The Met choristers, portraying the members of the opera company, look relaxed in their workaday clothes, designed by Mara Blumenfeld. When Ms. Dessay arrives for rehearsal, a little late, she descends the stairs in a creamy white coat, her ear to a cellphone, looking distracted but confident as the company’s prima donna. Mr. Flórez is a dashing Elvino in black pants and leather jacket, exuding energy and knowing charm.
The bright-voiced soprano Jennifer Black plays Lisa, who, as Bellini presents her, is an inn hostess frustrated in her enduring love for Elvino. Here she is the efficient director of the company. The mezzo-soprano Jane Bunnell sings with appealing warmth and makes a charmingly frumpy Teresa, Amina’s adoptive mother.
When the Italian bass Michele Pertusi, a sophisticated singer, made his entrance as Count Rodolfo, dressed impeccably in a cashmere coat, I wondered whether Ms. Zimmerman might have simply updated the story and left it at that. The added conceit encumbers the entire production. When Elvino proposes to Amina, is it real or just a rehearsal? That the choristers look on, slightly bored and slightly touched, gives no clue.
Ms. Dessay’s entrance during the first crucial sleepwalking scene is a theatrical coup. From a rear door of the Met auditorium, a bright light pointing the way, she walks down the aisle toward the stage, turning around midway to sing the opening recitative, looking and sounding spectral. Soon, she wanders up to the stage and the waiting count. Yet again the questions come: Is her sleepwalking just a rehearsal? If so, who is directing it?
When the villagers in Bellini’s opera discover Amina asleep in the count’s room, they are scandalized. But why would Amina’s colleagues be so shocked by a little backstage hanky-panky? What kind of urban opera company is this?
The ensemble scene that ends Act I is a meticulously staged and unmotivated muddle. The choristers, riled by the breakup of Amina and Elvino, go crazy and trash the rehearsal room, ripping up their scores, flinging costumes on the floor, knocking over music stands.
Clearly Ms. Zimmerman wants her audience to respond intuitively and not think too hard. But this does not excuse her from having to work out the details of the concept. Paradoxically, I have never been so caught up with the implausible specifics of the libretto. With the disconnect between the story and the staging, I kept thinking, “But that’s not what Amina means.”
Ms. Dessay was not too happy working with Ms. Zimmerman on the Met’s new production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” last season. But on Monday, when Ms. Zimmerman’s appearance during curtain calls was met with an outburst of lusty booing, Ms. Dessay tried to shush the audience and applauded her director vigorously.
I wish I could say that Ms. Dessay has been thoroughly emboldened by this production. There are wondrous qualities in her singing. Though not large, her voice has such bloom and is supported so securely that it fills the house easily and sends Bellini’s phrases soaring. Her feeling for nuance in the lines and the words is always sensitive.
Still, there is sometimes a tentative quality to her work, as during the opening cavatina, “Come per me sereno,” when Amina expresses girlish contentment in her love through radiant music suffused with sadness. As Ms. Dessay sings this aria, her Amina blithely endures a costume fitting, which makes her expression of romantic bliss come across as insincere.
I seem to be among a minority who find the timbre of Mr. Flórez’s voice a little tight. But he certainly sings Elvino with abundant energy, stylish phrasing and ringing top notes. He won a tumultuous ovation from the audience. Evelino Pidò conducted a nicely subdued account of the score, though in places his halting execution seemed overly deferential to the pacing onstage.
Hanging over the production is the perception that no one seems to believe in this opera. Before the mad scene, Ms. Dessay’s somnambulant character writes the word “aria” on the blackboard, which of course induces a laugh and practically announces, “Do not take this scene seriously.”
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.Continue reading the main story
Although Act 1 finds Mr. Marelli bringing out the story’s charm, while paying close attention to the innkeeper Lisa, who had hoped to win Elvino for herself, one gets the impression that in Act 2 he got tired of taking “La Sonnambula” seriously.
For Amina’s ecstatic “Ah! non giunge,” sung at the end after all is resolved, Ms. Dessay suddenly appears in a red gown, comes to the footlights and sings in front of a backdrop resembling the trompe l’oeil curtain of the Palais Garnier. This operatic moment points up that, splendid though Ms. Dessay’s singing is, others have brought more vocal brilliance to this dazzling moment. Limpid melodies are more her thing.
Ms. Dessay is happily partnered with the tenor Javier Camarena, who as Elvino sings with handsome, well-modulated tone and arresting dynamic shading. He delivered only one verse of his cabaletta “Ah! perchè non posso odiarti,” but ended it with a loud interpolated high note, as if that compensated the omission.
The suave baritone Michele Pertusi finds the nostalgic essence of Count Rodolfo’s aria “Vi ravviso,” and Marie-Adeline Henry offers a perky, vibrantly sung Lisa. Evelino Pidò is an able conductor, whom singers apparently like because he lets them do pretty much what they want. Among the cuts he sanctions is the charming chorus at the start of Act 2.
Paris offers so many opportunities to hear 17th- and 18th-century operas played on period instruments that you might expect the Opéra’s modern-instrument orchestra to cultivate big-boned Mozart performances in the manner of a Muti or a Levine.
For the current revival of Luc Bondy’s production of “Idomeneo” at the Palais Garnier, however, the early-music specialist Emmanuelle Haïm was engaged on expectations that she would bring period flair to the performance.
It was not to be. Just two days before the premiere, Ms. Haïm pulled out. As Le Monde put it, the Opéra orchestra has a reputation as a “killer of conductors.”
“This is a French phenomenon,” it added. “If a conductor is unacceptable to a German, British or American orchestra, the players will play as well as possible and be content not to have him invited back.”
Under the circumstances, it is understandable that the orchestral performance under the replacement conductor Philippe Hui fails to have much of a profile. Still, with Charles Workman in the title role of the Cretan king, Mozart’s great sacrificial drama manages to work its effect. The excellent soprano Tamar Iveri sings the jealous Elettra with iridescent tone and, in her final rage aria, riveting excitement.
Vesselina Kasarova is always a pleasure to encounter in any trouser role, here as Idomeneo’s son Idamante. Isabel Bayrakdarian, though her voice sometimes sounds wiry, also makes an impression as the Trojan princess Ilia.
Mr. Bondy’s somber production, set on the desolate beach of Erich Wonder’s décor, with murky images of stormy skies and seas, makes important moments tell, like the recognition scene for Idomeneo and Idamante. It also brings home the devastation Idomeneo causes his subjects by failing to fulfill his vow to Neptune and sacrifice his son.
Yet amidst the rejoicing at the end, a thunderstorm gratuitously breaks out, the chorus runs off and the music fades away. The effect is sophomoric, in much the same way that the close of Mr. Bondy’s “Tosca” is for the Metropolitan Opera, when the heroine, jumping to her death, is seen suspended in midair.
La Sonnambula. Directed by Marco Arturo Marelli. Opéra National de Paris, Opéra Bastille.
Idomeneo. Directed by Luc Bondy. Opéra National de Paris, Palais Garnier.Continue reading the main story