I had two main reasons for wanting to catch the fall run of Hoffman at the Met: firstly, reviews and word-of-mouth praised the tenor, Giuseppe Filianoti, with remarkable warmth and unanimity. Secondly, after seeing the rebroadcast of Bartlett Sher's production, I really wanted to experience it in its natural habitat. Photos from this season's run, focusing on the principals, may be found here; from the past season, containing more striking images of ensembles and tableaux here. Well, and also Kate Lindsey. I may have mentioned before that I adore, covet, and salivate over this outfit. I really wanted to experience her panache in person too.
Having gone into some detail on Sher's production in the earlier post referenced above, I'll be fairly brief here and say that I still really like it. Leaving the house afterwards, I overheard one woman saying to her companion that while she respected this approach, she didn't really care for its detachment, preferring to sympathize with the protagonists of an opera. More pungently, an Opera Lady observed laughingly to her friends in the ladies' during the first interval: "Every time there's a party scene he makes it look like a strip club! It takes all the romance out of it!" Both comments, I think, respond to one of the things I like best about Sher's approach: it is relentlessly intellectual. To call it Brechtian would be a stretch, perhaps, but it never lets the audience forget the sordid or frightening realities to which Hoffman is blinded. In the first act, we see, as Hoffman does not, that Spalanzani is a carnival charlatan who has built Olympia to resemble the showgirls who earn him money. An element of the Antonia act (here the second) which was ill-served by the broadcast was the degree to which Antonia self-dramatized. She frequently appears in a direct spotlight, and stages her own emotions, at least somewhat consciously (the Star-Crossed Passion, the Artist's Renunciation, etc.) Hoffman only achieves some measure of peace in allowing his Muse to make him consider his own actions with critical and compassionate detachment after swinging dangerously close to insanity and disintegration. So much for being brief, but I do really like it.
Filianoti has earned himself a reassessment; my only previous experience of him was in La Rondine in Feb '09, where he was out-sung by Gheorghiu. But no more shrugging from me: I was very impressed, if not quite as bowled over as some of the critics. His French was good; his engagement was passionate; and although I thought I detected a hint of fatigue overall, his high notes were flung out with both strength and fervor. (Acting Moment of the performance: when he flung himself on Antonia's lifeless body, crying out "Un médecin! un médecin!" Frightening.) The expressiveness of his singing made it all too easy to believe in Hoffman's total dedication to each of his doomed passions. At Filianoti's side as his Muse, Kate Lindsey was incisive and compelling (the girl-next-door head shot belies a smoldering sexiness.) The suppleness of her mezzo was used to good effect in a vivid characterization which seems essential especially in Sher's vision. Vocally and dramatically, she simply oozed panache.
As Hoffman's nemesis (or nemeses), Ildar Abdrazakov was suitably larger-than-life, looking born to play a silent movie villain (the effect of a gigantic leather coat hurt this impression not at all.) Using sonority or snarl as the occasion demanded, he was a suave and unsettling devil. The Dr. Miracle sequence, especially, took on the breathless suspense of a Hitchcock film. And Abdrazakov has a truly excellent Evil Laugh, which I suspect he enjoys using. Elena Mosuc, as Olympia, accomplished her part without eliciting either a wince or a wow from me. She garnered generous applause from the house. Hibla Gerzmava, a Russian soprano hitherto unknown to me, sang a rich Antonia, vocally lush and dramatically committed, to me the most compelling of the three women by far. Enkelejda Shkosa was a convincingly languid Giulietta, with suitably sensuous phrasing. Rounding out the cast, Joel Sorensen acquitted himself well (and, in the case of Frantz, with bold flair) as the four servants, and Wendy White was the suitably luscious voice of Antonia's mother. The Met chorus came through, and Patrick Fournillier led a detail-rich account of the score.
And now, Gentle Readers, allow me to present my very first curtain call photos! My sense of timing and knack for quick positioning will hopefully improve; all things considered, however, I'm pretty pleased. (I would like better closeups, of course, but that's not going to happen as long as I'm standing at the back of the Family Circle.)