The reviews are ruthless:
New production of Bellini's 'La Sonnambula' is dead on arrival at Metropolitan Opera
(Mike Silverman for the AP)
In the final scene of Vincenzo Bellini's opera "La Sonnambula," the heroine is reunited with her true love after sleepwalking across the dangerously high eaves of a rooftop.
Had she caught a glimpse of the new production that opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, she might have decided to jump instead.
Director Mary Zimmerman has taken this fragile pastoral fantasy — set to some of the most gorgeous melodies ever written — and imposed a play-within-a-play framework that makes a joke of the story and robs it of its sentimental charm.
So, instead of Amina and Elvino in a Swiss village, we get opera singers who happen to be named Amina and Elvino, rehearsing a production of "La Sonnambula" in a large, modern studio.Zimmerman clearly has no use for the libretto by poet Felice Romani, referring to it in program notes as "famously light and ... a little incredible." She shares this opinion with soprano Natalie Dessay, who stars as Amina and who reportedly insisted the production be set just about anywhere except a real Swiss village.
The triumphant ending, with Amina and Elvino reunited, becomes an occasion for one more gag, as the chorus, dressed until now in street clothes, appear in Swiss villager garb. Amina and Elvino sprout peasant outfits as well, and suddenly they're apparently performing the finale of the "real" opera.
This time she and her production teammates have done the opera a disservice, and they deserved the boos to which they were subjected at their curtain call.
When Dessay wasn't clowning, she did some lovely singing. She gave that final aria, "Ah! non credea mirarti," a hushed, soulful quality that seemed the very definition of mournfulness. And in the ecstatic cabaletta that follows, "Ah! non giunge" her high notes had an enviable sparkle.
As Elvino, tenor Juan Diego Flores, who conquered those nine high C's last season in "La Fille," sang with angelic purity and impressive command of bel canto ornamentation. Bass Michele Pertusi lent strong support as the Count, but soprano Jennifer Black had difficulty in her upper register as Lisa, Amina's rival for Elvino's affections.
And another one, from Bloomberg this time:
Thank God for soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Juan Diego Florez, who sang adroitly all night long while stuck in a production by Mary Zimmerman that makes you question whether poor Amina was the only sleepwalker at the Met.
Unlike most operas involving a woman’s honor, this one ends happily after Amina proves her innocence by walking dangerously in her sleep for all to see.
Zimmerman, who usually works in theater, showed little sensitivity to the delicate psychology of early-19th-century bel canto opera when she staged “Lucia di Lammermoor” last season.
This show is far worse.
Everything slides confusingly downhill after the first glimpse of the show curtain’s Alpine scene where Bellini set the story.
The Tyrolean spell is quickly broken during the overture by two ugly, white utilitarian doors. Then a woman walks across the stage and, with a weary shrug, disappears through them.
Soon chorus members in street clothes bustle around a rehearsal studio, furnished with coffee makers, blackboards, clothes racks and garbage cans. This is a one-set production, suggestive of the Met’s new austerity plan. The only hint of Bellini’s Swiss village is the tiny diorama depicting a traditional production.
By now, of course, we have sadly understood Zimmerman’s concept: This is going to be a play within a play. Yes. Indeed. How original. Everyone on the stage is rehearsing a production of “La Sonnambula.”
To give the story greater interest as she sees it, Zimmerman has moved the action to the present day. Dessay makes her first entrance wearing a white coat, red scarf and gloves, chatting on her cell phone, every inch the diva. She multitasks during her first aria, having her costume altered, picking out shoes, a nice green pair, and rejecting wigs. All this stuff distracts from the sweet beauty of the music.
Later, she “sleepwalks” in from the rear of the auditorium, singing her way down the left aisle. Where is her bed? In the Met opera gift shop?
Florez looks tough in his black-leather jacket, but what 21st-century man would carry on just because his girlfriend has been found sleeping on a strange bed? And why is this bed in the rehearsal studio anyway?
Round of Boos
At the end of the first act, when Elvino calls off the wedding, the chorus/villagers turn on Amina. Paper is torn into pieces, costumes are thrown about and the bed is disassembled. Even the garbage cans are emptied onto the floor, why is never made clear. As the curtain came down, the first round of boos rang out.
In the next act, we briefly enjoyed Florez’s impassioned aria, but even the fabled sleepwalking scene was ruined by Zimmerman’s “improvements.” Dessay stopped and chalked “aria” on the studio blackboard. Come on.
Why stage an opera you don’t like or trust?
The jubilant final ensemble is staged as a dress rehearsal, with everyone in cutesy Swiss villager costumes. Of course they look ridiculous. But with this gesture Ms. Zimmerman sets up a straw man, as if the only choices were either to place “La Sonnambula” in Heidi’s hokey Alpine village or to turn it into a Pirandello play.
A video of the curtain calls is available here
Listen also to the BOOING as it was broadcast last night on Sirius and the reactions (or actually the lack of reaction) by Margaret Juntwait and William Berger
Sounded pretty unanimous to me....
1. Natalie Dessay, with "Sovra is sen" giving her a hard time
2. "Son geloso del zeffiro errante" Juan Dieguito & Natalie
3. "Non piú nozze"
4. "Ah! Non credea mirarti"
5. "Ah! Non giunge"