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."

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