Best of Metropolitan Opera 2016-17: Plácido Domingo & The 10 Best Male Performances

By David Salazar

This article is a joint collaboration between David & Francisco Salazar. 

Yesterday we gave you the finest female performers of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2016-17 season. Now we turn toward the men that truly brought down the house.

Remember that these picks are mere favorites based purely on personal preference. Since there were so many incredible performers this season, here is a look at some honorable mentions before we jump into our individual top fives.

Honorable Mentions: Among the men that were at the top of their game and just barely missed out on our top lists are Roberto Alagna (“Cyrano de Bergerac”), Atalla Ayan (“La Traviata”), Thomas Hampson (“La Traviata”), Peter Mattei (“Eugene Onegin”), Michael Volle (“Der Fliegende Hollander”), Brandon Jovanovich (“Rusalka”), and René Pape (“Tristan und Isolde”).

Now onto the top 10.

David’s Favorite 5

Michael Fabiano (“La Bohème”)

His performance in “La Traviata” was vocally riveting, but it was in Puccini’s masterwork that I found Fabiano most complete and complex. He showed Rodolfo as a dreamy romantic in his interactions with Mimì in the first act, but then captured his immaturity and insecurity during the third act. His pained cries of “Mimì” at the close of the opera shook the theater in a way few tenors recently have. His chemistry with Ailyn Pérez was incredible, making for one of the most electrifying and passionate nights of the entire season.

Gerald Finley (“Guillaume Tell”)

Finley authored one of the most understated but potent performances of the entire season in the title role of the late Rossini work. From his first moment until his very last, Finley was the hero of the tale. I won’t easily forget the pain and yet poise with which Finley delivered that glorious aria “Sois immobile” moments before firing an arrow near his beloved son’s head, his pained cries of “Jemy Jemy” that reminded us of the emotional depth of Rossini’s music. His interpretation of the aria, grew more and more frayed in its sense of heartbreak and it was impossible not to be completely immersed in the emotional struggle.

Gunther Groissböck (“Der Rosenkavalier”)

Was there a more lovable jerk on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera this season? I have been pumping this incredible artists’ tires for the longest time, noting that the Met had repeatedly relegated him to bit roles that were not on the level of his greatness. And sure enough, given the moment to shine, he did just that. He was rude, raunchy and a firm bully that displayed a certain degree of insecurity the moment he was forced into being on the defensive. And despite growing to despise him at times, you couldn’t help but also feel sympathy at other times.

Mariusz Kwiecien (“Don Giovanni”)

I really loved Kwiecien in “Eugene Onegin,” but his “Don Giovanni” is simply irresistible. Playing the famed womanizer with cockiness and control in the early going, Kwiecien slowly lost emotional control as the frustrations mounted and one failure led to another. He grew more violent vocally, his singing more jagged in its phrasing as he allowed his inner Mr. Hyde take over. He became increasingly unpredictable and hence all the more exciting to witness onstage in a production laden with A-list stars.

Matthew Polenzani (“Idomeneo”)

He sang three roles at the Met this season, but it was his big showcase in his favorite Mozart opera that took the prize for me. Polenzani really managed to express the complexity of the struggling king through his vocal expression, giving us his hateful fury in one moment and then anguished tenderness in the next. Polenzani is arguably the best Mozart tenor there is right now and his approach to this work at the Met this season was one of the finest of the entire season.

Francisco’s Favorite 5

Javier Camarena (“I Puritani”)

What’s most funny about Camarena is that someone actually had the audacity of screaming “No High F” after his final aria during the opening night performance of this run. Clearly, that viewer wasn’t listening to the gleaming C#s or Ds that Camarena produced throughout the night in “I Puritani.” That listener was also not listening to the true legato line that he brought to the Bel Canto style. But more importantly, that listener did not get the full dramatic power of his voice. Yes, Arturo is quite a stale character if you look at him in full detail, but Camarena’s nuanced coloratura runs and Fioritura made for an unpredictable evening to watch and to listen.

Plácido Domingo (“Nabucco”)

At the age of 76 Domingo continues to be able to sell out any house. And it may just be because of his fame but in my opinion, it is his powerful voice that still attracts many. While he is not the baritone everyone wants to hear, his emotional gravitas vividly captures the essence of the characters he creates onstage. And as Nabucco, he once again showed his intensity in the legato line, while bringing unique features to the role. For example,  Domingo’s acting was among the most impressive features of the night, and at one point the consummate artist sang his aria while lying down with his head facing the floor. His final moments holding the dead Abigaile in his arms were just as moving as anything else on this poignant evening.

Vittorio Grigolo (“Werther”)

Everyone knows that Vittorio Grigolo is a stage animal and that sometimes he can go overboard with his emotions. But on this occasion, his Werther was a revelation. There were childish and awkward aspects of this portrayal and then there were romantic and impassioned moments in his acting. And it was all enhanced by his voice as he continuously grew more intense while never taking away from the finesse in his phrasing. This performance showed that Grigolo has the dramatic chops and one that continues to stay in my mind.

John Osborn (“Guillaume Tell”)

He may have only performed one of the “Guillaume Tell presentations” but that performance made an everlasting impression. His Arnold exuded the force and youth of a hero and the chemistry with Marina Rebeka was impeccable.But what was most impressive was his gleaming voice. Of course, the high notes were impressive but his legato line carried throughout the hall, creating a number of emotional and heart-wrenching moments for this tortured character.

Klaus Florian Vogt (“Fidelio”)

As I write this, I question how it is possible that the Met has waited so long to bring back one of the most beautiful voices on the operatic stage. As he opened his mouth to sing the first phrases of Florestan, it was evident that not only did this heldentenor have a huge voice that rode over the orchestra but he had a subtlety that is rarely heard within this fach of singers. He also showed elegance in tone while still maintaining the drama of the work. But more importantly, he made a case for more engagements at the Met.

What were your favorite male performances of the year? We look forward to reading your comments below and remembering what has been a great season at the Met. 



Special Features