Rolando Villazón returns to the Met Opera in Mozart's "Magic Flute"

It was at the heart of Julie Taymor’s playful production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at the Metropolitan opera . Darkness had fallen ...


It was at the heart of Julie Taymor’s playful production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at the Metropolitan opera. Darkness had fallen on the stage; the hero, Prince Tamino, and Papageno, the cheeky bird catcher, have been lost.

“Papageno”, Matthew Polenzani, who sings Tamino in the shortened “Flute”, in English and suitable for families, which opens the holiday season at the Met Friday, called during a recent rehearsal. “Are you still with me?”

As he walked past him on a set piece, tenor Rolando Villazón, dressed in Papageno’s lime green long johns and a backwards baseball cap, responded in accented English: “I’m just right. here.

Coming from Villazón, there was a note of defiance in saying this on the powerful Met stage. Although he was once one of the company’s brightest young stars, Friday marks his first performance there in eight years. Many – him included – thought he would never show up at the Met again.

“We can call it a roller coaster,” Villazón, 49, said in an interview. “A very eventful career.

Plagued with vocal issues and mental fears for much of the past 15 years, Villazón has lost his consistency and his temper. “It all fell apart for him,” said Peter Gelb, chief executive of the Met. “At least at the Met. He had a few vocal woes and disappeared from our radar.

Villazón had come to terms with the end of his career, but during the pandemic he stumbled upon a new approach to singing – and now believes he hasn’t finished yet. Returning to the Met as Papageno, a role almost always sung in a lower voice, might still seem like an admission of weakness: a tenor losing its high notes and rushing to the safety of baritone territory.

Not so fast.

“I am not a baritone,” said Villazón, noting that Mozart had written the role of Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of the “Flute”, who was a famous actor and impresario but far from an opera singer. traditional. “There are low notes that are not really for a tenor, like a flat. But above all, they are in harmony. The lowest when singing alone is a C, which is very central.

Yet it is true: when Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the musical director of the Met, asked him to sing Papageno for a recording in 2018, Villazón at first hesitated. “I mean, in terms of the character, I like the character,” he said, “But, of course, the baritone role, ta ta ta.…”

In other words, people might take her cast as an admission that the voice that brought her fame was permanently in retreat. It was a fear he quickly overcame.

“To be honest,” he said, “I haven’t cared what people think for a long time.

This is another milestone that few would have predicted when he rose, in the early 2000s, as a lyrical, childish and ardent tenor in “La Bohème”, “Rigoletto”, “La Traviata” and “L”. ‘Elisir d’Amore’ – although there has always been a twilight in his tone, which allowed him to be convincing, for example, in the heavier title role of Offenbach’s ‘Tales of Hoffmann’ . A profile from 2005 in the New York Times observed that Villazón was compared to Plácido Domingo, in the Operalia competition from which Villazón got his big chance in 1999.

“The voice, at this early stage,” the Times profile said, “weighs on the light side but is tinged like Mr. Domingo’s with the dark undertones of a baritone.”

That summer, Villazón and Anna Netrebko, also growing strongly at the time, caused a sensation in Willy Decker’s breathtaking and dazzling staging of “La Traviata” at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, and were quickly named opera’s next powerful couple on stage.

“It seemed,” said Gelb, “to be the most exciting tenor in 2005, ’06. In 2007, Villazón and Netrebko were the stars of a gala for the 40th anniversary of the Met at Lincoln Center.

But as Netrebko’s career continued to soar, calamity struck Villazón: he began to crack over a few high notes, the cornerstone of a tenor. Cancellations piled up, including a live HD broadcast of The Met’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” alongside Netrebko.

A cyst was eventually discovered inside his vocal cords; after a delicate operation in 2009, he was unable to speak for a while, let alone sing. He reappeared cautiously on opera and concert stages, including a 2013 Met series of “Eugene Onegin”. (“Despite some initial caution in the first act, in which he seemed at times undernourished” , Times magazine said, “he sang confidently and confidently.”)

“It was very important for me to recover, to reposition myself as a tenor,” said Villazón. But the long period of uncertainty and adjustments to his technique had left its mark, and he began to lose confidence in himself and his instrument.

“Around 2015, 2016, that’s when I started to develop stage fright, because I was afraid of having something else,” he said. “I reached nine out of ten high notes. When you’re in this trade, and at this level, you hit 10 out of 10. They might not all be beautiful, but you hit them all. If you don’t hit one of those 10, you start to think, is this the one? And then you start to hit eight out of 10 and seven out of 10. ”

He worked with athletic trainers and tried taking a small amount of anti-anxiety medication before performances. It helped allay his fear, but took away the inner fire that he said fueled his best work.

“How can I keep this hell from going on and playing?” He remembered thinking. He took up the baroque repertoire he had done earlier in his career under the direction of Emmanuelle Haïm, moving away from high notes that had become dangerously unreliable. Then he developed what he called “uncomfortable sensations” even in the middle of his voice.

In 2017, 10 years after headlining the Met’s 40th Anniversary Gala, Villazón gave up days before his appearance in his 50th. He felt basically finished, “I was like, let me turn 50 and I can quit as a singer.”

It helped that singing wasn’t all he was doing at this point. He had some success as a television personality, directed productions and had been appointed artistic director of the Mozartwoche festival in Salzburg. He had even started to write novels.

But he wasn’t yet ready to give up the scene entirely and discovered that acid reflux was the root of his new set of problems. He had another operation in late 2018 and slowly his vocal stability, but not his high notes, returned.

Then, training during the pandemic, he hit a note – an F – and immediately knew something had changed in the way he produced sound. Working with coaches, he revised his approach to his voice; even some of his older, higher-flying roles seemed possible again.

“The way I feel, I’m entering the biggest moment of my career,” he said. “I have no ambition. I don’t need to accomplish anything else professionally. These are all artistic achievements.

His next seasons will therefore include Mozart’s Tito and Idomeneo; Edgardo in “Lucie”; even Loge, the trickster fire god in Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”, which Villazón was working on when he made his pandemic breakthrough.

“I definitely plan on sitting down with him and discussing other roles with him,” Gelb said. “I don’t want this to be a car appearance. But it depends on him and what he feels comfortable with.

Papageno is therefore, hopefully, not the beginning of the end for Villazón, but a delicious lark – a role for which he does not feel the need to apologize and on which he can lavish his fascination for the figure of the clown.

“They never lose, they never die and they never give up,” he said. “The clown continues.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Rolando Villazón returns to the Met Opera in Mozart's "Magic Flute"
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