Marcello Giordani struggled mightily, his top notes effortful and thin. It turned out the tenor's third performance of Aeneas in the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Berlioz's "Les Troyens" would be his last.
The Met announced Saturday that Giordani was withdrawing from the remaining four performances and was retiring the taxing role from his repertory. Bryan Hymel will take over, making his Met debut Wednesday night and singing the rest of the run, including a matinee on Jan. 5 that will be broadcast to theaters around the world.
Giordani, who turns 50 next month, plans on returning to the Met in March for a revival of Zandonai's "Francesca da Rimini."
"Les Troyens' (The Trojans)," a French grand opera that stretches out for more than five hours, including a pair of intermissions, is based on Virgil's "The Aeneid" and depicts the end of the Trojan War and the Trojans' stay in Carthage.
Friday night's performance was a triumph for mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. She commanded the stage during the final three acts as Dido, the queen of Carthage, and was the only one of the primary singers to achieve success. Her tones were burnished, her acting impassioned. Her final-act aria, "Je vais mourir (I am going to die)," was tender and emotional, causing the audience to erupt in a huge ovation.
Graham's portrayal was so captivating it made one forget the struggles of Giordani and Deborah Voigt, the evening's Cassandra.
Paired with Ben Heppner's Aeneas when Francesca Zambello's staging debuted in 2003, Voigt still possesses gleaming high notes, but her lower register was rough and underpowered. Cassandra, the daughter of the Trojan King Priam, has the ability to see the future but is cursed — so no one believes her prophecies.
Aeneas, the Trojan hero, has a role that lies very high on the voice. Giordani maintained color, but he just didn't have the heft needed.
Dwayne Croft, as Cassandra's fiance Coroebus, missed the previous performance because of illness and sang Friday following an announcement that he still was somewhat sick. He sounded it, with his baritone taking on a harsh edge.
Far better were some of the singers in supporting roles. Tenor Eric Cutler was a sweet-voiced poet Iopas, with a winning aria "O blonde Ceres (O golden Ceres)," sung to the god of harvest. Paul Appleby, another tenor, was moving as the Trojan sailor Hylas, who opens the final act with the lament "Vallon sonore (O echoing vale)." Bass Kwangchul Youn was imposing and sonorous as Dido's minister Narbal. Mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill combined with Graham for the lovely duet "Va, ma soeur l'implorer (Go, my sister, entreat him)."
Under chorus master Donald Palumbo, the Metropolitan Opera chorus was a major star in the sprawling work.
Zambello's production, with handsome abstract sets by Maria Bjornson and a huge Trojan horse, is busy at times as she involves the chorus in detailed interplay that can become distracting. Doug Varone's choreography for the extensive — bordering on endless — dancing is repetitive at times.
Fabio Luisi, the Met's principal conductor, drew a lively sound from the orchestra in a work that appears at the company about once a decade. He could not match the passionate grandiosity of James Levine's performances.