Friday, October 28, 2011

You decide if Fabio is fab

Legions of opera lovers are about to become acquainted with a conductor who's likely to become very important to them in the coming years.

Fabio Luisi will conduct the Metropolitan Opera's movie-theater relay of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" on Saturday, Oct. 29. He's stepping in to replace the Met's ailing music director, James Levine, and he'll take on even more heavy lifting next Saturday, Nov. 5, when the Met beams Richard Wagner's "Siegfried" out to the theaters.

The peripatetic Luisi -- raised in Italy, leader of an opera house in Switzerland, head of an orchestra in Vienna -- has conducted more than 70 performances at the Met since his debut there in 2005. But these will be his first appearances for the movie-theater crowds. In "Don Giovanni," besides introducing himself to them, he'll treat many opera buffs to something they've never encountered: Unlike most conductors, Luisi puts down the baton and plays the harpsichord during Mozart's sung dialog. As best I recall, even Levine -- who's a keyboard virtuoso -- leaves that to others.

When he took over Levine's autumn performances, Luisi -- who became the Met's principal guest conductor in 2010 -- was elevated to principal conductor. There's wide speculation that Luisi will ascend to the Met's top artistic job if Levine's health woes force an end to his 35-year reign.

However that turns out, Luisi is already making his mark.

The Met did an audio webcast of the opening night of "Siegfried" on Thursday, Oct. 27, and I heard most of it. The performance's sweep, subtlety and theatrical spark showed that Wagner was in accomplished hands. The orchestra's rich experience playing this music under Levine must've contributed, of course. But Levine wasn't behind one thing: Luisi brought in "Siegfried" in about 5 hours and 10 minutes -- 20 minutes less than the Met's website predicted. No wonder the music seemed so alive.

Photo: BALU Photography