Tuesday, September 25, 2018

SAMSON ET DALILA: Opening night of the MET

The years have not been kind to Roberto Alagna's voice. As a matter of fact, I worry about his career, I think he is all washed up. The former star of Faust now gone to Hell. This summer he cancelled his debut at Bayreuth where he was to sing Lohengrin. This was a good move. He should have cancelled opening night of the MET. Bayreuth was spared this summer, but the Metropolitan Opera has suffered a black eye thanks to his catastrophic singing in the title role of Samson et Dalila, Camille Saint-Saƫns's popular Biblical opera.

The new staging was directed by Darko Tresnjak, a Broadway director of some reknown (A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, and Anastasia) making his MET debut.  It has been the goal of General Manager Peter Gelb to bring new blood into the opera house by engaging Broadway directors to breathe new life into the warhorses. So far his record is a spotty one, and last night might have been another failing experiment. The production, with sets by Alexander Dodge and costumes by Linda Cho brings us nothing more than a kitschy staging, exactly what Peter Gelb is trying to move away from.  Some of the sets looked like the circles on the proscenium of Radio City Music Hall. The set of the final act in the temple of Dagon is a technicolor monstrosity that even Cecil B. DeMille would have rejected. As a matter of fact, DeMille's 1949 film of this story features a memorable epic set which Victor Mature topples down. Ms. Cho's costumes seem to also come right out of old-time Hollywood; maybe the Babylonian section from D.W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance. I'm sure that in 1916 these costumes would have been right at home at 39th Street and Broadway, at the old MET.
 Dalila was sung by Elina Garanca, who made such a splash last season as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Last night the Latvian mezzo-soprano was in good voice, but she never really got inside the skin of the character. Perhaps Mark Elder's conducting, with its slower-than-usual tempi, did not help her characterization. This score, with its many formal chorus pieces (there's even a fugue for the Israelites) and unusual music, whict at times hints at Peter Glass-style minimalism is a tricky one to pull off. Unfortunately last night, it all seemed flat, except for the chorus which sounded amazing, as always.
It was sad to hear Roberto Alagna in such horrendous vocal shape. His singing sounded thin and frail, and devoid of any top notes. Vocally, the opera ends with a B flat for Samson as he brings down the temple of Dagon, but at that point all that came out of Alagna's voice was a sad croak. The best that one can say about Alagna was written by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini: "To his credit, against all odds with this staging, he tried mightily all night."

Saturday, September 08, 2018

The Man of the Hour: CARLOS RAMOS

Carlos Ramos, the Portuguese tennis umpire, became the man of the hour when he was on the chair for the Serena Williams/Naomi Osaka finals match. Why this honor in my book? Because he stuck to his guns, and he made sure that the match would follow strictly the rules of tennis, without pandering to Serena Williams and her custom of resorting to a meltdown when things don't go her way.

What happened during the match? Mr. Ramos realized that Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou was coaching Serena from his box seat at Ashe stadium. This is not allowed, so he gave Serena a warning. Serena protested that she does not cheat, and that she was not being coached. (Later on, Mouratoglou admitted that he was coaching her!) Minutes later, when Serena was down in the match, she smashed her racket. This being her second infraction, he deducted a point from her score. Serena went crazy! She had a massive "Mac-Attack" and insulted Ramos by calling him a "thief." Ramos fired back by deducting a whole game from Serena. Serena blew her top again, and called for the tournament directors, who followed the rules, and did nothing more than support the umpire.

Carlos Ramos's decisions were all according to the book. However, the audience at the stadium, many of them, Serena's fans, began to boo Ramos. And to add salt to the wound, after Serena lost the match, during the presentation of awards, Mr. Ramos was not recognized for his courageous work during the match. I have already called the USTA stupid for not closing the roof and putting on the air conditioner when the temperature reached the three digit mark during the first week of the tournament, but now I have to add that they are also gutless for not supporting one of their own, and letting themselves be persuaded by the crowd, and by the shenanigans of Serena, who continues to be a deplorable prima-donna.