March 2, 2009
Over the years, I’ve had many a reason for gratitude to the Metropolitan Opera. Tonight, thanks to the premiere of the new production of La Sonnambula, I can add the discovery within me of hitherto unrealized stores of willing suspension of disbelief. I had heard many complaints beforehand (mostly from people who were at the dress rehearsal, but also from two Met ushers who independently told me that the production was a mess), so at least I had the advantage of being forewarned. The recasting of the plot made no sustained sense whatever (which is strange, since the whole reason for ignoring the libretto’s plain sense was the supposed unbelievability of the opera’s simple little story).
But I had a great time on account of the music and the two leading performers. I’m also unashamed to admit that there were entertaining distractions for me in the wildly incoherent direction — like when, in a moment of chaos, the prompter was dragged out of her box to join the cast onstage.
I’ve already hymned Dessay and Flórez sufficiently here and here. And, about this time last year, I posted pieces on how the development of Chopin’s melodic style makes complete sense only in light of Bellini’s operas. These are, as it happens, among the most-visited postings on this site. (Somebody must have linked to them somewhere.) They can be see here and here. I bring them up now because it struck me tonight that, whereas in the past a pianist might safely look to bel canto singers for a guide to the cantabile that every pianist worth his salt pursues, nowadays the reverse might be requisite. Namely, we probably have more Chopin pianists who understand the long melodies and arc-shaped phrases of the idiom than we have singers who have mastered them.
What I like about the two principals tonight, however, is that — while some cavil at the timbre or size of their voices — they sing with a musicality that I’m convinced Bellini and Chopin would have recognized.