Ever since he broke the ban on encores at the Metropolitan Opera a few seasons ago in the new production of La Fille du Régiment, Juan Diego Flórez seems to be the only artist thus far to be allowed this privilege at the MET. My personal feeling is that he is being encouraged to do so. Peter Gelb, general manager of the MET, seems ready to relax this house rule in an effort to make opera more exciting and entertaining.
It all happened during the MET's Toll Brothers radio broadcast of Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore. Which means that it was heard worldwide by millions. Flórez had just sung a ravishingly beautiful "Una furtiva lagrima" to thunderous well-deserved applause. Towards the end of the ovation, a loud, enthusiastic male voice from the balcony yelled out the word "encore." Juan Diego looked up at the house with a smile, and then he nodded approvingly at the pit. Conductor Donato Renzetti was more than ready to give the orchestra the downbeat. Juan Diego went on to sing the aria a second time, as flawlessly as the first, and even adding a number of vocal ornamentation that turned back the musical style clock on Nemorino and made Donizetti's 'romanza" feel more like a G.F. Handel Da Capo aria. Holy musical de-evolution, Batman!
Why is this being allowed to go on?
When the MET established its ban on encores decades ago, it did so in order to make opera a more realistic, more dramatic art form. Basically it curtailed the excesses typical of 19th century prima donnas and it invented the modern American opera singer. Allowing encores back at the house is a definite giant step backward into a bizarre theatrical world where artifice reigns and singers forget that they are also actors portraying realistic human sentiments.
What made last Saturday's stage shenanigans even worse was that after the second encore the audience went absolutely ape and were on the verge of demanding a -- God forbid! -- third go-round. For the first time since he stepped on the stage that day, Flórez seemed ill at ease. He looked into the wings, obviously exchanging looks with someone. Then unexpectedly he broke character, stepped up to the apron of the stage, and adressed the audience. "Ms. Damrau is waiting in the wings," he said referring to Diana Damrau, his co-star. When Ms. Damrau finally did enter from the place that Flórez had been looking, the audience couldn't help but laugh. The fourth wall had been broken. We all had to make an effort once again to get into the conventions of theater. Encores will do that to an audience.
Of course a few minutes later, during Nemorino and Adina's love duet, a cell phone in the house went off multiple times. But that's another story.