Two nights ago, as a late-hour substitute, the Sicilian-French tenor took the Metropolitan Opera stage as Radames in Verdi's Aida — singing the role for the first-time anywhere since his infamous mid-performance walkout at La Scala and the ensuing media frenzy.
At the end of the evening, Alagna won a standing ovation.
"Tonight, I have finally put away the ghosts of Milan that have haunted me," he told the Associated Press in an interview after the performance.
Alagna's first big test, of course, came very early in the evening with "Celeste Aida," the role's most famous aria and the number after which he received some boos at La Scala, precipitating his angry exit. "The aria was a success," wrote Bernard Holland in today's New York Times, "highly exciting the Met's audience and perhaps sending a message to Italian journalists in the house and maybe even across the sea to the boo-birds at La Scala."
At the very discerning opera
queen fan blog Parterre Box (www.parterre.com), a guest reviewer using the screen name "Gualtier Maldé" was largely approving:
"So, was [the] night a triumph or a disaster? Well, it was neither since the role of Radames doesn't play to all of Roberto Alagna's strengths but it was a very fine showing by a distinctive and sensitive artist in a repertory that isn't his natural metier. [...] Was Alagna overparted or inaudible? Not at all. [...]
"In the best lyric Radames tradition ... Alagna treated "Celeste Aida" as a love song sung mostlymezza voce with a lot of sensitive coloring and phrasing [...] The duet with Aida was full of interesting nuances and verbal expression that many Radames miss or ignore ... The final outburst to Ramfis was broad-phrased and ringing with a prolonged final note [...] He didn't seem tired at the end and gained strength as he went on. [...]
"He acted more than most Radames do and he was visually credible as the romantic bone of contention between two passionate women (less so as a warrior and leader of men). [...] The whole performance was a refreshing change of pace from business-as-usual tenor bombast and highlighted qualities in the role that are often missed. Was it ideal? Was it what we are used to? No. But it was interesting and I mean that in a good way."
Of course, even all these months later, Alagna did have something to say about last December's mê_l_e in Milan. Of his dismissal by the opera house, he told the AP, "It was a betrayal at La Scala! They closed the door on me, they abandoned me." And of his own abandoning the stage while the music was playing — for which he has offered explanations ranging from an enemy claque in the audience to a nefarious backstage plot to his not being aware that booing was common at La Scala (the Milan audience is notorious for it) to his throat closing up to an attack of hypoglycemia — he said simply, "I'm a Sicilian, I'm a bit hot-blooded."