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The masterful Meistersinger singers

The best six hours I've spent in an opera house

Let's go to The Met!
Let's go to The Met!

I’ve been dabbling in opera tourism this fall and decided to go full-send with a trip to New York. I looked at the schedule for The Metropolitan Opera and saw that Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was upcoming. That settled it. I planned my trip around the Meistersinger performance of Thursday, November 11.

My budget allowed for three nights. If I went Wednesday through Saturday I could also see Puccini’s Turandot on Friday, November 12. If I went Tuesday through Friday I could see Puccini’s La Boheme on Tuesday, November 9. I’m not particularly interested in either opera in and of itself, so the decision came down to the singers. I saw that Charles Castronovo was singing the role of Rodolfo in La Boheme. He once sang the lead tenor roles in both Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers and Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at San Diego Opera. At the time, I felt as if he had a generationally beautiful tenor voice. The Pearl Fishers production was staged back in 2010, and the famous duet with the baritone from that production is available on YouTube. So I decided on La Boheme, based on my memory of Catronovo’s voice. I thought the role of Rodolfo would fit his voice like a glove.

Video:

Duet from The Pearl Fishers

A lot can change in 11 years. To my dismay, Castronovo has beefed up his voice, creating a more baritonal sound. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I encourage any tenor to develop a more baritonal sound, unless it destroys the beauty and focus of the top notes.

The most famous recent example of this phenomenon is tenor Roberto Alagna. He too had a gorgeous tenor voice but pumped up the bottom of his voice to suit heavier roles such as Radames in Aida. His top notes went from being thrilling, tight, and clear, to nerve-wracking, loose, and dull. I am sad to report that Castronovo has gone full Alagna. The voice sounded magnificent until it got above the staff. At that point, a massive wobble entered the tone, rendering the performance useless. If the high notes aren’t the most exciting part of a tenor’s voice, why am I listening?

Video:

Wahn! Wahn!

Fortunately, Die Meistersinger was an epic night of glorious opera. Antonio Pappano conducted. The famous prelude was correct in every aspect from orchestral balance, to phrasing, to tempo. It was flawless. The cast was a bit hit and miss: Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt sang the role of Walther, and the voice amounted to an up-jumped character tenor singing a heldentenor role. It was loud, but not beautiful or heroic. The best comparison is to the sound of a boy soprano singing in the tenor register. The voice often lacked vibrato, and sounded amateurish at times. But the rest of the cast was solid. Michael Volle sang a lyric version of Hans Sachs, creating a more intimate figure as opposed to a profound one. Lise Davidsen, in the role of Eva, was phenomenal. The voice was massive yet beautiful.

The Act III Quintet, one of the greatest moments in all of opera, was sung to perfection. The performance started at 6 pm and I walked out the doors after the applause at 11:50 pm. It was the best six hours I’ve spent in an opera house.

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Let's go to The Met!
Let's go to The Met!

I’ve been dabbling in opera tourism this fall and decided to go full-send with a trip to New York. I looked at the schedule for The Metropolitan Opera and saw that Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was upcoming. That settled it. I planned my trip around the Meistersinger performance of Thursday, November 11.

My budget allowed for three nights. If I went Wednesday through Saturday I could also see Puccini’s Turandot on Friday, November 12. If I went Tuesday through Friday I could see Puccini’s La Boheme on Tuesday, November 9. I’m not particularly interested in either opera in and of itself, so the decision came down to the singers. I saw that Charles Castronovo was singing the role of Rodolfo in La Boheme. He once sang the lead tenor roles in both Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers and Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at San Diego Opera. At the time, I felt as if he had a generationally beautiful tenor voice. The Pearl Fishers production was staged back in 2010, and the famous duet with the baritone from that production is available on YouTube. So I decided on La Boheme, based on my memory of Catronovo’s voice. I thought the role of Rodolfo would fit his voice like a glove.

Video:

Duet from The Pearl Fishers

A lot can change in 11 years. To my dismay, Castronovo has beefed up his voice, creating a more baritonal sound. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I encourage any tenor to develop a more baritonal sound, unless it destroys the beauty and focus of the top notes.

The most famous recent example of this phenomenon is tenor Roberto Alagna. He too had a gorgeous tenor voice but pumped up the bottom of his voice to suit heavier roles such as Radames in Aida. His top notes went from being thrilling, tight, and clear, to nerve-wracking, loose, and dull. I am sad to report that Castronovo has gone full Alagna. The voice sounded magnificent until it got above the staff. At that point, a massive wobble entered the tone, rendering the performance useless. If the high notes aren’t the most exciting part of a tenor’s voice, why am I listening?

Video:

Wahn! Wahn!

Fortunately, Die Meistersinger was an epic night of glorious opera. Antonio Pappano conducted. The famous prelude was correct in every aspect from orchestral balance, to phrasing, to tempo. It was flawless. The cast was a bit hit and miss: Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt sang the role of Walther, and the voice amounted to an up-jumped character tenor singing a heldentenor role. It was loud, but not beautiful or heroic. The best comparison is to the sound of a boy soprano singing in the tenor register. The voice often lacked vibrato, and sounded amateurish at times. But the rest of the cast was solid. Michael Volle sang a lyric version of Hans Sachs, creating a more intimate figure as opposed to a profound one. Lise Davidsen, in the role of Eva, was phenomenal. The voice was massive yet beautiful.

The Act III Quintet, one of the greatest moments in all of opera, was sung to perfection. The performance started at 6 pm and I walked out the doors after the applause at 11:50 pm. It was the best six hours I’ve spent in an opera house.

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