Ambrose Thomas’s Mignon at OONY

Stephanie Blythe (Photo: J Henry Fair)
Mignon at OONY turned out to be a mixed experience last night. Eve Queler is controversial as a conductor and last night’s opera did not play to her strengths or do anything to conceal her deficiencies. The overture began in a plodding fashion and only came intermittently alive in the conclusion based on the coloratura showpiece for Philene. Throughout, Mignon has some really lovely arias and ensembles but a lot of note spinning as well and not just during the recitatives (the opera was presented in Thomas’s second of three scores, the one in which he suppressed most — not quite all — of the spoken dialog and wrote his own recits). Ms Queler provided almost nothing to enliven, vary or give grace and charm to these conventional passages.
Mignon needs a major infusion of French singing style in order to blossom. This was intermittently available last night. Firstly, there was a huge divide in vocal quality and/or size. Ms Blythe and Mr Relyea have extremely large voices — the rest of the cast considerably smaller. In trios, ensembles and numbers sung against the overly large chorus, a lot of solo lines were not audible versus others that soared out easily. Ms Blythe is a wonder and was in fine form. She can control her dynamics, has great legato and unquestionable star power. The lower quarter of her voice has become the most formidable mezzo chest I have heard since Horne in her prime and there lies my one complaint. This Mignon sounded as if she could have easily dispensed with the Gypsy leader and Philene with one stroke of the back of her hand. There was little vulnerability or charm about her Mignon. But vocal health and beauty for days, oh my! Mr. Relyea also scored on vocal plushness and legato — in fact these two roles depend on those qualities as others in the cast get the ear-catching numbers. There wasn’t the great rolling bass-of-the-old-school authority about his Lothario but, again, lots of vocal health and ease in the music.
Announced as singing with a cold, Massimo Giordano nevertheless showed off a very good tenor voice, all of a piece from bottom to a secure, freely spinning top as Wilhelm Meister. Eglise Gutierrez must still be showing the effects of her cold. She was in and out of phase all night, sometimes quite absent in the middle and lower registers, sometimes singing securely and interestingly. The climax of “Je suis Titiana!” collapsed into a pitchless yell and scrambled conclusion, after which she seemed unable to open the door to leave the stage and decided to sit in chairs vacated by percussionists. Unfortunately, she elected to slump into a most inappropriate posture for a concert stage. In her vibrant red dress, strange posture (and while flipping pages of her score back and forth) she created an unfortunate distraction as Blythe, Relyea and Giordano were trying to bring the opera to its conclusion. Much of this may be due to inexperience. Her career is only eighteen months old. She showed a lot of vocal promise and we’ll have to hope she’s at her best next year as Lakme.
Kate Aldrich wowed everyone with Frederic’s lilting song, and clear-voiced lyric tenor William Ferguson again impressed in the role of Laerte — what a fine Prunier in La Rondine he will be if and when he takes on the role. Backed up against the stage wall, the massive chorus sometimes overpowered the soloists and could have afforded to be a good deal more modest in size, although they did sing with admirable tone and vigo (perhaps Ms Queler could job some of them out to patch things up in the Metropolitan’s chorus).
Only about 75 to 80 percent of a house — rare for the usually sold out or close to sold out OONY performances — was in attendance. On the whole, a very good if not extraordinary evening of a lovely, tuneful piece. Next year: Guglielmo Tell (with Marcello Giordani), Lakme, and L’Amore dei tre re with Fabiano Bravo and Samuel Ramey.
William Fregosi