I was in New York City last week and attended a performance of Rossini’s Le comte Ory at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was my first attendance, in person, at the celebrated Met and I was really excited about it. Therefore, I am really sorry to say that while the production was excellent, the auditorium was a disappointment. It is far too wide and deep for lighter voices and early 19th Century bel canto operas, as was the case with Le comte Ory. Juan Diego Flórez sang the title role and, as ever, he was brilliant; however, through no fault of his own, his voice faded on occasions, as if he was singing from a great distance…and indeed he was! My seats were in the second row of the Grand Tier (some of the best seats in the house) and therefore a section of the auditorium where this kind of thing should never happen. This problem was even more noticeable with coloratura soprano Diana Damrau but again through no fault of her own. Of the lead singers, Joyce DiDonato was the one whose voice could be heard more distinctly, perhaps because of the nature of her instrument (she is a mezzo), as in terms of impeccable technique and singing quality, it will not get any better than the trio formed by Flórez, Damrau and DiDonato. Their performances were superb: the singing (in spite of sounding distant) was spot on, with the right balance between beauty and technical prowess; and dramatically, all three singers were very convincing in their roles. Flórez as the loveable rogue was very funny throughout, particularly while disguised as a nun, displaying some excellent comic timing; Damrau looked alluring in gorgeous colourful gowns but suitably innocent and, perhaps if I may say saving the best for last, DiDonato was absolutely fabulous as the page Isolier. Never before have I seen a woman playing a “trouser role” so convincingly! Her boisterous gestures, boyish posture and walking manner were so believably male that when she first appeared on stage and I whispered ‘That is Joyce’, my husband, sitting next to me, exclaimed in total surprise: ‘No, you’re wrong; it can’t be! It’s some young man!’
I liked this performance of Le Comte Ory very much (and will possibly purchase the DVD or the blue-ray when available) but I would have enjoyed it even more if the acoustics of the Met’s auditorium were better. I am not sure what could be done about the quality of the sound but it is clear that something must be done. I had the impression that the Met is perfectly built for grand or powerful dramatic operas but not for other genres. Operas from composers such as Verdi, Massenet, Meyerbeer, even Puccini but most of all Wagner will undoubtedly shine in an auditorium such as the Met’s; however, I am sorry to say that for other more subtle or delicate type of music and singing, it does not do it justice.
Finally, I must comment on American audiences and their need to continuously applaud (I am not talking solely about opera audiences at the Met, I have experienced the same at Broadway musicals or the Boston Symphony to name but a few). Why must this be? While their enthusiasm is touching and supportive of the artists, it goes one step too far, as there are instances when it becomes disruptive. As an example, during the second act of Le comte Ory there is a beautiful duet between the count (disguised as a nun) and the young countess whom he is trying to seduce. As the fist part of the duet finished, the audience immediately applauded and as a result, one could not hear the beginning of the second part! Flórez was moving his lips but all one heard was the loud clapping of the audience! It is fair enough that there is a roar of approving “bravos” once a piece, which was performed outstandingly, has come to an end but more than that it becomes intrusive and spoils the overall enjoyment of the performance.
A real shame then that the sound problem and the over enthusiastic audience spoiled some of the enjoyment of the evening, as the cast, settings and direction were superb. I must honestly say (and I hope it does not sound superior or arrogant, as this is not the intention) that in the european opera houses, which I often visit (meaning London, Berlin, Munich and Barcelona) the production would have come across as much more effective and enjoyable even with a lesser cast.