Oropesa’s charm balances Brahms’ dark drama with Met Orchestra at Carnegie

Wed Jun 12, 2024 at 12:30 pm
Soprano Lisette Oropesa performed Mozart arias with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Met Orchestra Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Jennifer Taylor

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin returned to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening for the first of two concerts this week. They are the prelude to the orchestra’s first-ever Asian concert tour with performances in South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

Jesse Montgomery’s Hymn for Everyone opened the concert. It was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—where Montgomery is the out-going composer-in-residence— which premiered it in 2022. This performance, with the composer in the audience, marked its Carnegie Hall debut.

Composed in 2021, Montgomery describes Hymn for Everyone as “a kind of meditation for orchestra, exploring various washes of color and timbre through each repetition of the melody.”

It is based on a hymn which Montgomery composed after returning from a long hike and marked the end of a creative block that stymied her at the time.

Nézet-Séguin led a stately, solemn reading of Hymn for Everyone. The pieceopens with the tolling of a chime, followed by the hymn introduced by solo horn and violas. There were exciting splashes of color, such as woodwinds playing over the pizzicati in the lower strings, as well as sharp rhythmic jabs from strings and then trumpets in an ominous march-like section. Especially wonderful was the sound of the lower brass playing the tune one final time, before a solo flute brought the piece to a subtle, comforting conclusion.

Lisette Oropesa, who will join the Met forces on their Asian tour, last appeared at the Met as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto in December 2022. Judging from the reception she received, the soprano has been greatly missed. Although this brief appearance singing two Mozart arias hardly sated her fans’ desire to hear more of her. 

The first of the two arias was “Vado, ma dové,” K. 583, which Mozart composed in 1789 for soprano Louise Villeneuve. Little is known of the soprano, except that she was the first Dorabella in Così fan tutte; Mozart write this insertion aria for Villeneuve to sing int Martín y Soler’s Il Burbero di Buon Cuore.

Unsurprisingly, with the passage of time, Oropesa’s lyric coloratura soprano has grown in size and complexity. “Vado, ma dové” was less of a coloratura showpiece for Oropesa than an opportunity for her to display the beauty of her middle range. Her voice was especially creamy and rich in the second section of the aria in which she sang imploring for love to be her guide.

Mozart composed “A Berenice – Sol nascente” K. 70 when he was only 13 as a birthday present to Prince-Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach. The young genius found a congenial patron in the archbishop, as opposed to his successor Hieronymus Colleredo, who famously dismissed him from his service. 

“A Berenice – Sol nascente” is a licenza, as opposed to either a stand-alone aria or an insertion. Intended as an epilogue for Giuseppi Sarti’s opera-seria Vologeso, it opens with an extended recitative in praise of Prince Sigismund, which provided another opportunity for Oropesa to display the warmth of her middle register, as well as her flair for bringing words to life. 

Nézet-Séguin led soprano and orchestra in a glowing crescendo of sound and intensity to depict the rising of the son. This was followed by Oropesa delighting all with her charm and virtuosity as she dispensed roulades and trills with abandon. To the regret of many, there were no encores.

After the intermission, emotions of an entirely different sort came with Nézet-Séguin’s reading of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. Composed under the weight of Beethoven’s legacy after many frustrating years and futile attempts, Brahms scored a triumph with the symphony. Even its composer noted that it wasn’t a particularly cheerful piece. Nézet-Séguin mined those sentiments to their fullest in an especially dark, brooding performance.

In the first movement, Nézet-Séguin revealed the grandeur of Brahms’s vision, withfirm control over tempi and dynamics. It provided the first of many opportunities to hear the refined playing of principal oboist Elaine Douvas, who joined the Met Orchestra in 1977 and will be retiring at the end of the tour. There were also full, flowing waves of sound from the orchestra’s magnificent horn section, as well as fierce, terrifying thrusts from the violins.

The Andante offered some relief from the tension. Melodies bloomed intermittently, again from Douvas, as well as from the violins. Concertmaster David Chan played the closing solos with sensitivity and beautiful tone. In the Allegretto, a lighter texture was provided by the bubbling sounds of the woodwinds. The pizzicato playing which followed, however, was downright eerie.

Darker emotions again prevailed as Nézet-Séguin and the orchestra began the finale, and the horns’ moment of repose was majestic. A wave of relief swept through the hall as the strings introduced the famous melody, amplified by the superb playing of woodwinds and brass which followed. After a final outpouring of warm, burnished sound from the horns, the race to the end was fast and loud, almost primeval in its intensity, before culminating in those great triumphant chords. 

The Met Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, performs works by Wagner, Debussy, and Bartók, 8 p.m. Friday at Carnegie Hall. carnegiehall.org

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