Entertainment

Its Musicians Are Out of Work, but the Met Is Streaming

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The Metropolitan Opera rang promisingly in 2020 with a Puccini gala starring Anna Netrebko, the company’s reigning diva.

But in March, only a few weeks before Netrebko was supposed to return to the Met as Tosca, of course, the company closed due to the pandemic. It has been closed in the past 11 months, canceling a number of plans, including a new production of Aida for Netrebko, and giving hundreds of its workers leave without pay.

On Saturday, Netrebko returned to the company – in a sense – with the latest concert in its Met Stars Live in Concert series, streamed from the Spanish riding school in Vienna and available until February 19. In recent years Netrebko has developed into a weighty dramatic soprano repertoire. On this occasion, she presented lighter material, mostly intimate songs by Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Richard Strauss, elegantly accompanied by pianist Pavel Nebolsin.

From the opening, Rachmaninoff’s Lilac, she seemed to become the young protagonist of the text, singing with subdued tenderness and soft colors as she remembered the fresh scents of dawn and the wistful happiness among the flowers. When Netrebko shone in full voice, as in Rimsky-Korsakov’s exuberant “The Lark’s Song rings clearer”, it was almost astonishing.

Here were references to the terrifying intensity and exciting sound that she brought with her over a year ago for the gala in Act II of “Turandot”. But when she saw her concert, it was hard not to think about what was missing this time: the musicians of the Met. Since the end of March, the unionized orchestra and choir, among other things, have remained busy, and the talks between unions and management are at Came to a standstill. There has been frustration on social media over the Met’s decision to stream concerts like Netrebko’s while the company’s in-house artists remain unemployed. (The orchestra is planning its own streaming concert with star soprano Angela Gheorghiu on metorchestramusicians.org on February 21st. The proceeds will go to the Met Orchestra Musicians Fund.)

The theme hung over the concert series that began in July with Jonas Kaufmann and is an attempt to test whether the opera audience will pay for online content, as well as an attempt to keep fans and supporters of the Met busy. Many of the concerts by singers like Joyce DiDonato, Bryn Terfel and, most recently, Sondra Radvanovsky and Piotr Beczala were artistically rewarding and sensitively directed. But the orchestra and choir are the core of the Met.

Netrebko’s concert was originally scheduled for October, but in September she was diagnosed with Covid-19 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and briefly hospitalized. So it was a relief that she looked and sounded wonderful. Her tendency to sometimes let a note slip off the pitch was a little more frequent than usual. But I always felt that this criticism was a little unfair. Like many singers from Russian and Scandinavian traditions, she brings a cool Nordic line-up to her sound and sings entire phrases with a concentrated tone, which saves the vibrato for bursts of intensity. Small pitch defects are also noticeable.

One hardly cares about the splendor of their charismatic vocalism. Even when she treated songs like Strauss’ “Morgen” or Debussy’s “Il pleure dans mon coeur” with reserved restraint, she let the passion of opera flare up just below the surface and was ready to unleash climatic phrases. I loved the way she started Tchaikovsky’s “Nights of Delirium” on a muted, milky tone and then slowly gained in intensity as the music expressed a young woman’s thoughts of sleepless, feverish nights consumed by memories of a lover . And it crowned a bewitching performance of the aria “Depuis le jour” from Gustave Charpentier’s opera “Louise”, in which a young seamstress in Paris who ran away with a lover expresses a blissful romantic satisfaction with a gently shimmering high B.

She was joined by the excellent mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova in a duet from Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades” and the famous barcarolle from Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann”. During a break, the soprano Christine Goerke, the presenter of the recital series, spoke to Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, about Netrebko’s plans for the future, including Elsa in a new production of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” with Goerke as Ortrud. Count me in.

But next for them, if the reopening goes as planned this fall, there will be a full orchestra concert at the company’s Lincoln Center in October. A return to live performance, where the Met’s main artists are paid in full, cannot come soon enough.

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Robert Dunfee