Monday, May 19, 2014

Dream Meets Reality

Bellini’s La Sonnambula
Met - April 1, 2014

I have never seen Bellini’s La Sonnambula performed “straight,” that is to say, in a traditional way, but I suspect I may find it flat after having discovered this opera through Mary Zimmerman’s production when it premiered in 2009. This was my third time seeing it and I continue to like it quite a lot, especially since it fleshes out and refreshes an otherwise pretty linear and not particularly exciting or dynamic story, all while expanding on its themes.

Diana Damrau stars as the star of the show
Photo credit: Marty Sohl 
The plot is very simple: village boy and girl are about to get married. Girl happens to be a sleepwalker and ends up in the bed of another man. Boy throws a jealous fit and calls off the wedding. Girl is heartbroken because she did not do anything wrong and really, really loves boy. Once the sleepwalking misunderstanding is cleared up everybody returns to their lovey-dovey selves again and all ends well.

The dreamer on set at rehearsal
Photo credit: Marty Sohl 
Zimmerman stages Bellini’s work in the rehearsal room of an opera company preparing a La Sonnambula performance. The production notes tell us that the story, actions and characters of the village are all coincident with those of the rehearsal room. This blurred line between reality and art (that is itself double faced – “rehearsal” vs. “Met” performance) raises questions of what is art and how life is influenced by it and vice versa. Since there is no distinct difference between the two, the viewer is kept wondering if she is seeing the opera or “real life.” This riffs on other contrasting themes of the original opera, such as the different perceptions of the same reality by the “awake” and the “sleepwalker” and the tension between what you see and what you believe. In many ways, the public of Zimmerman’s production experiences the same doubts and confusion of the opera’s characters, not knowing whether to fully believe what it sees is part of the show or part of the characters’ reality.

The chorus rebels
Photo credit: Richard Perry, NYTimes
Among the several hilariously entertaining bits, I particularly liked the anarchic frenzy at the end of act one when the chorus members/villagers think Amina has been spending the night with the count. They all give up on the rehearsal and start trashing costumes and destroying scores, even trying to pull the prompter’s (and the prompter himself) out of the hole, as if to say “if this is the way things are going we don’t like it and we don’t want to be a part of it anymore! We want chaste virtuous Adina, not this double-faced trollop!”

Diana Damrau dreams 
Photo credit: The Metropolitan Opera
Diana Damrau carried the show, being there and having fun, showcasing great acting and sense of humor – she even cartwheeled in the finale and at curtain call! Her singing was sensational, with light trills, piercing pure sound, ranging from the sweetest tone to the more cheerful energetic bel canto – just they way a coloratura soprano should be (though she can also do Verdi pretty wonderfully too).

Tenor Taylor Stayton was disappointing, even more so because the 2 prior times I saw this opera Alvino was played by Juan Diego Florez (who is perfect for this type of role). Stayton’s Alvino was shrill, lacked warmth and expressiveness and even his acting was bland – really showing that bel canto should either be done right or not at all.

Michele Pertusi and Rachelle Durkin share an intimate moment
Photo credit: The Metropolitan Opera
Baritone Michele Pertusi as Count Rodolfo was solid, with commanding acting and a warm, deep sound. Soprano Rachelle Durkin was an awkward and goofy Lisa but her slapstick acting worked with the character and all in all sang well.

La Sonnambula showcases the chorus way more than other bel canto operas and the Met chorus really shined, not only with great singing, but also having fun with Zimmerman’s production and playing a key role in emphasizing the theater within the theater side of it.

Damrau dances a joyful jig 
Photo credit: Jonathan Tichler / The Metropolitan Opera 
The finale is an uplifting celebration of all the confusion that has just transpired. Everybody ends up in costume as though they’ve finally stepped out of the rehearsal room onto the “real” Met stage to perform the show they’ve been preparing for. Except, in the very moment that all the different realities are meant to collide, the scenery breaks up and the illusion of the rehearsal room and the Met stage is laid bare. All is dream, all is reality.

Lei & Lui

Evvivan gli sposi!
Photo credit: Jonathan Tichler / The Metropolitan Opera

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