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28 nov. 2013


foto: Joanna

There is something very special about the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Yes, you can talk about the imposing structure: all glass and metal, the breathtaking Chagalls, and those starburst chandeliers, which are always a particular visual highlight for me. All so very glitzy. All so very American.

Yet “special” took on new meaning for me on November 23 when, after a long absence, Rolando returned to reclaim his place in the hearts of chilly New Yorkers.

The evening of the 23rd started off with an unheard of mini-snowstorm with horizontal snow pelting us as we walked (or rather, ran) across the Lincoln Center plaza. Evidently, nature was giving us a hint that this would be an unusual night!

Let me begin by acknowledging the exceptional cast, starting with Peter Mattei in the role of Onegin. His rich and deeply sonorous voice, combined with his intimidating size, emphasized the unyielding coldness towards Tatiana. Marina Poplavskaya excelled both vocally and dramatically, offering us a convincing Tatiana that begins as a young and vulnerable girl and evolves into a woman committed to sacrifice and duty.

Stefan Kocan as Prince Gremin had to wait more than three hours to sing his impressive aria, but he was rewarded with boisterous applause, which, I hope made the wait less painful.

The one question mark of the evening was the volume of the orchestra. Conductor Alexander Vedernikov elicited too much force from the orchestra, such that, at times it was difficult to hear the singers, including the booming voice of Onegin. I know that the Met is an enormous cavern that must be filled with sound, but it’s the conductor’s role to balance the volume of the orchestra and the singers. I would hope that some slight adjustments can be made for subsequent performances.

From the moment Rolando appeared on stage, it became clear to me that, for many in attendance, the night belonged to him. Without having sung a note, the audience greeted Rolando with warm, heartfelt applause, clearly welcoming back someone dear to their hearts. No other performer was greeted in such a manner, and I have never seen a singer accorded such a welcome at the Met. I could only imagine how much it must have meant to Rolando to know that New York City had not forgotten him!

Naturally, there was intense pressure that came with the premier, but it was clear from the start that Rolando was ready for that night in every respect. If he was nervous, it was not apparent in the least. He has often spoken of the internal tigers he has to tame, and I can tell you that he not only conquered them, but used them to his advantage.

foto: - Ken Howard/MET

There are many aspects of Rolando’s performance I can discuss, but I would like to start with the character of Lenski himself. This is a wonderful role for Rolando because it allows him to express a wide range of emotions and reversals of fortune that this opera is built on. It’s all there: ebullient happiness, jealousy, rage, and profound melancholy.

I think that a complete and rich Lenski is a bit of a combination of Nemorino, the irresistible, playful boy, Alfredo, the impetuous youth driven by violent emotions of love, rage, and jealousy, and Werther, the romantic poet who lives in an idealized world that is shattered when he finds that his beloved is engaged to another. Rolando brings all of Nemorino’s sweetness and charm, making it abundantly clear why Olga has fallen in love with him. Here is a man in love, giving his beloved the best of himself: his beautiful poems. This is most evidenced when Lenski and Olga are seated, looking over his poems. I was fortunate to be able to see his facial expressions and body language during this beautiful moment. Here Lenski is something of the shy boy who offers his gift in the same way little children radiate delight and pride when they give their mothers those charming pictures they have drawn in school.

We have said it before but this will always be the case with Rolando: you can’t take your eyes off him because you’ll miss something. Rolando’s portrayals are all about details, which truly bring a character to life. In the same scene, Olga takes a turn at writing some verse and shows it to “the expert.” He reads it and realizes it’s actually quite good, then has this look of surprise, as if to playfully say, “Hey, I’M the poet here!” All of this is taking place while the main action is focused on Tatiana and Onegin.

foto: - Ken Howard/MET

You would think that he was deliberately attempting to upstage his fellow actors, but that is not the case. Even if he stood perfectly still (clearly impossible in this universe), he would still be radiating energy that calls for your attention.

A highlight of the evening is “Ya lyublyu vas,” a gorgeous melody sung by a man overflowing with love, yet somehow aware that his beloved may some day forget him. As Rolando continues to evolve as an artist, you see the trademark richness and warmth increasingly combined with exquisitely-nuanced sweetness and subtlety. As he completes the aria, he receives a resounding ovation. Of course!

The audience clearly wanted to continue applauding, but the conductor quickly resumed the music. I understand that it is the conductor’s job to move the music forward, but I wish he would have taken into account what an unusual evening this was both for Rolando AND FOR THE AUDIENCE. He should have realized how much the audience wanted to reach out to Rolando.

In Act II, we see a very different side of Lenski. Now he is ruled by rage directed at his “friend” Onegin and contempt for Olga, who seems to have forgotten him altogether, as he sensed in “Ya lyublyu vas.” His anger is so real and raw that you can feel it in the theatre. After he berates Olga and flings her to the floor, you think that, like Alfredo in the party scene at Flora’s, he is a nanosecond away from doing her physical harm. It’s so real that your hair stands on end.

Then comes the bittersweet “Kuda Kuda,” sung with such a deep sense of loss that things have turned out as they have. Here is the romantic poet finally accepting a world of sorrow that just a day ago he barely knew existed. Not even the poems he clutches to his breast for the last time can mitigate the disaster that is about to follow.

foto: - Ken Howard/MET

We are all simply breathless, following every note, every line. Even singing softly, you feel Rolando’s voice filling a 4,000-seat house with ease. As is so often the case, I recognize the hallmark of Rolando’s work. He does not “interpret” the aria. He does not obscure it in a fog of externally-imposed meaning. Instead, he elicits what is already there deeply within the music and the text. I simply had not heard it before now. But when I do, I think, “Yes, of course, that came from someplace special, close to the composer.”

He ends the aria with a barely-suppressed clutch in his voice, devastating the audience with a crushing sense of loss. Another breathless moment erupts into enthusiastic bravos and cheers. There is so much love directed at Rolando—it has become very personal.

Once again, the conductor resumes the music even though it is clear that we are not done with our warm embrace. We must wait a while longer to make our feelings known during the curtain call.

As the performance comes to an end, I contemplate how I used to think of Lenski as a supporting character in this tragedy. But having seen this production and Rolando’s subtleties with the character, I see it differently. Lenski is not only a character but also a symbol of the characters’ inability to escape from the consequences of their decisions. He is a symbol of great potential wasted, a symbol of inescapable death. He dies physically at the end of Act II, but his presence is felt throughout the third act. Both Onegin and Tatiana may be alive, but they, too, are paying the price for their decisions. It’s as though the weight of those decisions is so oppressive, they can only sleepwalk through a joyless life. In a very real sense, they have died as well.

As the music draws to a close, we are emotionally spent. Then come the curtain calls. When it is his turn, Rolando bounds enthusiastically onto the stage, where he is greeted with a roar of approval. The look of complete jubilation on his face is priceless. Naturally, it is followed by that trademark hillbilly yell, which punctuates many of his stellar performances. What a joy to see him in such a triumphant moment on such a big stage!

Then comes the standing ovation. It's rather impressive to see 4,000 people stand up as one, and, at least for the moment, I'm glad the theater is as big as it is. I also conclude that, for a special performer, maybe New Yorkers aren’t quite that cold after all.

In a perfect world, I would have attended all five performances, but my distance from NYC (500 kilometers) made it a near impossibility. But I was so happy to have been there on opening night to witness Rolando’s triumph and share this experience with those of you who were there in spirit.

I hope that there are many more special performances in Rolando’s future at the Met, where he can see that his devoted public appreciates him more than ever before. Until then, many thanks to Rolando for an unforgettable and heartbreakingly beautiful evening!

Joanna from New York

foto: Twitter @RolandoVillazon
Many thanks, Joanna!

31 comentarios:

  1. Oh, Joanna, what can I say… No words to express my emotion. You gave a very personal description of this evening. Tears fill my eyes as I read your thoughts about the character of Lenski/Rolando.

    I love especially:
    “… He has often spoken of the internal tigers he has to tame, and I can tell you that he not only conquered them, but used them to his advantage.”

    With your passionate and ardent chronicle, the night belonged not only to Rolando, but it belongs also to us. Thank you, Joanna!

    ¡Gracias! Rolando!!

    1. Janet from Massachusetts29/11/13 1:12

      Joanna, Thank you, thank you for this beautiful report on an extraordinary night at the Met and an extraordinary performance. I especially appreciated your sensitive insights into the story of Eugene Onegin, its characters, and of course Lensky-Rolando. You nailed so many of the emotional shades that are in this great opera, one of the greatest ever written. And you made us feel we were there, in the company of a wise and insightful friend. Mille grazie! I can hardly wait until 2 December when I have my turn to witness Rolando in all his glory. And I'll be sure to send in a report, though it can hardly match yours.

    2. Thank you, Janet, I am so glad you will be there on the 2nd to support Rolando on our behalf. And please, please don't sell yourself short about reporting: all heartfelt, observant reports are beautiful, each one different (thank heavens), and they make a big impression on us all. Enjoy!

  2. Thank you, Eleonore. I was very happy to be present on this important night for Rolando. It truly was his night and the first of many more to come. I am glad that you were able to feel the power of the moment.

  3. Dear Joanna
    Your review was well waiting for! It is so warm, so vivid and so well written. You really brought home all the emotions lingering at the Met. We could almost hear Rolando. What a wonderful welcome for him.
    Thanks so much for sharing !

    1. Thank you Esther. It was my pleasure to share Rolando's big night with so many who support him, near and far.

  4. Jacqueline E.29/11/13 9:15

    Many, many thanks to you, Joanna for your wonderful and enthusiastic report. I am sooooo happy for Rolando!

    1. Jacqueline, thank you, my reaction was the same as I watch his curtain call: great happiness for his happiness. What more could you want?

  5. Catherincita29/11/13 9:49

    Même si tu m'as fait commencer la journée par des larmes, je te remercie, dear Joanna, du fond du coeur, pour cette chronique absolument extraordinaire que j'attendais avec impatience.
    Tant de vraie émotion y est présente et aussi une analyse d'une grande subtilité, en particulier ta comparaison avec Nemorino, Alfredo et Werther qui se retrouvent, par certains traits de caractère, dans le personnage de Lenski interprété par Rolando.
    J'imagine ce que cette soirée de retour à N.Y. représentait pour lui et que le spectacle ait été couronné par un triomphe a dû être un moment exceptionnel dans sa carrière et aussi pour ceux qui étaient présents au MET.
    Si l'aria "Kuda Kuda" est un vrai bijou et est l'un des plus connus de l'oeuvre, pour ma part, j'adore "Ya lyublyu vas" qui donne une image très tendre de Lenski, sans mièvrerie, et le compositeur, même sans faire de Lenski le héros, a offert au ténor de superbes moments musicaux que Rolando, mieux que tout autre, sait interpréter avec sa palette infinie de nuances.

    Tu ne peux imaginer quelle joie profonde je ressens en lisant cette phrase :"the night belonged to him".
    Il reste à espérer que nous aurons une trace, au moins audio, de cet évènement.
    THANK YOU, dear Joanna !
    VIVA ROLANDO ! et une pensée particulière pour lui, ce soir,et la seconde représentation de la série.

    1. Thank you, Catherencita. I, too, love "Ya lyublyu vas" for its expression of pure youthful ardor, but also (somewhat chillingly) because of the foreshadowing of Olga's ultimate faithlessness. For me, it makes the aria so bittersweet, and it requires the subtley of a true artist to articulate what Lenski is aware of at that beautiful moment...and what he can never even begin to guess.

  6. Thank you, Joanna, for your fascinating chronicle. We were with you and with our beloved Roli thanks to you.

    1. Gabriela, thank you, it's a good thing the Met is so big--it needed to be HUGE to accommodate so many of us, even though many were present in spirit alone.

  7. Waou, Joanna, quelle chronique sublime !! Elle m'émeut profondément.

    J'aime beaucoup ta comparaison des différents caractères de Werther, Alfredo, Nemorino ,et Lenski et comment Rolando vit et ressent tous SES personnages.

    Merci infiniment Joanna de partager tes émotions pour nous permettre de vivre cette soirée exceptionnelle et tant importante pour la carrière de Rolando.

    Nous serons tous au MET ce soir avec tout notre coeur pour Lenski Rolando.

    merci infiniment Rolando et encore merci Joanna

  8. Thank you so much Joanna for your excellent and moving report. One can see at the last picture how happy Rolando is. And for many reasons. The fact that the New York public did not forget him and received him with roaring applause must have been a balm to his soul.
    Your report brings us personally into the opera, we participate, we suffer and cheer at your words and
    what Catherine said is so true, it is so moving to read your analysis; also the comparaison between the different roles he so often plays. Such an excellent idea, I never thought about that.
    It was great reading you and so nice to share with us your experience. Thank you, always

    1. Mariù, thank you--I knew the New York public loved Rolando, but even I didn't know the extent of it until last Friday night. I can't imagine how touched and thrilled he was--as were we.

  9. Dear Joanna ,
    Merci,merci ,votre chronique est superbe ,j'ai des frissons dans tout le corps en vous lisant .
    Vos comparaisons si bien vues .
    Bonheur pour vous d'avoir assisté a un tel spectacle ,bravo,bravo et merci Rolando .
    Ce partage de vos émotions est très émouvant , sensible ,je m'y voyais un peu à vos côtés .....

    1. Thank you, Claudine, I think there were many chills throughout the theatre that night, both on the stage and off. It was a priviledge to be there.

  10. Thank you so much, Joanna for your excellent report. I really felt close to you (if you don't mind) when reading about that extraordinary experience at the Met. I know that you can't take your eyes of Rolando as he always acts. At least I couldn't when I watched Don Giovanni last October. Now we can wait for the broadcast next week. Kris from Berlin

    1. Hello, Kris! No, I don't mind the closeness. Quite natural in this situation, right? Looking forward to the broadcast! Thank you!

  11. Dos críticas para "Eugene Onegin"...Rolando...excelentes, conmovedoras, para guardar entre nuestros tesoros.
    Una la de David Salazar del Latinos Post, donde describe paso a paso con conocimiento y una gran dulzura, la actuación de cada uno de los cantantes.
    La otra, la de nuestra Joanna, que con su verbo fluído y amoroso nos cuenta paso a paso la extraordinaria labor de Rolando/ fina observación y sensibilidad volcada en palabras, me ha hecho volar y llegar al Met y soñar...
    ¡Muchas gracias!

    1. Thank you, Nilda. I, too, really enjoyed David Salazar's detailed and perceptive review. He really understood how central Lenski is to the drama and what an impact Rolando's special characterization made.

  12. Thank you so much Joanna. I really enjoyed reading your chronicle and I'm so happy for Rolando and all those who love him that his return to the MET has been such a success. A hug and a happy Christmas to Villazonistas everywhere x Love Sarahx

    1. Sarah, thank you, I'm glad you liked it. Rolando's success is a great gift to us all in this holiday season. Happy Holidays to all!

  13. Il ritorno vincitor!!!
    Dear Rolando, thank you for the ravishing evening, even though I was not being present in the New Yorker MET, but I was with you with all my thoughts and my heart.
    I can almost feel Rolando's heartbeat. With every fibre of his heart, with every nuance of his soulful voice, with every gesture of his extraordinary body language , his passion , his honesty , his love .... - Rolando satisfies each of his opera characters with life and truth!
    My heart is racing, I do not know if my eyes are in tears of joy or tears of emotion, I'm breathlessly reading each row and am overjoyed about Rolandos such a large successful return to the Metropolitan Opera.
    Dear Joanna, a big heartful thank you for this wonderful report and the passionate analysis.
    Dear Teresa, thank you that you have posted the matching beautiful photos by Ken Howard / MET;
    And also a big thank you to Maria Protopopov for the “Curtain call”-video and the photos in the blog post of 24th November.
    Rolandos happy smiles and shining eyes speak for themselves!
    Gracias y Viva Rolando !!!
    A big hug

    1. Thank you, Edith, it was a pleasure to be there and a pleasure to share the night on the blog.

  14. I can't thanks enough for your very personal, emotional chronicle, Joanna.

    The most interesting for me, the way you writing about the context of different but similar characters of Nemorino, Alfredo, Werther and Lenski of course. We can be the part of this evening through your experiences.
    Thank you Joanna!


    1. Klára, thank you, the pleasure was all mine.

  15. What a beautiful article about your evening in The Met,Joanna! I was reading it and it felt like I was there,thank you! Kind regards from Holland.Margreet Staat.

    1. Thanks, Margreet, so many were there in spirit from around the world.

  16. Dear Joanna ...
    What a fabulous report from this very special occasion – thank you so much! How interesting to hear that New York provided a snowy “Russian” evening – both inside and outside the theatre!
    The way you have described Rolando’s portrayal of Lenski (Nemorino/Alfredo/Werther) is exactly as I imagined it would be. I was particularly taken by your comment about “Kuda Kuda” – that he doesn’t “interpret” it, but elicits what is already there deep in music and text … which you had not heard before. That’s exactly how I reacted when I first heard his recorded “Kuda Kuda” on the “Opera Recital” CD with Michel Plasson. This had not previously been one of my favourite arias, but that changed instantly (well, in 6:22 minutes!) I was totally mesmerised and time stood still as the emotion poured out of his voice and into my heart. I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was as if I’d never heard this aria before. I’ve played it many many times since (and again last weekend as my own little celebration of Rolando’s return to the Met) … and it always sparks the same response in me. I can only imagine what I would have felt if I’d been privileged to sit alongside you and see as well as hear the emotional desolation!
    I am so delighted that the Met audience responded as they did. It’s good to know that sometimes it’s not just about High Cs and vocal gymnastics, and that an outpouring of audience affection can be not only for a fine performance but for the artist as a person. If anyone deserves it, Rolando does!
    Best Regards from Shelley in Australia

    1. Thank you, Shelley, that's my usual reaction to hearing Rolando sing something for the first time. Even if I've heard an aria sung by ten different singers, Rolando's version invariably makes me think, "Yes! This is what it should be!" It may have been a freakish blast from the arctic tundra outside, but inside was nothing but warmth.