisive, unfaltering,
heartbreakingly good; Hagegard is his usual solid and respectful self. Sawallisch
penetrates to the very bones of this work–not that the audience comprehends
what it has the privilege of hearing. They rudely stream out in the course of
the symphony, though the piece has no breaks. They cough and mutter with abandon.
At one point, someone’s phone or beeper goes off, playing–can you
believe it?–the opening notes of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Watts’
carnival act may have received the bravos, but this Shostakovich 14 was as enthralling
as any I, for one, ever expect to hear, and I leave the hall with real gratitude.



Thursday, Oct. 21

The Metropolitan Opera offers a Marriage of Figaro, conducted by the
Dutchman Edo de Waart. He proves a capable enough manager, if a little mechanical.
Truth is, the orchestra never sounds quite up to snuff when its maestro, James
Levine, is away. When he returns, it is a different ensemble altogether.



Our Figaro is Ferruccio
Furlanetto, the stylish Italian with the big, juicy baritone. He is almost without
peer in these Mozart roles–his Giovanni and Leporello are both memorable–and
he is a lively actor, to boot. The refreshing truth about Furlanetto: he simply
does nothing wrong. Paul Plishka, the cagey old American bass, is thoroughly
winning as Don Bartolo, the type of role to which he is increasingly suited,
as he enters the autumn months of his career. Hei-Kyung Hong, however, is a
flat and mannered Countess, a notch or two below the cast as a whole. She makes
some pretty sounds in "Dove sono," but otherwise does little more
than look nice. Dwayne Croft cuts a fine Almaviva, displaying the kind of technique
that allows you to rest easy in your seat: he will not fall off the tightrope,
or wobble.


The night’s star, however,
is Susan Graham, the canny mezzo-soprano who makes a delectable Cherubino. Her
"Non so più" is rendered with great style, and her "Voi
che sapete" is about as direct, secure and melting as any one can hear
today–which easily crowns the night.



Friday, Oct. 22

In recital
at Carnegie is Midori, the one-named Japanese-American wonder of the violin.
The little prodigy is all grown up at 28, and she has become one of the most
satisfying violinists now before the public.



She begins with Mozart’s
Sonata in A, K. 526, and gives a vigorous and strong performance, bordering
on the Romantic. In the Andante, she takes a few liberties with tempo, and she
fragments the movement somewhat, robbing it of its logic. In addition, her pianist,
Robert McDonald, is overly loud. (Am I Too Loud? the famed accompanist
Gerald Moore entitled his memoir. It is the perpetual and stereotypical worry
of the accompanist, and in McDonald’s case, the answer–at least in
the Mozart–is yes.) McDonald has the lid open; perhaps he should swallow
his pianistic pride and lower it.


Midori proceeds to the violin
sonata by John Corigliano, the composer’s first major work, published in
1963. It is a first-rate piece–Corigliano’s father, by the way, was
concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic–and Midori is a skillful advocate
of it. Seldom has it been better played. The composer is present tonight, and
he will go home aglow. Next is Schoenberg’s Phantasy, Op. 47, which
Midori handles with similar understanding and care. She manages the trick of
being spiky and sonorous at the same time, a most useful trait in 20th-century
music.


Last on the printed program
is Franck’s beloved sonata, interpreted by Midori in elegant and lush fashion.
She might, however, employ a little more discipline, might tighten the reins
on her reading just a bit. In the slow movement–as in the Mozart–she
is somewhat formless. Also, she is pretty well spent for the climactic end of
the piece, which is, therefore, not much of a climax at all.


Midori offers two encores:
The first is Heifetz’s transcription of the Debussy song Beau Soir,
nicely played, but spoiled by the excruciating flatness of the final note. The
second is Kreisler’s irresistible Syncopation, which, in the hands
of the Midorable one, would make the old Viennese master purr with approval.



Monday, Oct. 25

The Berlin
Philharmonic, 800-pound gorilla of orchestras, is at Carnegie, with its music
director, Claudio Abbado. They begin with Mahler’s sublime Rückert
Lieder
. The soloist is Anna Larsson, a Swedish contralto known largely because
Abbado insists on promoting her.



This performance is–shockingly–a
bad one. Not just a less than excellent one, but, truly, a bad one. The work
is clearly underrehearsed, or perhaps unrehearsed. The orchestra is not together,
and there is–this is the Berlin Philharmonic–some actual bad playing
from it. Larsson has a problematic sound, with a fuzz on it; she does not "hug
the line," as is absolutely required in Mahler-singing, but seems rather
unfocused. Her breath control in the concluding "Ich bin der Welt,"
it must be said, is admirable. A good performance of the Rückert Lieder
is positively transfiguring; neither singer, nor orchestra, nor conductor seems
to have had a clue here.


The main work on the program
is Bruckner’s mighty Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, a tribute, in a way, to
the greatest Ninth of all. Abbado knows this piece inside out, and, in the opening
movement, he coaxes–no, exacts–from the Berliners some of the finest,
most unified orchestral playing you will ever hope to hear. I feel, in spots,
as though I were hearing the piece for the first time. Abbado positively bristles
with musical energy and intensity. I am reminded, too–for the thousandth
time–that no recording can take the place of a live performance. In the
second and third movements, however, there is a slight breakdown; a losing of
the musical and logical thread, a sapping of the spiritual vitality of the performance.
Abbado is perhaps less good in delicate music–as in the Trio of the Scherzo–or
in ruminative music–as in sections of the Adagio–than he is in the
music of big, bold statements. And, at the end, Abbado does something odd: the
applause starts too quickly for him, and he stops it. In a lifetime of concertgoing,
I have never before seen this. Abbado didn’t want his (and Bruckner’s)
spell broken; only, sadly, there was no spell–which is why the audience
began to applaud when it did.



Tuesday, Oct. 26

Tonight I attend
a series of long intermissions at the Metropolitan Opera, interrupted by a performance
of Aida. Really, can’t something be done about these intermissions,
their length and frequency? About a third of the time spent at the opera house
tonight is given over to intermissions–which badly damages the continuity
and wholeness (not to get uppity about it) of the performance. The socializers
ought to be made to drink, eat and gab either before or after.



The evening does not begin
very well, as our Radames, Fabio Armiliato, is having problems. In "Celeste
Aida," he is dismayingly imprecise, and he is strangled, struggling, poor
man, like a pop singer (and a not very good one). It could be that he is experiencing
an especially bad night, but it is not often that you hear a singer at the Met
who seems so out of place.


But our Amneris! In place!
She is Olga Borodina, the mezzo-soprano whose recital of Russian songs at Alice
Tully Hall last year was a highlight of the entire New York season. She has…everything:
technique, musicality, smarts, presence, drama, elegance, power–it really
doesn’t end. She was born, it seems, to be a Verdi mezzo (as well as a
Russian one). When she pours forth the sound, she does so without sacrificing
an iota of beauty. She has the kind of voice–this is somewhat difficult
to explain–that travels directly to the ear. Don’t they all? No, actually–but
when they do, the effect is thrilling.


To indulge in a critic’s
cliche, the opera tonight might well be entitled Amneris. Not that the
Aida is too shabby: Deborah Voigt is one of the most radiant and fulfilling
sopranos in opera today. Anyone who has heard her Chrysothemis in Strauss’
Elektra won’t soon forget it. But she is perhaps a more effective
German singer than she is an Italian one. She performs admirably tonight, but
by the time of "O patria mia" is encountering some vocal problems,
having to cover and scramble like mad.


As for our Amonasro, never
will you hear a more Russian one than Nikolai Putilin. And our conductor is
Carlo Rizzi, whose tempos, refreshingly, are on the brisk side. He does his
best to keep the momentum going–but there is not a lot that he, or Verdi,
can do with these infernal intermissions.



Wednesday, Oct. 27

There
is a Tosca at the Met this evening, but really only one story: Luciano
Pavarotti. "The Fat Man," as he is known reverently among some of
his fans (and enemies), is, as it happens, in glorious voice. From the beginning,
he is clear, vibrant, secure, resplendent. When he sings his opening aria, "Recondita
armonia," we have to ask: What year is this? Is it 1999 or 1979? We are
traveling back in time. Pavarotti knows it, too; it is obvious from his demeanor
and twinkle. He doesn’t get many nights like this anymore, vocally, and
he is enjoying it to the hilt. His Italian, we are reminded, is the best sung
Italian in the world–bar none, no argument permitted. He is gimpy, and
sings "Recondita armonia" sitting down; but he stands for his final
B-flat ("Tosca, sei tu!"), which is sensational.



The other performers? Elizabeth
Holleque as Tosca doesn’t lay a glove on the part. She was commendable
as Barber’s Vanessa at the Washington Opera a few years ago, but tonight
exhibits zero understanding of Puccini’s little tragedienne. Juan Pons,
the Scarpia, is acceptable, no more. But none of that matters: tonight it is
the Fat Man, and only the Fat Man. When, in the second act, he sings, "Vittoria!
Vittoria!," a thought comes to me, unbidden. It is corny as hell, and embarrassing,
but I’m going to confess it. The thought came to me, "Remember that
sound, because you’ll never hear the likes of it again."


..