Total disclosure: I do not take OPERA lightly. I moved to Miami after almost 20 years of subscribing at the Met, where I experienced magnificence and magnificent failures. The fact that I feel free to compare my Met experiences with my FGO experiences should tell you how really excellent the FGO productions generally are.
I attended last night's penultimate performance of NORMA and I am still flying high from the experience. There was so much great about the production/performance that I am unsure where I want to begin...
OK, I'll start with a very pleasant surprise even before the opera began. I always arrive early for the most excellent pre-show talk by Justin Moss. I greatly appreciate that in his talks Justin Moss does not merely parrot what is printed in the program notes. His talks are full of his personal remembrances of productions and singers which leave me wondering how old he is and how can he be everywhere at once?
While reading the program insert before JM's talk I saw that Craig Colclough would be singing Oroveso in place of the scheduled Burak Bilgili. I remember CC from when he was part of the Young Artist's program at FGO. He was amazing -- truly able to sing toe-to-toe with the soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams. He has sung the part before and was well prepared to step in on 4 days notice. What is truly amazing is that the FGO production includes the alternate aria composed by Richard Wagner which CC had to learn practically overnight! Well done! It was a highlight in an evening crowded with highlights.
Speaking of which, the Young Artists Program could very accurately be called the Future Stars Program. I have been told by some participants that the FGO YAP is second in prestige only to the YAP at the Met. I have heard the YAs in concerts, including at a most difficult venue -- the Aventura Mall. They were able, by dint of their excellence, to actually stop some shoppers from their rabid consumerism! I have performed with some of the YAs in concert with Orchestra Miami and they are as nice as they are talented.
On a personal note, I am looking forward to The Passenger this coming April. In that same concert I sang (behind) Robynne Redmon who is making her FGO debut as the Old Woman. I am very excited to see/hear her again!
I left the Arscht last night wondering why there were signs warning of strobe lights and pyrotechnics during the performance. It wasn't until this morning that I understood they were referring to VOCAL pyrotechnics -- and they were in abundance!
Mary Elizabeth Williams and Catherine Martin set the night on fire. As solo singers there was not a moment in which they did not sparkle. And, as Justin Moss pointed out, in Bellini (unlike Wagner) there is no place for the singers to hide in a cloud of sound. The glorious singing floated out to the house with power, emotion, and excellence throughout each aria. MEW sang a divinely inspired Casta Diva (and I heard Sutherland at the Met). We could have gone home satisfied after that, but I'm glad we didn't. The inspiration continued for another two hours!
Then, when you think you've heard it all, MEW and CM sing the overlapping double aria and took my breath away. THEN, when you think you've heard everything that can be done with human voices, they sing a duet over the sleeping (almost dead) children that sucked all the air out of the room. I was exhausted when they were done.
Pollione (Frank Porretta) did a passable job. He was the only lead who could not ( at least DID not) fill the house with glory. He was (at times) covered by the orchestra. Even worse, when he sang what should have been a powerful duet with MEW, he could just as well mouthed the words for all he could be heard.
About the production -- I am not always impressed by the productions at FGO, especially the lighting. The use of backlighting during Luisa Fernanda and The Consul was much more annoying than effective. Last night the lighting was as much a stellar character as any of the singers.
The use of color and shadow to set the proper tone and indicate a change of time was magnificently done. Thomas Hase deserved a place in the curtain calls! The unmuted colors matched the vocal fireworks perfectly. The sharp demarcations between light and shadow were beautifully executed. Especially I want to mention when Adalgisa crossed from the light into darkness (was she turning evil?) and was immediately lit by a spotlight -- a true indication of her innocence in the midst of the lies surrounding her. Fabulous!
The other great moment in lighting design occurred at the very end of the night -- As Norma and Pollione walked toward the pyre, their personae lost all color and became shadows (or shades, as Shakespeare would put it), foreshadowing (no pun intended) that there would be no further plot twists to save them for a happy ending. I was in awe.
Now -- I have to say I am disgusted with the community's response to FGO. Where are the people? These wonderful performances are woefully underattended. I feel sorry for the performers singing their hearts out to empty houses which makes even hearty applause seem sparse. I wish I could offer the suggestion of a solution.
Certainly the cost of a ticket is not outrageous. Season subscriptions for my partner and I (together) are less than a ticket for a single performance at the Met. Even better, our season tickets to FGO are less than what I had to pay to park my car at the Met for a single performance -- and my car did not even like opera!
We met with Max Kellogg regarding "Say Yes to Opera." We told him that the FGO performances are very underpriced. Tickets for the same performances at the Broward Center cost more. FGO should at least bring the Arscht prices to parity with the Broward Center. And yes, my partner made a pledge to SYTO. We chuckle each time we see his name in the program insert!
OK, Miami -- get your butts into these seats!