Joseph Calleja and Natalie Dessay Photo: Ken Howard/MetOpera 2011
On Saturday, I attended the matinee performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at The Metropolitan Opera in New York
. I found it to be an excellent and very enjoyable performance, which admittedly came as somewhat of a surprise to me. It was my first, in-the-flesh exposure to this Mary Zimmerman-directed staging now in its second revival. The production also had a prior appearance in the company’s Live in HD broadcast series when in starred Piotr Beczala and Anna Netrebko in the title role in 2009
and was again broadcast on Saturday with the production’s original star Natalie Dessay returning as Lucia. There has been plenty of not too happy ink and pixels spent on Zimmerman’s production and Dessay since the show's premiere in 2007. And all the talk probably lowered my expectations somewhat leading to a very pleasant surprise when I discovered that the show actually was quite well done all around.
Earlier this year I listened to both personal acquaintances and their cyber-equivalents speculate wildly about who would “actually” be singing Lucia when the run opened in New York given Dessay’s cancellations both at the Met last season and abroad more recently. And one can always check out the usual on-line locales for hectoring about Dessay and the status of her vocal career. She is loathed by some as an overly perky, hyperactive pixie past her prime. Then she arrives in this run of Lucia
, as she has laid out in several recently aired interviews, to take a new low-key, less physically involved approach for which she is then rewarded in the New York Times
with a review chastising her for being absent and emotionally uninvolved from the performance.
Well from where I was sitting in the house on Saturday, I’d say it’s all bull. She apparently didn't get any of the memos about the faltering of her career and gave one engrossing, excellent performance. Dessay sounded great for the most part. Her coloratura was more than functional and she was never shrill or screaming. Her mad scene was thrilling and she did, in fact, project the mental instability called for in the part. It may not be the best Lucia she’s ever performed and it may not be the best one anyone else will ever do, but it was world-class and very entertaining. She wasn’t the only one to impress. Joseph Calleja, Dessay’s Edgardo, was the best I’ve ever heard him. Romantic, impetuous and heart breaking, Calleja was vocally certain through the whole show even fleshing out some of the less intriguing passages in the opera like the opening of Act III. Ludovic Tézier sang Enrico with a dark villainous energy and Kwangchul Youn brought the part of Raimondo to a much higher level than one might typically associate with this opera. I even found conductor Patrick Summers engaged in a way that I don’t always expect with the always formidable Metropolitan Opera orchestra.
Now maybe I was lucky and this was somehow an unusual performance in the run. Perhaps things have solidified since the opening performance. Or maybe given that today’s show was also an HD broadcast, everyone involved was on their A-game. From my prior experiences sitting in the live audiences for these broadcasts, I’d say there does seem to be some benefit in being in the house for the performances that are part of the live transmission series. And while some have bemoaned that the Met's productions are increasingly directed for the camera, I'd argue that at least on the days of the broadcast, the live in-theater performances tend to stand out for their quality.
I was also rather taken with Zimmerman’s late-Victorian transposition of the storyline. The presence of ghosts solves many problems in the libretto including the absence of Lucia in the final scene and the lack of a final duet. It is both creepy and simultaneously lays the groundwork for the protagonists encroaching madness. I also loved the group photograph at the close of Act II, which provides a logical and convincing framing device for the out-of-time sextet that, beautiful as it may be, kills the action for the benefit of musical structure. The audience seemed pleased with all of this as well with a huge ovation for the cast and a clearly pleased Calleja and Dessay. Once again it is worth remembering to not believe the hype.
Labels: Met opera reviews 10/11