Opera houses have long featured singers with one-word names—Farinelli and Senesino, to name but two from centuries past—but of late, opera stars tend to have more mortal, first and last name combos, even if they were known by single names like Caruso, Callas or Pavarotti.
One Tuesday night, a one-named singer took the stage at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House: Sting. Despite the presence of a 44-piece orchestra, there was little that was classical or operatic about the evening. As Sting joked early on in the show, “I’d be worried if I was singing Tosca here.” Indeed, he had nothing to worry about—all of the songs on his set list were staples from years past. Like his new album, “Symphonicities,” featuring 12 of his hits with new orchestrations, the use of the classical musicians at the Met was merely an effect, not a revelation.
The best news was that Sting’s instantly recognizable voice was in fine form. The Met’s vocal acoustics did not help or hinder the Englishman’s voice, as it came already wrapped in plenty of electrical amplification. He sang in his cool, slightly strained manner and won over the 4000+ people in the audience with ease. (If anything, the intimate acoustics helped the crowd’s cheers, which registered as much louder than even the most vocal post-opera ovations.)
The back-up band (the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra) conducted by Steven Mercurio added little to Sting’s playlist. Save for a nice violin cadenza played by concertmaster Gerald Gregory as an intro and finale to “Whenever I Say Your Name,” much of the orchestra’s playing was simply drowned out by the electrical sounds of percussion and keyboard. Sure, it was fun when the band swayed with the music (a few could even be seen mouthing the recognizable lyrics to Sting’s standards) but their talents were mainly lost in orchestrations that did less with more. Sting’s simple 5-person rock-n-roll combo might not have filled the Met’s giant stage, but their sound would have just as easily filled the house, which is much smaller than the type of arenas Sting normally plays.
Because of this, the most direct, emotional number of the evening was the last. Sting sang part of “I Was Brought To My Senses” without any accompaniment at all. To hear the larger-than-life entertainer in a relatively small house, (almost) al fresco was the closest “Sting at the Met” came to revealing any new side of this crowd-pleasing entertainer.
Image: “Symphonicity” tour rehearsals at Abbey Road Studios. Photo by Clive Barda.