Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Loon against the moon

For the past several weeks I've been irrationally excited every time I saw Natalie Dessay's haggard mug on one of the Met ads plastered on bus shelters all over town—it may have something to do with misplaced French pride, which also got a boost from last week's rugby triumph. I was particularly excited to see the froggy star in Donizetti's over-the-top Lucia di Lammermoor, even if opera blogs were carrying alarming rumors about the cluelessness of director Mary Zimmerman (whose popular Metamorphoses I missed a few years back).

Alas, the evening was okay but not exciting. Supposedly Zimmerman researched the local flavor in Scotland, where the action takes place. Watching the results, I sometimes thought, The director went to Scotland and all I got is this lousy crag. Dessay did her best and proved you can act up a storm and still come across as restrained, and she sounded fine (but not great) to my untrained ears. My biggest beef is with the theatrical elements themselves, which felt weirdly tentative. The Met's current Madama Butterfly and Magic Flute productions are warhorses that will survive almost any cast; this Lucia lives or dies by whoever plays the title role—if she isn't up to snuff, it will all sink.

I actually preferred the Met's previous Lucia, which I saw a couple of years ago with Elizabeth Futral. To me it captured the opera's grand nuttiness, especially since Futral (not the most precise singer but a grand emoter) teetered very close to camp, in a Jennifer Jones kinda way. It was insanity in grand Technicolor. Zimmerman's Lucia, on the other hand, is insanity in muted beige. Wow, what a non-thrill!

One of my favorite writers around, Vilaine Fille (aka Marion Lignana Rosenberg, a contributor to TONY and other fine publications), eviscerated the production here. She sets her phaser to TOTAL DESTROY and…well, it's a sight to behold.

Across the plaza the same night, a friend—let's call him Tristan—was catching Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci at City Opera. He was unlucky enough to run into that dreaded subset of the NYC audience: the Boor.

"The two wealthy looking people behind me were amazingly drunk," Tristan reported in a postmortem email the following day. "Coming in late, spilling m&ms all over the floor, talking, falling asleep and snoring, and then mumbling incoherently during the entire last 5 minutes. As the woman staggered over her aislemates just as the applause started, I couldn't resist the urge to stand up, turn around, and tell my slowly moving captive audience what I thought about her. 'Go home and sleep it off! Next time drink at home!' I don't think she even understood what I was saying. I actually regret not physically knocking her over. Is that bad?"

I often fantasize about confronting the Boor; Tristan did it.

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