Hearing that Sal Licitra, whom I don't much like, had pulled out of the opera tonight, and would be replaced by Ramon Vargas, whom I do like, and who has sung the role of Riccardo/Gustav III all over the world BUT NOT HERE, I biked up to the Met for Ballo in maschera, got a $20 ticket for $20 (Row X, side) at the door, and - bonus! - a guy with a parterre box seat to the May 14 First Emperor sold it to me for $50. My friend Jack, who was there, referred to the tenor in absentia as “La Creatura.” Cute, eh? And Jack isn’t even gay. (I can’t wait to spring it on La Cieca.)
Act I was pretty bad – no one was singing well but Steffi Blythe, who got a thunderous ovation. Real DARK low notes. Vargas sounded dry, but he was enjoying himself, romping around the stage, doing ooga-booga gestures to make fun of Ulrica’s predictions of his imminent demise, etc. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was a stick. Ofelia Sala, though a bit busty for it, was rather more boyish (at least tomboyish) than most Oscars in this production, who are frankly femmefemmefemme.
Act II was an improvement – Angela M. Brown was not good in the aria, but warmed up in the all-for-love duet, and Vargas was sounding more like himself. Dmitri H still unbending stiff. Good work from Schowalter & Tian as Amos & Andy (the only half-breed Indian-Africans with an ancestral castle in Massachusetts Bay).
I figured I’d stick around to see if Vargas could pull off his Act III aria, then dash. To my surprise, everyone was kind of on board. Dmitri was almost acting, sang a decent Eri tu (though huffing and puffing between phrases, as he always does when singing Verdi), and Brown’s Morro, ma prima was genuinely good Verdi singing. She’s just not reliable or consistent is my complaint. Maybe there’s a real Verdi soprano in there, but who can tell?
The aria was Vargas in clover, the best singing all night, real Verdi-ismo, beautifully phrased, ardent, soaring, filled the house. My only Bravo. (No; I did it again for his curtain call.) So I decided what the hell, I’d stay for the final duet. Sure enough, he and Brown were in tip-top form. That silly overblown production almost concealed it, but … there they were. I wanted to say, as if I were the Emperor, “All right, now you’re UP for it, let’s have Act I all over again.” But no – for one thing, Steffi had already gone home.