A dream walking

The hostile reaction to the Mary Zimmerman production of La sonnambula was well documented after the premiere in 2009. As reported in these pages and throughout the music press, the production team was greeted by a torrent of boos, catcalls and wellchosen epithets at their curtain call. My companion that evening, having been subjected to my vociferous griping at intermission, whispered in my ear just before they emerged begging me please don’t boo. I did anyway. So did everybody else, my friend threw in the towel and hissed scandale!  

All of my complaints about that admittedly entertaining evening were swept aside by the consummate performance at last night’s revival at the Met. Knowing what I was in for had, perhaps, a lot to do with the softening of my stance towards the staging. I sort of just ignored the sets and concept and enjoyed the sublime singing and characterizations. In a way Ms. Zimmerman’s interpretation worked on that level. It was almost like watching a casual concert performance.

This year’s version featured a tenor with whom we were somewhat unfamiliar named Javier Camarena. His Elvino was a revelation. Though I understand he is of Mexican birth his singing resonated with the kind of Italianate sound, ringing ping and purity of tone that one wishes for in bel canto. We were bowled over. This was a legitimate star turn. The “Tutto è sciolto” was shattering, sensational vocalizing and chiaroscuro unmitigated by any appearance of strain or difficulty. The applause was prolonged.

The equally devastating Amina was Diana Damrau. She seemed a little nervous at her entrance with a slightly flat attack on the climactic note in “Come per me sereno” but she eased into the correct pitch and from then on it she was flying colors. This was the most gratifying performance by a soprano in this type of role since Anna Netrebko as Lucia and Damrau was perhaps even plusher of sound and creamier of voice than that. She also danced quite gracefully and turned a couple of first-rate cartwheels.

One of the most egregious moments of the first run was when Natalie Dessay was forced to scrawl the word ARIA on the blackboard as she came forward to sing “Ah! non credea mirarti.” This mistake led to prolonged titters, eye rolls and harrumphing from the audience completely breaking the spell of the moment. Thankfully Amina now writes ELVINO and that sort of works. When Ms. Damrau glided  forward on that (noisy) plank over the orchestra pit and sang gloriously, completely exposed and unaided by the Met acoustic, the effect was unmatched in recent memory.

Rachel Durkin did quite well as Lisa. She is a lanky playful singer and made the most of her part. Michele Pertusi did a great job with “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” although later in the evening he seemed to flag a bit. Elizabeth Bishop was a touch squally as Teresa at first but provided sweet contributions to the ensembles and made the most of her character. The chorus was excellent and seemed to be enjoying their part. Marco Armiliato’s work with the band seemed just fine to us and they sounded super. The horns were especially sonorant.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the ubiquity of the standing ovation but last night’s was the real thing. The (not full) house waited until Mr. Camarena emerged for his curtain call and jumped out of their seats en masse with a stupendous roar. The exuberance continued unabated for Ms. Damrau. All in all this was the kind of evening that used to occur a bit more frequently in the Lincoln Center barn, a show as satisfying, though in a completely different way, as last season s Parsifal.

Photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera