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Horne excels in 'L' Italiana

'Tristan und Isolde', Starring Spas Wenkoff and Gweyneth Jones Earlier this season, the Met offered a "Tristan und Isolde" without -- effectively speaking -- a Tristan, and with a raucous, aggressively unpleasant Isolde (Spas Wenkoff and Gwyneth Jones respectively). Now, for the last three performances, we have a Tristan (for the most part) and even less of an Isolde than Wenkoff was a Tristan!

Richard Cassilly has given many evenings of pleasure since his return to the house. And if he can control his unnerving pitch problems in the second act, his Tristan could become another such pleasurable thing. Surely he has the vocal command, the stentorian declamation that can also turn soft and gentle, and in the outer two acts he was imposing.

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Roberta Knie has run around the world singing Isolde, to the acclaim of even Jon Vickers, who has called her the best today. If ever this was a voice of Metropolitan caliber, it is no longer. Not only was she inaudible for most of the evening, the voice broke up countless times, and for the "Liebestod" she quite literally had no voice at all to begin it -- just that rattly croak that comes of being desperately overparted on one of the largest stages in the world. Her physical presence is more diminutive than her short stature would have led one to expect. Why does the music world allow a potentially attractive lyric instrument to go awry in music it was never meant to tackle?

Matti Salminen has now developed the most unsetting scoop -- attacking notes from octaves below then swooping up to the approximate area he intends to be -- so his Marke is no longer viable. Tatiana Troyanos has become more audible, and more tremulous of voice as Brangene, a role that will never ideally suit her. Donald McIntyre's Kurwenal is frankly not up to Met standards.

To add to the problems, James Levine has not progressed in his understanding or projection of the score -- one of the major disappointments from this gifted conductor. In all, it proved to be one of the most arid evenings in memory.

If the Met finds this opera so hard to cast, then it will have to retire it just as "Aida" has been retired. Looking farther ahead, perhaps one day the Met will start setting its own standards rather than following world patterns on the issues of what singers are right for what roles. This would mean using ears, not other casting sheets around the world. "Italiana" proves the Met can still be the Met. But neither "Tristan" cast has been even rem otely up to this great house's standards.

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