Emerging from its pit, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra played a concert in Carnegie Hall on Saturday night. We often hear these musicians, but we seldom see them, sitting in the pit as they do. When they appear on a stage, we may think, “Ah, so that’s what Rafael Figueroa looks like when he makes those marvelous sounds on his cello!”
Saturday night’s concert was conducted by Daniele Rustioni, a Milanese born in 1983. He led a Met Rigoletto on New Year’s Eve, as 2021 turned into 2022. I wrote that Rustioni “had conducted at the Met once before: another Verdi opera, Aida, in 2017. The company should have him back frequently.”
On Saturday night’s program were three canonical works, beginning with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. In 2008, André Previn, then almost eighty, gave an interview to The Guardian. Here is a sentence from that piece: “The last time he heard a piece of new music that really set him on fire was when he was a teenager, listening to Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.”
Under Maestro Rustioni’s baton, the Met orchestra was beautiful, rounded, elegant. Frankly, I like the concerto a little brighter, even brasher. More incisive, more propulsive, more exciting. There is nothing wrong with Rustioni’s approach, however, and who knows? In a different mood, I may have applauded longer and louder.
After intermission came Mussorgsky, in the form of his Songs and Dances of Death. I happen to prefer this set with piano (rather than orchestra). But if you’re going to have your set orchestrated—you might as well have it done by Shostakovich, as Mussorgsky did, some eighty-five years after the fact.
The Met’s soloist was Ryan Speedo Green, the bass-baritone from Virginia. He is one of the great Horatio Alger stories in opera. I am not in a position to gauge the quality of his Russian. I can tell you, however, that he sang with outstanding self-control. And with abundant musicality. And with a glowing, splendid voice.
Rustioni made a fine partner in the Mussorgsky, paying close attention to his singer, as opera conductors are perhaps more accustomed to doing than conductors without that experience. In “The Field Marshal”—the final song of the set—the Met orchestra demonstrated an elegant savagery.
The evening concluded with a suite from Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. Maestro Rustioni is consistent. So am I. Like the Concerto for Orchestra, the Firebird suite was beautiful, suave, intelligent. I would have appreciated more . . . oomph, more passion, more daring. More of a thrill—that unbearable excitement this score can give you.
I might end with a word about Igor Stravinsky and his reputation. Living till almost ninety—from 1882 to 1971—he composed a great many works, and some of them are masterpieces. In 1951, he gave us that brilliant neo-Classical opera, The Rake’s Progress. But think of the three ballets he composed in the early 1910s, when he was in his late twenties: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. It is on these three works that Stravinsky’s reputation—or certainly his fame—largely depends.
Don’t you think?