Thursday, September 26, 2013
James Levine - Kos
Financial Times / Arts / September 26, 2013
Così fan tutte
Metropolitan Opera, New York
Most of us had given up on James Levine. Sadly. In 2011 he conducted what
threatened to be his last performance at the Met, the company he had served
in a staggering total of 2,442 performances. Then, after suffering numerous
ailments, accidents and surgeries, he vanished. But there he was on Tuesday,
blissfully shaping Così fan tutte.
Although he is now confined to a wheelchair that rotates, rises and falls
with the press of a button, he seems more energetic, more focused than ever.
To say that his return at 70 was victorious would be a preposterous
understatement. When a spotlight picked him out at the start of the evening,
the audience mustered a standing ovation worthy of Callas, Milanov and
In turn, he guided a performance notable for propulsion,
proportion, warmth and uplift. The orchestra played for him with inspired
virtuosity, and, under his prodding, a sextet of unequal singers came
together as an sensitive ensemble.
Levine's Mozart is not, never was, the sort that warms a
purist's cockles. This maestro favours romanticized grandeur in the
4,000-seat house; forget period niceties. Cadenzas are minimal, trills and
appoggiaturas scarce. In context it somehow matters little.
Lesley Koenig's staging, created in 1996 and now reheated by
Robin Guarino, avoids interpretive adventure yet reinforces wit, style and
logic. Michael Yeargan's seaside décors frame the drama fluidly and
The cast was dominated by Matthew Polenzani who, even with a cold, sang
Ferrando's three difficult arias with astonishing ease, refinement and
urgency. Susanna Phillips, his florid Fiordiligi, encountered technical
problems at the outset ("Come scoglio") but redeemed herself later ("Per
pietà"). Isabel Leonard exerted sophisticated charm as Dorabella, modestly
seconded by Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo. Maurizio Muraro boomed buffo
bluster as Alfonso, while Danielle de Niese magnified soubrette indulgence
Peter Gelb, über-impresario at the Met, recently told the New
York Times that Levine "may be the greatest opera conductor in history".
That, of course, is high hyperbole. Still, Levine deserves the image of a
great conductor. He proved it, yet again, on this delirious occasion.