Sunday, March 22, 2009

I meant the good kind of travesty

I got a ticket off craigslist for the sold-out live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of La Sonnambula yesterday. I was not previously familiar with this opera, but Bellini is always a safe bet, as is Nathalie Dessay, and the new production is by Mary Zimmerman. Who is not always a safe bet. I didn't have time to read about the production till I was googling for running time before bolting out the door, and the first thing I found was a review that had the word 'travesty' in the headline. At that point, I figured I was better off reading nothing.

Starting from that benchmark, it was not as bad as I expected, but Zimmerman decided to do a rehearsal-style production that lent absolutely nothing to the opera. In the first place, while this might be novel for the Met, it's far from original, and it's been done better. The earliest one I can think of was a Cosi fan tutte at Glyndebourne, around when all the Peter Sellars-type modern settings, deconstructions, etc. started to appear. For Mozart's opera, in which everyone is in disguise and being farcical to begin with, rehearsal highlights the artificiality and dramatic qualities of the piece. In a melodrama about true love in a village and maidens' purity, etc., the modern setting doesn't work quite as well, and I can't figure out what qualities the rehearsal was supposed to emphasize. What is more, it wasn't quite a rehearsal of La Sonnambula; it was Sonnambula set in a rehearsal, so the actual characters were opera singers, stage managers, etc. Yet it then breaks into full Swiss village dress at the end, as if rehearsal had moved to stage. It wasn't painful; it just didn't do anything particularly well.

Zimmerman was booed on opening night at the Met, which is stunning -- so rarely happens. This ain't La Scala. But I understand that one or two major tweaks have been made, and a conservative audience might well have just been driven over the cliff by the original business.

Nonetheless, there were some hilarious touches in the direction. A real highlight was when Lisa, the second-best gal, is shunning the touch of the second-best guy and goes for the bottle of Purel. That got a big laugh.

The Met did a very nice job again with the broadcast, complete with Deborah Voigt hosting and interviewing the stars, Dessay and Juan Diego Flores, and the prompter, a nice behind-the-scenes look. Flores was a little pitchy on the high notes yesterday, but has an extremely bright, pure tone that appeals to me (though it blasts through movie speakers really loudly). Very few opera stars look like good actors next to Dessay, though, who is like a tiny charm machine. She makes up in vocal technique and intellect what she lacks in sheer power, and is utterly convincing in a ridiculous ingenue role. Beautiful singing that overcame a pointless production.

1 comment:

Christie said...

Have you read the New Yorker article on Dessay and the opening of this production? She talks quite a bit about Zimmerman. An interesting read.