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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

68 comments

  • almavivante says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

      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 says:

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

      • -Ed. says:

        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 says:

          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 says:

            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 says:

              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. says:

              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 says:

        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 says:

          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 says:

      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 says:

        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 says:

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

  • williams says:

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