OONY Performs Puccini’s Edgar

You know the bad ones, the reputedly
great unknown score that, like a defective Frankensteinís monster, refuses
to come to life under her listless thunderbolt, the overparted ìnameî
star, the clueless newbies ñ but there have also been great Queler nights,
where a forgotten masterpiece made everybodyís eyes shine (while we wonder
why on earth this is obscure), familiar singers do things you never dreamed
they could do, and the unknown names are names everyone will know someday,
are, well, great opera nights. Edgar was a blend of familiar (Puccini melody)
and unfamiliar (but those tunes were better in other scores), with a star
giving a star performance, a couple of promising youngsters, and an oldster
out of depth and style but camping it up to thrill us.

Edgar is like some disreputable relation you always enjoy running into for
their exuberance and oddity, and are grateful not to meet at every family
party. Pucciniís second opera and first full-length effort deserves its
obscurity (which is legend); one hears it nowadays mostly from a lack of
anything else to scrape from the exhausted barrel of the later Italian line.
(Though another association, Teatro Gratticielo, has done an impressive job
resuscitating verismo works of unexpected worthiness and charm.)

The problem for Puccini ñ as no one knew at the time but we easily
detect in hindsight ñ is that he didnít quite know how to tug our
heartstrings with a male protagonist. The women here are a study in contrast
(goody-goody soprano, wicked, sexy mezzo), but neither has enough room,
musically or dramatically, to become a living, memorable figure. Why is
Tigrana such a shallow sensualist? Because sheís a Gypsy foundling? But
Carmen, to take another such, has a range, an inner life, a distinctive
outlook in any single act of Bizetís opera that makes Tigrana seem an
irritable child. Why is Fidelia so loving, no matter the provocation? Is it
because of her name? The story takes us no deeper than that. (Again: compare
Bizetís Micaela, a fully-rounded person with a comprehensible inner life.)
Puccini could make a drama out of sympathetic or unsympathetic women ñ but
he could not (at this early stage) make one from a pair of cardboard

Therefore the outpourings of self-disgusted melody from Pucciniís
protagonist (though they produce a terrific night for the right tenor, and
Marcello Giordani, our best Puccini tenor nowadays, was in clover) may arouse
applause but they never create interest in the outcome of this bitter little
story of a man caught between a saint and a whore. The only question: will
Tigrana stab herself? Or will she stab the neurotic Edgar? Or the innocent
Fidelia? is not very interesting. (Which would you choose, if your objective
was to shock your audience? And that was always Pucciniís aspiration.)

Queler has conducted this score before, an occasion I barely remember: it
is difficult to imagine Renata Scotto sinking her teeth into Fidelia to any
great degree (thereís so little meat), but Grace Bumbry surely had fun with
Tigrana and we missed her on Sunday. Edgar is a lush score with verismo
outpourings but also a grand concertato near the end of Act I left over from
bel canto style (Puccini never wrote such a thing again) and several
ìecclesiasticalî numbers (vespers, a requiem) that were perfect for his
family tradition.

Giordani sang with a bright, metallic sheen and an ease conspicuously
lacking in his Met Ernani. It was a performance of little variety, agreeably
loud (and OONY regulars like it loud), but with some interesting colors
during the characterís scenes of teeth-gnash self-loathing, which include a
sermon in disguise at his own funeral.

Latonia Moore, one of Quelerís stable of rising young sopranos, has a
sumptuous, beautiful, crowd-pleasing voice, but it was not clear from
separate, limpid, often wonderful phrases if she can put things together into
a fully rounded presentation because sweet Fidelia offers such slight
opportunity to do so. But the notes themselves were so wonderfully produced
that one longed to hear her in more familiar repertory to see if sheís the
real thing ñ too many ladies have fallen by the wayside in recent years as
the Verdi/Puccini soprano we all long to die for.

Jennifer Larmore, alarmingly pudgy a couple of years ago, is now
alarmingly rail-thin. Her acting was suitably over the top for Tigrana the
heartless vamp (Theda Bara couldnít have outplayed her), but the voice
(never a Puccini-verismo voice) was not up to the role: the luscious dark
colors that floored us when she first came on the scene are completely gone,
and she sounded thin, overstretched, unsensuous. This role was written for a
blockbuster mezzo ñ where was Dolora Zajick when we needed her? (Stephanie
Blythe or Olga Borodina would have had fun with it, too. And all three have
sung with Queler.) Larmore was all pose and gown, and she appeared to have
stolen the gown from Karita Mattilaís recital wardrobe.

Stephen Gaertner, a frequent figure in concert operas and a recent Met
debutante (Enrico, Melot), was impressive as Fideliaís manic brother,
Frank. ìParli il pugnale,î he and Giordani cried at one point ñ ìOur
swords will speak for us!î ñ when they are about to do dubious battle
over Tigranaís much contested (living) body. That tells us right there that
the story is too archaic for the era Puccini lived in.

Fortunately, the swords did not do the singing.

John Yohalem

image_description=Giacomo Puccini
product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Edgar
product_by=Edgar: Marcello Giordani; Fidelia: Latonia Moore; Tigrana: Jennifer Larmore; Frank: Stephen Gaertner; conducted by Eve Queler. Opera Orchestra of New York
Performance of 13 April 2008