Cher Public

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

  • RosinaLeckermaul

    Great review. I totally agree. The production makes no sense despite Mary Zimmerman’s explanation in the program. However, Damrau and Camarena made it easy to forget the staging. Glorious performances!

  • armerjacquino

    Thanks for this, sounds like a good evening.

    ‘Forced’ is maybe an unhelpful word to use about the collaborative process, though.

    • williams

      Thanks! Yeah I cringed myself when I re-read that forced remark especially since Dessay seemed to be an active champion of the Zimmerman product. Promised LaC. that I would have the piece done by morning and it was 11:30 so just sent it without proofreading.

      • armerjacquino

        Oh, I wasn’t being grinchy- more of a ‘discuss’ moment.

  • ML

    Fwiw, here is Camarena in a comic role:

    The staging is much funnier than the Met’s.

    • I’ve bought this on blu-ray because I love Rossini and Bartoli, but I just can’t handle the ”funny” acting and dances the singers and chorus do. The sets and costumes are very nice though. I’ve watched the first act and I will watch the rest, only because of Bartoli.

      Fortunatly, next month Rossini’s Otello with Bartoli, Osborn and Camarena will be released! This is also an amazing production with amazing music and singers!

      • ML

        So watch Act II and report back. There are six (6) principal roles.

  • FomalHaut

    Netrebko as Lucia…a revelation??! How did that quote go…”The Soprano sang one High E flat…and it was very, very flat.”

    • Lady Abbado

      The implied superlative to AN’s (rather embarrassing) performance of Lucia also made me raise my eyebrows. It doesn’t even work as an irony…

    • Guestoria Unpopularenka

      That was the Gruberova version of Lucia.

    • Your remark makes perfect sense, given that the role of Lucia consists entirely of a single unwritten high note.

      • FomalHaut

        For some, it does. (When was the last time a Soprano omitted the Eb/F’s during the mad scene?)

        • Only musically illiterate dolts like the following would ever dare such sacrilege.

      • williams

        Was not going to respond to the above but our doyenne gave me courage. Referring to Netrebko s assay of Lucia as embarrassing is over the top. When one dislikes the way a role is tackled or the lack of the sort of singing one thinks is idiomatic and then compromises the point by saying something like that it does little to forward one s point. There is a terrific racehorse, now retired and making babies, named Curlin. During the latter half of the last decade he was considered the best in the world on a dirt surface. His owner, the late Jess Jackson of winery fame, was a true sportsman who resisted the temptation to retire him early and take the easy big money stud fees. He decided to try him, for the first time, on grass in the fabled Man O War Stakes race at Belmont Racetrack. Curlin made a valiant effort but fell short and placed second. He just didn t take to the surface. The low-life degenerate gambler racetrack denizens grumbled that he sucked and stank it up and such but those of us who really love thoroughbreds and the sport of kings (or queens in my case) were appreciative of the attempt and moved by his magnificent effort. Anna made her Met Lucia debut 6 months later.

  • skoc211

    From where I was sitting in the Family Circle I didn’t hear any noise from the plank as it moved across the orchestra. It’s perhaps the only part of the Zimmerman production I like. Damrau was dreamlike as she floated above the pit.

    A magical evening of music. I might have to go back for another round.

  • danpatter

    I went to the HD telecast of WERTHER, but five minutes or so before the end of the opera, the sound went out. Apparently this problem was widespread. We got our money back and comp tickets, but still, very disappointing. Anyone know what happened?

    • jacobelli

      Hi Dan,

      I was at the HD in Farmingdale, NY and the same thing happened. Watching the intense drama happening on stage without any sound was very strange, to say the least.

      Just as the opera was ending some guy from the theater came in and announced that they were working on the problem and that the sound would be back in a few minutes. Everyone burst out laughing.

      We didn’t get a refund, but we did get a ticket to any future show, so I’ll use it for La Boheme next month.

    • laddie

      If I would have known I could have gotten even just the comps, I would have asked! Damn. Enjoyed the show though. Jonas IS a god.

  • decotodd

    Hi Dan. It must have been widespread in the US. However an acquaintance in Berlin said their transmission was fine. Heard that the Met will post final scene on the website. I assume it will be fixed for the encore on Wdnesday.

    • danpatter

      The Met has posted the final scene as you said they might.

    • operaassport

      A friend of mine in Israel captured the satellite feed and said it was just fine, no problem.

  • alejandro

    A few things:

    1. Amina was writing “Elvino” on the chalkboard by the time the HD was filmed. Dessay definitely does not write “Aria” on the chalkboard on the video because I’ve seen it a bazillion times

    2. I think this is a really beautiful production. I was worried that without Dessay and in the house I would probably find it dull but it held up beautifully. There were many little details I appreciated--the changing of the light outside the windows, the use of the overhead lighting in the rehearsal room, the various things the chorus and supers do during the group scenes--especially this gorgeous dance solo during the end of Act One. Even before reading Zimmerman’s director’s note in the program, I got the concept (I disclose doing this kind of meta thing in the theater is something I’ve always experimented with during my playwriting days). It works with this opera. The sleepwalking/acting parallel is an apt one.

    3. I am not a huge fan of Damrau, but she turned it out. I loved her. She was incandescent. It was a delight to watch her and hear her because she seemed to be having such a great time. Camerena was great. I love a fiery tenor and he brought that fire to Elvino (if in my fantasy world, I could be an opera singer, Elvino would be the role I’d want to sing. I love his jealous craziness).

    • alejandro

    • Milady DeWinter

      Sorry to strike a somewhat sour note, but, when it started, listening on Sirius, I was sort of horrified. DD was in awful voice for the Act I scena -- but, as usual with this lady, by the final act she was in good shape. “Ah non credea” was lovely, and she was clearly creating a character, feisty, all the DD gals are fesity, which the audience loved, and was clearly having a ball herself, and I think this helped put over the Zimmerman production better (which I do not like much) than when Dessay sang it.
      Still, I prefer more exactitude with fioriture. Damrau slithers all over the place, her ornaments on the tame side, staccati in short supply; the (now) obbligatory big E-flat/chromatic a la Callas between the strophes of “Ah non giunge” was well done, but her top notes sound forced, her trills come and go (mostly go), and the back and forth dance-like poetry in the brace of love duets between Elvino and Amina in Act I went for naught -- “Non vorrei spiegar” was all lower voice glottals, when the line needs to glide and dart in a gorgeous legato. She sounds lovely when singing piano, and “Ah non credea” was nearly transformative. As for the cabaletta, cartwheels are no substitute for clean trills and flashing staccati, , but the public adores her. I get her message and admire her energy and commitment, but I also weary of the coloratura in hyperdrive, and hear the warning signs of a receding top already. She’ll make a great Antonia a few seasons down the road.

      Camarena was THE revelation, possibly the finest sung Elvino in my listening experience, and the real vocal star of the night in my estimation, especially in light of those very tepid Almavivas at the Meta few seasons back. A tenor transformed. Bellini really suits him. How many top Ds did he sing anyway? He nearly, no, he did, steal the show at the top of Act II. Petrusi was, meh, ok.

      • Camille

        Milady DeWinter—Would you kindly come to tea with me? For I feel we are in such perfect agreement about the Sleepwalking Lass, that we will get along splendidly -over cakes and crumpets.

        Javier Camarena sings Il Notaio on one of the two Sonnambulas -- either the Bartoli or the Dessay — and I was completely not prepared for the impact his MARVELOUS singing would have on me! MARAVILLOSO!!! I look forward to hearing him in-house!

        Bravo and many many more performances for this gifted tenor!

        Bienvenidos in Casa della Metropolitana!!!

      • Regina delle fate

        She’s already sung Antonia -- in München, along with Olympia and Giulietta!

  • Milady DeWinter

    Cammie ma chere, but of course. I am sorry not to be around the corner chez toi -I am at this moment enjoying my afternoon jasmine green and a side of blackberries and a lovely little tropezienne.
    Seriously, wtf is it with the songbird types today? Oh, I know, it sells and DD certainly has charisma, nor do I dislike her art, exactly. I blame it all on reality tv and the endless vocal/terpsichorean competitions, tired as hell, but tarted up for the 21st century.
    And, further upstairs on this thread, discussing Ms. Netrebko’s Lucia, and the blundering comment re: cadential top E-flats- “When was the last time a Soprano omitted the Eb/F’s during the mad scene?” -- Thank you, Cieca for jumping right on that eyeball-roller. I had finger poised …

    • Camille

      We are STILL in perfect accord as I am just now raising my cup of green tea in a vain effort to warm the cockles before I start to get dressed for Zubin’s Party!!!

      She doesn’t have the feeling for cantilena belliniana, even if a very very gifted singer. She doesn’t sing it usually and cut her teeth on Mozart, it would seem to me. I don’t know. One time I will like her a lot and the next I am gritting my teeth.

      Matter of taste. And let us not ruin our mutual teatimes with bad tastes. Especially when good blackberries are involved.

      • Milady DeWinter

        The Zubin/Vienna Night is a great palate cleanser from all the bagpipes this weekend. Enjoy! DD will surely be more in her element, and the musical menu is kaleidoscopic. They’re playing THAT intermezzo, which I swoon from.

        • Camille

          My bagpipes are on tomorrow! Erin go Bragh-less!!!

      • Regina delle fate

        We in London await her forthcoming Violettas with great interest. I wonder how she will fare in Richard Eyre’s old-fashioned staging (as opposed to the Decker Little-Red-Frock-Show at the Met). She seems to be doing it everywhere this season -- new productions in Milano and Parigi, revivals in NY, Munich and London. It’s obviously a nice little earner for her right now.

    • Guestoria Unpopularenka

      In all fairness, the question was when the last time was and Callas’ example happened a long time ago :P

      • Charles Mackerras conducted a revival of Lucia in 1999 featuring Andrea Rost. She sang the Mad Scene finishing in the key of F, and the “money” note was a high C.

        The whole interpolated note thing is ridiculous: Netrebko was criticized for not singing a high E-flat at the very end of Anna Bolena, which is not even a “traditional” interpolation. A few sopranos have done it, and others, e.g Callas, Gencer, Sutherland, have not.

  • I suppose I’ll never understand why “ARIA” was such a brutal slap in the face to all that is good. I thought it was sort of whimsical and just…not a big deal either way. This was my feeling about the production in general, though there was stuff that didn’t work, and I remember at the time that, because I didn’t wail and rend my garments, I came off as a defender of the thing. And indeed I found my fond feelings for it increasing every time I read some apopleptic fit about the poor wronged art of opera. Good to see it still makes hidebound traditionalists uncomfortable.

    • Batty Masetto

      Maury, I agree -- while it had changed to “Elvino” by the time I saw the HD, I wouldn’t have been bothered by “Aria.” An very mild Brechtian effect that was fully in tune with the metatheater treatment, and not even jarring in psychological terms if you’re willing to go along with the original premise. She’s a soprano sleepwalking her anxieties, one of which is her boyfriend and another is that she’s going to have to sing a challenging aria about him.

      Listening to the first act of this season’s premiere, I actually found myself wanting to see it again in this version.

      • Well remember this was 2009, kind of the beginning of the gradual transition from the aesthetic favored under Volpe to the regie-lite Gelb aesthetic. For instance, in 2007, there was a huge population of people apoplectic about Mary Zimmerman’s use of a camera during the Lucia sextet. And there was also the vociferous booing of Luc Bondy’s Tosca. Nowadays the Bondy Tosca is the Met’s warhorse, trotted out nearly every year for so-so revivals.

        It’s actually quite amazing if you think about it how quickly the New York audiences adapted to the regie-lite productions. In 2009, they were booing Bondy. In 2013, Prince Igor was sold out for show after show and the Decker Traviata is also a huge box office draw. It’s kind of unfortunate that Zimmerman had to be sacrificial lamb of sorts.

        • Well but these were not the first non-traditional stagings seen at the Met. The Wilson Lohengrin was booed (and later, rightly, beloved.) The Zambello Lucia was booed and disappeared. The Carsen Onegin didn’t offend much an stuck around, but I think you’d have to include it in the category of regie-lite. There are plenty of other examples. It’s important for the pearl clutchers (Les Clutcheurs de Perles, in the original) perpetuate this idea that non-traditional stagings are a new movement, though, so they can then frame the phenomenon as an invasion/apocalypse/sign of how a grand tradition is over, but it’s not really true.

          • If you look at the directors associated with the Volpe era, they were Franco Zeffirelli, Otto Schenk, Elijah Moshinsky, and the non-traditional productions that were booed were quickly dumped. (An exception was the Wilson Lohengrin.)

            I think IN GENERAL regie-lite productions are much more accepted by New York audiences than they were a few years ago. For instance, when the famous Franco Zeffirelli Falstaff was replaced, I think there was much pearl-clutching. But audiences ended up liking Carsen’s Falstaff.

            • jacobelli

              I’m not sure that just because people go and see some of these productions it means that they have accepted them.

              I love Traviata and I wanted to see it with Damrau, so I went. I love Tosca and want to see it, so I go. But I still hate both of the current productions and can’t wait to see them gone. And like others who feel the way I do, we go despite the current productions, not because of them. At best I am tolerating them; I do not accept them.

          • manou

            Bravo for “Les Clutcheurs de Perles”.

            (The “Bravo” is in French).

        • Porgy Amor

          It is hard to compare a new Tosca that replaced a long-running popular attraction (whether we agree it deserved its popularity or not) with the first Met Prince Igor since the days of the Wilson Administration. The latter was unburdened by any comparison in living memory where the Met stage was concerned, and many in New York were seeing their first Igor anywhere. Replace the Zeffirelli Bohème with a Tcherniakov production, even a relatively restrained Tcherniakov, and I think you’ll see that those vociferous booers have not gone anywhere.

          And it’s not so much that the Bondy is the Met’s warhorse; Tosca itself is the warhorse, and Peduzzi’s sets and what remains of Bondy’s direction are what the Met has on hand at the moment when they schedule it. Few have come to believe it’s a good production (I have not); few will shed a tear when it is broomed.

          Where I do agree with you, Ivy, is that the Met audience has become more accepting of “regie-lite.” Even the booing for the Faust production team on the opening night in 2011 was subdued, and that was an even worse new production than the Tosca (though, again, there wasn’t the same attachment to what it replaced; Serban’s was unloved). And Carsen’s gently updated Falstaff seems to have gone over well, and that did replace a well-loved Zeffirelli museum piece. Perhaps this bodes well for the real test, his Rosenkavalier.

          • How about the reaction to the Decker Traviata though? That was replacing a Zeffirelli spectacle, and it turned out to be a huge sell-out without even the drawing card of Anna Netrebko. The first-night booing was mild.

            The reaction to the Girard Parsifal was VERY positive as well.

            The Decker production I’d categorize as “regie” while the Girard is regie-lite. But both were quickly accepted.

            • I was assuming “regie-lite” meant that the plot was recognizably unaltered, but I think I was misreading you now, since the Decker Traviata pretty much leaves the plot alone whereas the Girard Parsifal, if memory serves (I thought it was beautiful but was extraordinarily tired and not entirely, uh, wakeful) made it hard to tell quite what opera one was watching.

            • I think of Girard as “regie-lite” because while it LOOKED like a very non-traditional Parsifal it didn’t really force a huge rethinking. People who were big traditional Parsifal fans could go home and feel great. I thought of the Decker Traviata as more heavy regie, because it does force you to think of the opera in a new way — it emphasizes the dark undertones behind the story, and there are definitely moments of shock value, like Alfredo shoving money between Violetta’s legs.

    • I feel like there must be a maxim in there someplace.

      Something along the lines of: “Happiness lies in making the right enemies and the wrong friends.”

      Chateaubriand would have said it better, though.

      • manou

        From the ever reliable Oscar Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go”.

    • This was an occurrence of what Dawn Fatale calls “the BAM effect,” which refers to a time when BAM was presenting a lot of baroque opera in rather twee stagings. Once it was established for the audience that it was “supposed” to be funny when Itulbo and Romagnola clinked martini glasses, then they giggled every time anything happened, because it’s a comedy, right?

      Same thing happened with the Zimmerman Sonnambula: she interpolated comic business early in the opera, and then threw that Meistersinger riot at the end of the first act, and after that everything was “supposed” to be funny. Amina walking along the ledge of the building got a laugh the other night.

    • armerjacquino

      And yet we see, further downthread, that ‘she shouldn’t have to write anything ‘. That’s what we’re up against.

  • almavivante

    Amina shouldn’t have to write ANY word on ANY blackboard. My advice to all who want to see this revival (and I’ll be taking my own advice): By all means listen to the broadcast, but spare yourself having to actually watch the performance.

    Many years ago, after the first time I saw the ugly Chagall Magic Flute (yes, I don’t like Chagall) I attended subsequent perfs with my eyes closed; I was there only to hear the singers. And that was bliss. For the record, I also decided to close my eyes after the first acts of City Opera’s blindingly garish L’Italiana in Algeri and their revival of Roberto Devereux (though in the latter, hearing Lauren Flanigan squall Queen Elizabeth was, well, not bliss.) Trust me: this is a technique that works!

    • Camille

      Oh bless you, for I am forcing myself to go and just for Vinnie B.’s sake alone; don’t know how much I will be able to stand of it. I shall do as you say if it proves too much to bear. I am not crazy about Chagall either but it is tantamount to heresy to admit so I do so only under the mantle of anonimity. It’s a relief to be able to do so.

    • armerjacquino

      Sitting in an opera house with eyes firmly shut is one of the most mulishly hilarious images I can conjure. ‘I WON’T think and they CAN’T MAKE ME!’

      • Camille

        No, it’s more like “Don’t Look Now!”

        • williams

          Julie Christie & Donald Sutherland. Good stuff.

          • manou

            …and a certain small person in a red hooded coat…

            • Fidelia

              That was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I saw it when it came out and it haunted me for years. (shiver)

      • -Ed.

        I often listen with my eyes closed. Why assume I’m not thinking when I do? My mind’s eye conjures the most ravishing scenes, better than any stage director.

        • armerjacquino

          You’re only going where your mind takes you, though, not allowing a single second of someone else’s imagination to spark with yours. That’s pretty arrogant and pretty unserious, I think.

          • armerjacquino

            What I mean is, even a poor production can provide us with an insight we might not have come up with alone. Sit there with your eyes closed and you are saying ‘I have decided what I think of this work and I am not interested in my mind being changed’

            • grimoaldo

              When I go to see a live performance of an opera and they stage the overture, unfortunately a very common practice these days, I always close my eyes.
              Bernard Shaw said when he went to the Ring at Covent Garden, he always got a seat in a box so he could turn the chair round with its back to the stage.

            • -Ed.

              Not at all. I cut my opera teeth on audio recordings and a libretto, and listened that way for about 3 years before seeing a live performance. Sometimes I think I should do more of that again, it’s like going home for me. Or something. Please don’t get the idea I sit that way through the entire performance! Just at favored moments. Think of it as luxury audio.

      • almavivante

        On the contrary, they’re closed because I do think. And nobody bought my ticket for me, so I can do as I wish, yes? I am not arrogant, though I have strong opinions, and I try to be polite when I express them. (I try not to succumb to “criticitis,” where someone believes their opinion and their commentary is always more important than the performance they have witnessed.) I am both serious and whimsical, depending on the circumstances. A poor production rarely (but not never) offers me even a shred of new insight. I am open to my mind being changed, and it happens surprisingly often when I revisit things I thought I had liked, or once disliked. --There: Have I responded to all the remarks about me made in this thread? (Yes, that last was snarky of me, and intentionally so.)

        • mandryka

          Well, you have “responded” in a way, but not very convincingly. I think your previous posting (so very different) gives us a more accurate picture of your reasoning abilities.

    • MontyNostry

      I’ve never liked Chagall much either. His ‘Flute’ imagery was a feature of the Decca Solti recording with Lorengar, Burrows and w-w-w-w Deutekom. I always thought it looked a mess.

      • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

        While I don’t particularly dislike Chagall as a painter, he proved to be totally inept as a set designer. I hated that production, too, but yet went many times for the vocal performances.

    • mandryka

      Oh my. You know what you know, and what you don’t know is not worth knowing. Not a particularly impressive presentation.

  • williams

    Spot on except I would certainly not want to ignore the performances. Forget the concept and enjoy the opera.