Summer clings on to New York. September is on the wane, yet the temperatures still think it's July. Every afternoon the thermometer climbs to 30C and beyond, and refuses to dip below 20C at night. Autumn waits in the wings, like an impatient tenor waiting for the self-obsessed soprano to finally stop taking curtain calls.
But the calendar does not lie, and event after event bears witness to the fact that the Big Apple's fall season is well and truly here. Last night, after months of slumber, the Metropolitan Opera re-awoke to life and opened its doors by throwing an opening gala to remember. Sometimes, brash, modern New York can easily outdo old-world London or Paris in its sheer aristocratic extravagance. Tuxedos, ballgowns, pearls, diamonds, pearls, rubies, pearls and a few more pearls assaulted the eye from every corner. Munificent donors to the Met's coffers strutted their stuff, the occasional Dutch surname bearing witness to the fact that their ancestors were eyewitnesses to the Netherlandish beginnings of this city. They saw and were seen. The spectacle was superb.
After all that, it seems a bit excessive to talk about the actual performances. It certainly was not standard fare. We had Act I, Act II and Act III - but they were all from different operas.
The evening began with Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. James Levine in the pit gave a dazzlingly fast rendition of the overture, one that would have defeated any orchestra of less talent than that of the Met. Every note rang clear from the strings and the woodwind, particularly the bassoons, attacked their notes with precision. Leading the cast was my compatriot, Bryn Terfel. I need hardly say that he was superlative. His singing is without rival, and his stage presence is magnetic. In Jonathan Miller's naturalistic and fluid production, it was an hour to truly savour.
Next we had Act II of Tosca. Here, Terfel took the part of the hated chief of Rome's secret police, Scarpia, one of the most evil villains ever to set foot on the operatic stage. It took some swallowing to see the man who a few minutes before had been the jovial Figaro now engaged in torture and sexual sadism, but Terfel managed to persuade me. Angela Gheorghiou made a divine Tosca, vocally and physically, and Marco Berti as the tenor Cavaradossi was superb, his ringing cry of 'Vittoria' half way through the act almost stopped the show. The production, though, was everything I dislike about the Met house style. Lavish to the point of tastelessness with no lightness of direction. The singers were just left to sing and declaim, a world away from the easy movement of Figaro. The music won out, but the production did it absolutely no favours.
Finally, it was Act III of a real operatic rarity, Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saens. The role of Samson was taken by Placido Domingo (yes, this really was a night of the stars). While his voice once or twice showed signs of strain, Domingo was on the whole masterly and totally convincing as the blind Samson railing against his fate. Denyce Graves had a slightly less happy time in the thankless role of Dalila. Perhaps the star of the performance was the Met ballet crops, who gave a marvellous and, for the Met, somewhat racy interpretation of the score's dance music. The production was excellent - no attempt at the Met's stock overblown realism; rather, there was stunning use of lighting, and huge symbolic geometric shapes on stage, all adding up to a breathtaking visual experience. Musically, the Saint-Saens might have been the weakest of the three operas on offer last night, but the production definitely put it in the ranks of the great.
Bryn Terfel returns to the Met stage later this month in the title role in Verdi's Falstaff. My ticket is already bought. The season, pearls or no pearls, should be one to savour.