Choosing the most memorable moments from 30 years of Metropolitan Opera telecasts presented an impossible task. So the Met asked their informed, and always highly opinionated, opera fans to vote online for the most revered 15 classic arias by the greatest singers.
The countdown, "Great Moments at the Met - Viewers Choice," will be broadcast Sunday at 8 p.m. on Channel 12, and represents the most star-laden highlights in the operatic catalog. This 90-minute show represents the ultimate Hit Parade.
You'd think the opera mavens would choose the most arcane segments, but the show mostly includes very famous arias sung by legends familiar even to non-operagoers. And all are broadcast with English subtitles.
Soprano Renee Fleming, whose genuine style and beauty make her the ideal host, jokes that she asked all her relatives to vote for her. But she is magnificent in her heartbreaking duet with Dimitri Hvorostovsky in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" and the plaintive "Dove Sono" as the neglected Countess in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."
Fleming once told me that she has occasional nightmares about having to sing the latter aria, because Mozart's spare orchestration leaves the singer completely exposed, but she makes it sound effortless as we eavesdrop on her heartache.
Each of the Three Tenors made the cut. The revered, late Luciano Pavarotti makes three appearances, including "La Donna E Mobile" with one impossibly long final note; Placido Domingo sings twice (including "Nessun Dorma"); and Jose Carreras does a tender scene from "La Boheme."
Another recent loss, the great soprano Beverly Sills, charms in a florid "Don Pasquale" aria, Marilyn Horne mesmerizes another bel canto role as a coquette, and soprano Birgit Nilsson and mezzo Frederica von Stade show off their remarkable vocal gifts.
There are a couple of mad scenes - Joan Sutherland in the famous one from "Lucia di Lammermoor" and current Russian star Anna Netrebko in a bonus number from last year's broadcast into movie theaters, "I Puritani."
Netrebko sings this wild aria partially lying on the stage, with her head nearly in the orchestra pit, an astonishing feat considering the quality of her singing. (The Russian diva sang last Monday in Washington, D.C., as part of the Kennedy Center honors tribute to director Martin Scorsese. The taped show will air Dec. 26 on Channel 3.)
No. 3 on the list is the mesmerizing trio from the last act of "Der Rosenkavalier," with Kiri te Kanawa, Tatiana Troyanos and Judith Blegen ideal performers in this glorious moment.
So who won? Well, I won't give it away, except to say that the greatest moment in more than 100 telecasts features an African-American soprano in her 1985 career finale. She portrays an Ethiopian slave girl singing music by Verdi about the homeland she'll never see again and, if this supreme artist doesn't touch your soul, nothing will.
Television camera close-ups have necessitated a more glamorous pool of singers and better actors, and have provided details that you can't possibly see in the theater. This show is the cream from 30 years of telecasts, a legacy that made a whole generation appreciate this most complex and sublime art form. *