Four seasons ago, the Metropolitan Opera launched a double bill, whose director was Mariusz Trelinski. He was the stage director, that is. The conductor in the pit was Valery Gergiev.

And what were the operas? The one-acters Iolanta, by Tchaikovsky, and Bluebeard’s Castle, by Bartok. (The former, please note, is not to be confused with Iolanthe, the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.) For my review of the double bill, go here. Now I will post another.

Last night, the Met revived this production, with a new conductor: Henrik Nanasi, from Hungary (like Bartok). He was making his Met debut. I feel sure he will have better nights in this house, and others.

The music was short on warmth, mystery, sweep, and suspense. It was inoffensive, but also unsatisfying.

Iolanta began in workaday fashion. I thought the orchestra might be sight-reading. Had they spent their rehearsal time on Bluebeard’s Castle? The music was short on warmth, mystery, sweep, and suspense. It was inoffensive, but also unsatisfying. What’s more, the orchestra was sometimes sloppy, as in its attacks.

But, as the opera wore on, the conducting and the playing got better. More involved. And certain players stood out. Tchaikovsky is always kind to woodwinds, isn’t he? And the Met’s were kind to him last night. The flute, for example, did justice to his part. So did the clarinet. They were Seth Morris and Anton Rist.

How about Iolanta? She was Sonya Yoncheva, the Bulgarian soprano, an international star. Her singing and acting will rarely let you down. She is a complete operatic performer. And she had a good night. The voice was filling and creamy. Then it was steelier, when she wanted. Pitch was not always precise, and a climactic high B was shrieked. But La Yoncheva is a worthy Iolanta: musically, vocally, and theatrically.

Her Vaudémont was to have been Matthew Polenzani, the American tenor. He was out sick, however, and was replaced by Alexey Dolgov, a Russian. I had encountered him once before, at the Met. That was two seasons ago, when he appeared in Eugene Onegin (another Tchaikovsky opera). “Alexey Dolgov was Lenski,” I wrote, “and he delivered just when he was supposed to: in Lenski’s Aria.”

Did he deliver last night, as Vaudémont? He was game, I would say, and competent. Like the conductor, he will have better nights, and has.

King René was Vitalij Kowaljow, a bass born in Ukraine. Generally, he was regal, as a king should be. Duke Robert was Alexey Markov, a Russian baritone. He was noble, as a duke should be.

Iolanta may not be a masterpiece, on a par with Onegin, but there is plenty of music and drama in it, and this was unexploited, or underexploited. Iolanta can have a much greater impact.

Sonya Yoncheva in Iolanta. Photo: Marty Sohl.

Bartok’s opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, has two singers in it: Duke Bluebeard (not nearly as nice as Duke Robert) and Judith, the latest of his unfortunate wives. Taking these parts were Gerald Finley, the Canadian baritone, and Angela Denoke, the German soprano. These are two superb singers, and two superb opera performers. But I had worries about them, before the show.

Finley is as smart and stylish a baritone as you can find—in Mozart especially. Would he have the heft and menace for Bluebeard? Also, shouldn’t this bad, bad duke be a bass or bass-baritone, not a baritone? Or at least not a baritone of Finley’s general type?

Angela Denoke has been giving us outstanding nights for many a year. But, to be blunt about it, are her best singing days behind her?

I’m not sure Finley is a Bluebeard. He never scared, unnerved, or repulsed me. He was always stylish, endearing Gerald Finley.

Yes, maybe. But she was formidable as Judith. She is a woman of the theater, and of the lyric theater. Her pitch was unreliable. And she blew the big high C, one of the most radiant and thrilling moments in opera (when done right, by all involved). But Denoke has much to compensate with.

How about Finley? Immaculate, as always. Didn’t put a foot wrong. But I’m not sure he is a Bluebeard. He never scared, unnerved, or repulsed me. He was always stylish, endearing Gerald Finley.

Bluebeard’s Castle is another concerto for orchestra, I sometimes say. (You recall that Bartok wrote a famous such concerto—the most famous one of all.) Individual Met players were a treat to hear. But, overall, the score lacked tension, anxiety, horror. In fact, it was rather lulling and sweet. Afterward, a friend of mine—a musician—said, “You know, it was kind of pleasant. Relaxing.” That is not Bluebeard, we agreed.

Anyway, kind of a gray night at the opera. For future performances, pray for more blood.
 

Angela Denoke and Gerald Finley in Bluebeard’s Castle. Photo: Marty Sohl.
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