Angela Meade's Anna

I really can't believe I've now sat through three performances of Anna Bolena within a rather short amount of time. It's not my favorite opera by a long-shot, and the production is absolutely dreary. Read my thoughts on the first-cast performance here. But the buzz about the second-cast Anna Bolena has been strong among operaphiles, who have whispered that Anna Netrebko is the bigger star but Angela Meade the better vocalist. Meade made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2008 as a last minute substitution in Ernani, and since then has slowly been building up quite a following. So last night I dragged myself to the Met to sit through Anna Bolena again. Yippee.

It's weird though, the things that can contribute to a performance. There was the substitution of an ailing Ekaterina Gubanova with Katharine Goeldner. Goeldner's voice is not as large and rich as Gubanova's. But it sounds edgy, with a fast vibrato, that made a nice contrast with Meade's voice. Also, Goeldner is a slim, good-looking woman (she's sung Carmen before) who made a natural, believable romantic rival for Anna Bolena.

Angela Meade (picture above) is a very large woman. She would have been considered large and unglamorous in any era of opera (see the old reviews of singers -- they were full of un-PC comments about weight and appearance). There are the singers who can get away with a less than ideal appearance, and the singers who can't. The minute I heard Angela Meade open her mouth last night it was apparent she fell into the first category, although her appearance will probably prevent her from super-stardom. Her voice is beautiful. It's as large and warm as Netrebko's, but with a slightly harder edge that suits this kind of music. Her diction is clearer, and she's more comfortable with the rapid ascending and descending scales of this music. Lovely sense of line and legato, with some beautiful floated notes. The only worrisome thing is that her voice tends to thin on top. She insists on singing some high options that might have been better left untouched, since they came out as thin screams. Unfortunately, the ending of "Coppia iniqua" was one of those moments where she went for a high note that wasn't quite there. Also, everyone told me that Meade had a great trill, but I was disappointed in her trills in both "Al dolce guidami" and "Coppia iniqua." Netrebko's trill is problematic and comes and goes, but Meade's trill sounds like a weak little Caballe flutter.

Here's an interesting side-by-side comparison of "Coppia iniqua":


To these ears, both sopranos have trouble with the ascending trills. Meade's high notes have a tendency to fly wild and, while Netrebko has more control over her top and doesn't take the E-flat option. Meade's voice however is sharper, edgier, and flies through the music, while Netrebko's darker, more luxuriant timbre can make the music sound sluggish.

It's unfortunate that Meade's appearance probably prevents a stronger stage presence, because I thought that if I were to look at only the actual acting, Meade has a stronger understanding of the role than Netrebko. Netrebko was very queenly, but Meade was more of what I imagine the real Anne to have been like -- jittery, neurotic, temperamental. She moves with a lot of energy onstage, often running and pacing back and forth as Anna's situation becomes more desperate. Meade also has a better instinctual understanding of how to inject the drama into bel canto music. The key to Netrebko's success I think is her essentially placid, fun-loving persona. She's always been the pretty, down-to-earth diva-next-door who just happens to have a great voice. High tragedy doesn't come naturally to her, though. That's why I think her Anna Bolena was a beautiful failure. Meade's Anna Bolena is vocally a better fit.

The other singers pretty much confirmed my impressions of them the first time around. I was sitting in the balcony, and Costello's voice sounded more audible tonight, but that bleaty, forced, tight sound is still there, as is the complete inability to sing "Vivi tu." (He ducked out of the most of the cabaletta, if that's even possible.) He also still looks shy and mortified on the big Met stage. Tamara Mumford remains one to watch -- she has a really mellifluous mezzo, and made the smallish role of Smeaton one of the most memorable of the evening. Ildar Abdrazakov was a properly hateful, menacing Henry, so much so that I heard a smattering of boos during the curtain calls. Marco Armiliato was a much stronger conductor tonight than the first night I heard him. He actually had some sense of rhythm and timing.

The auditorium was fairly crowded for a second-cast performance. Meade got a huge ovation at the end of the evening.

Comments

  1. What is strange is that many houses aren't hiring Angela Meade despite a solid string of big successes in hard roles. The bias against large singers is that strong. Actually Meade has a truly pretty face and with a gradual, natural reduction would be quite attractive onstage. The acting ability I can't gauge having seen her only in concerts.

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  2. She doesn't need a radical Callas-like weight loss. There's really a difference between being pleasantly plump, and distractingly large, which is what she is right now.

    Her voice is the real thing though.

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  3. I thought she sounded very good on Sirius, and it was apparent the audience agreed. And I thought she and Goeldner sounded very good together. But I agree about the high notes, especially that last Eflat. It was over so fast, if I hadn't been paying attention, because I was listening for it, and expecting it, I'd have thought she didn't sing it. I keep trying to like Costello, but I don't.

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  4. Very good review, Ivy- thanks! Interesting to read the comments re: Meade's size, both here and on other blogs. I'm not referring to you here, but I'm more than slightly amused at all the people currently griping about Meade's size who are also currently excoriating the now slim and svelte Deborah Voigt. When she was fat, they griped about that. She lost the weight and now doesn't sound the same and they gripe that she has the temerity and audacity to still be singing. Ya can't win!!
    She seems a lovely artist with a stunning voice, like you said- the real deal. I don't care how big she is, voices like this are hard to come by and I hope we can all just learn to love and appreciate it, no matter how large and ungainly the package is that it comes in.

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  5. I was one of those audience members at the Met in 2008 who was fortunate to hear Meade's last-minute-sub debut performance there, in Ernani. I've been on the lookout for her ever since.

    How come people never talk about "artistry"? A musician has the rare capacity to move the listener, stir the soul. It was ecstatically thrilling to hear Bellini's coloratura dispatched with such finesse, power and gleam. (I think quibbling with any aspect of Meade's glorious technique is as dumbfounding as it would be for a starving person to quibble that "the seasoning's not quite right.") But when Meade's Anna knelt down to sing her final cavatina, "il dolce guidami", magic was immanent. I was so moved by her rendition, in a way for which I wasn't prepared. She didn't just "sing" this familiar aria, she "created" it before our eyes and ears, brought it to life, with such affecting, stirring beauty that we, as witnesses, couldn't help but respond to with a spontaneous roar of appreciation. Suddenly, this aria took on dimensions that I suspected it might have, but hadn't yet been revealed to me.

    Moments like this are rare in the theater, and unforgettable. To have a bel canto singer of this stature in our midst is rare enough, and this musician is extremely grateful for it. Who CARES what size she is?

    I find this sentence of yours, above:

    "There's really a difference between being pleasantly plump, and distractingly large, which is what she is right now."

    to be so offensive, on so many levels, and none of them are about political correctness.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment.

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    1. Thrilling to hear Bellini's music dispatched ..... Hello, Anna Bolena is written by Donizetti and Ernani is Verdi. Where was there any Bellini?????

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  6. In the olden days, the Met had many sopranos of every type & size, but with Peter Gelb at the helm, alas, I fear Meade will be mostly a cover artist because of her appearance. It's not fair, it's not right. But the same thing is happening to others, such as Christine Brewer, and others. As long as Gelb wants to hire theater directors who are not familiar with opera traditions, there will be discrimination against women of size. Larger singers can get concert work, but will not be promoted like Netrebko. Unfair, but there it is.

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    1. Actually in this day and age it isn't unfair. The days of the two ton diva are gone. Meade's size is totally distracting and unsuitable for the romantic lead. She is completely unconvincing as Elvira and her performance lacks the passion it needs. Time for gastric bypass.

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  7. I don't think it was offensive. There is a difference between being overweight and obese.

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  8. Great review, Poisonivy.

    are you going to hear any of the Nabuccos? I'd love to see a Guleghina-Cornetti-Matos comparison the way you did for Netrebko-Meade.

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  9. I might go to Nabucco and thanks!

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  10. I'll take the ones who can sing the notes any day over the ones who can be properly photo-shopped into the costumes.

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  11. Poisonivy dear, when is your next opera? The season has just begun and I'm already having withdrawal symptoms from not having your lovely reviews to read!

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  12. I'm going to Siegfried tomorrow!

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  13. great. the telecast or in the house? regardless, can't wait to read your review. Hope it is a great afternoon with non machine malfunctions.

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  14. I just sat through the fabulous production (great singing, superb set design) of Ernani. But I just can't get past Angela Meade's appearance. Anything fictional requires a "willing suspension of disbelief", and she makes it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief that three men would be obsessed with marrying her! She looks like a pig ready for roasting, all that's missing is the apple in her mouth. The only thing she's in love with is Godiva chocolate! Sorry, call me an ignorant philistine, but I can't understand why anyone would cast a soprano that appalling obese in a televised part. Surely there are excellent sopranos who look like a human being.

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  15. Agreed 100%. I love this repertoire and really wanted to like Meade, thinking that Sutherland was large and somewhat ungainly, yet was very believable as Anna Bolena, Norma and Maria Stuarda (possibly her best). Joan was large, Meade is just plain huge and really looked, especially in closeups, like Miss Piggy. I can only hope she will lose some of her girth and keep the voice.

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  16. Wow!! I am truly shocked and appalled at how mean people can be about size. She is an amazingly talented artist. She does not look look "like a pig ready for roasting" as someone above stated!!!! Geesh people. What ever happened to talent counting for something? And why is it hard to believe that someone who is overweight be romantically viable? Fat people fall in love too.....

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