Opéra Bastille, 28 January 2010
"Bien que souffrant...blah blah blah....Natalie Dessay...blah blah". Nothing, not even the announcement of Dessay's situation, seemed to surprise the audience of La Bastillle that had flooded the vast hall and had made all tickets for all performances of La Sonnambula disappear in about 20 minutes on the first day of sale. We had all heard the same ol' story before and we already knew that Dessay had sung the first couple of performances sick. And such was the demand for tickets that there were quite a few desperate people outside the theatre holding signs reading "I only want ONE ticket" and the black market guys were everywhere around trying to sell le billet d'or.
According to Marco Arturo Marelli's vision, La Sonnambula takes place at some winter resort of Courchevel or Gstaad or wherever, where poor Amina is working as a maid (ugh), Lisa seems to be one of the resorts's clients (or is she the manager?) and il Conte is just il Conte. Still haven't figured out if Elvino is a valet or a bell boy. So, Amina is getting married and all the other maids are very happy and inbetween tidying and cleaning rooms they sing for the happy virgin that found the real love. On the other hand, Lisa is just a libertina, an "easy" girl - who spends most of the opera wearing only one stocking and one of her high heels - the missing stocking and the missing high heel are in the possession of the Conte and will be the evidence that will lead to Amina's triumph -a handkerchief in the original version.
Most interesting point of the stage direction: when Elvino finds out Amina's betrayal, during a snow storm, one of the windows on the left is crashed and loads of snow, storm in (literally). In Act II everything is upside down and covered by the snow -I mean even the interior of the hotel-, the window is still broken and there are stoves on stage (for obvious reasons). Freakin' genious! (...). And it get's even better: Dessay spends most of the opera singing on tables. Don't ask me why, ask the stage director.
Enough with trashing this man's vision. Let's move to the interesting part (and as I always say, messieurs les directeurs, no matter what you do, it's the singers we go to the opera for, not you - ok, maybe I would go to a Lenhoff staging just for him).
Natalie Dessay, la Marianne d' opéra français, even if announced sick, was an excellent Amina. Period. And I could not accept any comment or opinion on that. Say what you say, trash her as much as you want, the sick Dessay I watched was 100 times better that all the Aminas that sing the role nowadays (hmmm..I wonder if there are any...). The thing with Natalie is that she has just spoilt us during all these years of spectacular career, and we, the audience, expect from her to be super-human. I 'm not claiming that her singing was flawless, I'm not pretending not to be annoyed at times by her hysterical approach to roles/arias/whateva, but I'd rather go for an exciting Amina than a flawless one. And yes, the finale of the opera where the curtain falls and La Dessay stays alone on stage, gowned and bejeweled, to sing her Ah! Non Giunge is very callassiano, but hey, it's the Marianne of Opera we 're talking about.
Watch Dessay singing Ah! Non giunge!
It was the first time I was listening to Javier Camarena live. The voice is smooth and agile, the high notes sound fabricated and at times annoying, however, if you can't get JDF for the role, Camarena is as good as it gets.
Michele Pertusi passed almost unnoticed. I don't think he finds much excitement in the part and one can tell - his "Vi ravviso" was more boring than watching grass grow.
Kudos to Marie-Adeline Henry, our Lisa who had to spend most of the performance ballancing on one high-heel only (I suppose a big challenge for every young singer, especially when they also have to wear only one stocking), to Cornelia Oncioiu who was a good Teresa and to Nahuel di Pierro who was surprisingly interesting given the extent of his part.
Evelino Pidó struggled to make a difference and strangled Bellini's spirit. I must admit though that the ensemble finale of Act 1 was very impressive- not due to the chorus that was mediocre, missed some entrances and at times was 0ff-tempo.
Overall a very good perfomance, at least vocally, with a staging that was burnt far too early.
Time for some (more) nagging: It seems that very few things have changed from Violetta Valery's Paris and tuberculosis is still among the main causes of death. I 've never seen such a disrespectful, undisciplined audience before, coughing like being in the last stages of consumption, talking loud to one another, checking blackberries, texting, etc. There's no unacceptable theatre behaviour that was not present on Thursday night. And on top, all this at the parterre, in a zone of particularly expensive tickets. C'mon people, I know your entrecôte is waiting for you after the performance but just pretend that you 're not bored even for 30 minutes.
Marie-Adeline Henry and her stocking...
Next: Werther with Jonas+Sophie and our flight to the moon (and back).