May 3, 2008

Roméo et Juliette, Met broadcast Dec. 2007

Roméo et Juliette
Opéra en 5 actes de Charles Gounod
Livret de Jules Barbier et Michel Carré d'après la pièce Romeo and Juliet de Shakespeare

PBS TV broadcast
December 15, 2007
Metropolitan Opera

Placido Domingo, Conductor

Tybalt: Marc Heller
Paris: Louis Otey
Capulet: Charles Taylor
Juliette: Anna Netrebko
Mercutio: Nathan Gunn
Romeo: Roberto Alagna
Gertrude: Jane Bunnell
Gregorio: David Won
Friar Laurence: Robert Lloyd
Stephano: Isabel Leonard
Benvolio: Tony Stevenson
The Duke of Verona: Dean Peterson

I get that, after a few hundred years singing almost every operatic role ever written for a tenor, you will eventually get so bored you'll try to expand your musical experiences by, say, conducting operas.
Considering you spent ages under the most brilliant conductors of the XXth century, you should have such a depth at understanding the scores your conduction should really be something unique.
Everybody knows though, that Placido Domingo as a conductor has raised a lot of criticism (and booing from the audience too), and up to now, I really couldn't get why. Sure, the conductions I heard from him were nothing but average, but most of the conductors these days (at least in the bel canto area) are mediocre at best.
Well, all that changed after I watched this broadcast from the Met.

Being such a freak for Gounod, I of course get emotional pretty quick - in that case pretty upset.
The best way to describe Domingo conducting that piece is to picture the vacuum of the universe (which is not really made of nothing, but this blog isn't about to start on physics), and its freezing temperature of roughly three Kelvin.
The render of Gounod's music Domingo provided the Met with is a emotionless and cold as the universe. His understanding of the rhythm of Gounod is desperately wrong and boring, as everything is played on a military mode - one, two, one, two, one, two.
I don't question his musicality as much as I question his hearing though. How can he not hear the orchestra sounds flat and mechanical? There's an ugly monotony to everything (in all fairness, except for the waltz parts), especially to the non-singing parts of the score, and he seems to have no interest whatsoever for the attacks of the notes.
A big cold vacuum, really (sorry!).

Ruby Washington for the NY Times

As for the chorus of the Met, which can't basically deal properly with the French language, no offense to New Yorkers, the conduction of Domingo ruins every chance of extracting a decent performance out of it. Once again, everything is blind and tasteless, especially my favorite intervention of the chorus (even if it last no longer than thirty seconds) during the duet between Tybalt and Mercutio (Act 3) with the supposed-to-be vindicative and passionate "Capulets! Capulets! Race immonde!".

Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera

The cast was equally disappointing, Marc Heller (Tybalt) and Louis Otey (Paris) been horrible; the French diction (or the lack of, rather) and over-the-top acting of Nathan Gunn make him a mediocre Mercutio indeed.
Anna Netrebko surprised me a lot as she was pretty good at playing the ingénue part of Juliette; the problems obviously start when she starts singing (I notoriously don't like her, so I won't go into further details). Charles Taylor as Capulet, the father of Juliette, was interesting enough, and Alagna, though pretty good at the beginning of the performance, slightly slipped into uncharted waters by the end of the broadcast. The last scene in front of Juliette's grave was rather painful to hear, as his voice was so tired he could hardly control it at all.

All and all, a very disappointing broadcast.

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