Verdi Takes the Spotlight at Metropolitan Opera and in New York Philharmonic Premi`ere

IN music, we talk about the three ``B's'' - Bach, Beethoven, Brahms. But this season, everything seems to be coming up Verdi. ``A"ida'' opened the Metropolitan Opera's season in September and will open its PBS-telecast series Dec. 27; the title role served as the debut vehicle for Alessandra Marc, a prodigiously promising American soprano. Verdi's ``La Traviata'' and ``Rigoletto'' were the company's first two new productions. The ``Mass for Rossini,'' organized by Verdi to honor the memory of the composer he so admired, was given its US premi`ere at the New York Philharmonic, and a German-made recording of the work was also released.

Designer Franco Zeffirelli returned to the Met this season with the new ``Traviata,'' based on his acclaimed movie version of the opera. Conductor Carlos Kleiber was on the podium, and Edita Gruberova and Neil Shicoff portrayed the ill-fated lovers.

Musically, the first night was an often remarkable evening. By the end of the evening Kleiber (who conducted only the first two of his five scheduled performances) was the audience's unquestioned hero. From the opening bars of the ``Prelude,'' he communicated the mood of the moment with the deftest restraint. The effect was of this intimate personal drama being played on an acoustical guitar rather than a grand piano.

Gruberova (who will sing the role on the radio broadcast of Feb. 10) offered an electrifying first act and shrewdly gauged second and third acts. Shicoff, in fine voice, easily suggested the volatility of youth. Unfortunately, Wolfgang Brendel as the elder Germont, was not up to his colleagues' caliber.

Zeffirelli strove to create a cinematic series of flashbacks recalled by a dying Violetta. Unfortunately, he did not remind his audience frequently enough that these were ghostly recollections; so all the set-moving from one room to another proved distracting. Zeffirelli's design for Violetta's country home had all the intimacy of a Victorian train-station. Yet the theatrical splendors of Flora's party have rarely been more glamorously presented.

`Rigoletto'

Otto Schenk's staging for ``Rigoletto'' had the humanity and caring detail missing in ``Traviata.'' And on Zack Brown's handsome, architectural out-of-doors sets, the production was richly traditional without looking like any other ``Rigoletto'' ever seen.

If no single singer was ideal, together they offered an effective account of this tortured opera. Leo Nucci's superb acting almost made one forget the voice lacks the amplitude for the role. Debuting soprano June Anderson offered a stately and effective Gilda, singing the role with hall-filling tone, glittering high notes, easy coloratura. Though Luciano Pavarotti no longer suggests the rakish Duke, he sang the role very well indeed. Marcello Panni, also debuting, conducted facelessly and allowed enough traditional cuts and interpolations to make one wonder why this was labeled a performance of Martin Chusid's controversial edition of the score.

As for Miss Marc, she clearly established herself as the greatest voice of her generation and as one of the great vocalists of the century. (She sings the role once again Dec. 20.) Has there ever been an easier ascent to so lustrous a high ``C'' in ``O patria mia'' in this theater? But such is her potential that one is impelled to note certain aspects of her art needing attention: The lower voice is still unreliable; her acting is not compelling; and the sense of singing with a complete knowledge of the text and mood needs bolstering. Should she choose to simply rest on her laurels, she will still have a major career. But she has it in her to be an historic operatic figure.

The Mass for Rossini

The ``Messa per Rossini'' was Verdi's attempt to get the best composers of Italy to commemorate the recently deceased composer. Hearing the work at Avery Fisher Hall, or on the new H"anssler Classics 2-CD import (98.949) offers a chance to experience the high musical standards of Italy in the 1860s.

The soloists in the hall were mostly those on the CDs: Florence Quivar was magnificent. Gabriela Benackova's unique vocal production intruded, but the timbre was haunting. The Philharmonic played wonderfully for Helmuth Rilling, who leads the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra on the CD.

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