I am something of a veteran in what regards Mary Zimmerman’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for the Met. I have seen every cast featured in the opera with the exception of the most controversial one (unlucky me) – that of this year’s revival with Anna Netrebko and her three tenors. Fortunately, there are things that only the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series can do for you, even if my experience was far from live.
First of all, it is quite peculiar to watch the opera at a movie theatre. It is darker than in the opera house, the sound is louder (so you don’t feel like killing your neighbour when he or she starts to fidget with his or her personal belongings or coughing his or her lungs out), you have that funny camera angle as if you were hanging from the edge of the stage (I am not sure I really like that), everybody seems to have a HUGE voice and the orchestra is so powerful as if the Berliner Philharmoniker were playing in your bathroom. There is also the intermission, with Natalie Dessay apparently on drugs manically asking around questions that she herself was ready to answer.
Actually the funniest event of the evening is her appearance at Netrebko’s dressing room’s door. Dessay asks about her approach to the role. Netrebko says something like “it is very difficult and you have to know where the traps are in order not to fall in any of them”. And then Dessay insists – but you mean vocal, interpretative or scenic traps? And Netrebko goes on with “yes – all that”. But Dessay wants to know the secrets of Netrebko’s mind and suggests – you mean you have an intuitive approach? And Netrebko says “yes – something like that”. But Dessay is indefatigable and says “You mean you can be open to the possibilities because you have already carefully worked out them in rehearsal?”. Netrebko looks at the camera, thinks “Uvy…” to herself and says “Yes – I practice a lot”. That is the moment when Netrebko should have said “Look, Natalie – I am not French. I don’t do philosophy – I just sing”. Dessay winks at the camera with “well, folks, I’ve tried” and leaves Netrebko to her preparation for the Mad Scene. The curious thing is that Netrebko goes to her dressing room with the microphone on her hand. A guy rushes in after her. I guess his mission was to turn the microphone off before it broadcast to the world the word “Bitch…”.
Back to the performance. Although I was not live at the theatre but using my experience with Netrebko’s Elvira from the Met’s Puritani, I feel comfortable to say I would have probably enjoyed her Lucia more than I did either Dessay’s or Damrau’s. Although Dessay’s voice had seen healthier days, the role did not seem to pose her technical challenges and she projects efficiently in the auditorium. What bothered me, it was her detached, over-analyzed approach that, together with indifferent enunciation of the Italian text, gave me the impression that the whole Lucia thing was below her intellect. As for Damrau, she just should not sing that role in a gigantic theatre such as the Met, where a certain curdled quality in her tone brings about the opposite of loveliness. Although both these ladies deal with the coloratura demands far more efficiently than Netrebko – I still feel more comfortable with Netrebko’s richer, larger and more beautiful sound. I also believe that she understands that she is no soprano coloratura and deals with her fioriture in a more delicate, rather Mozartian way that could not be wiser considered the role and her possibilities. Until the Mad Scene, her performance seemed to me a valid alternative to Lucia if you want to hear a darker tone and a more lyric approach to this role. But the fact is that this fearsome scene finds her in disadvantage. She did not let herself overwhelm by the many difficulties, but she did not really transcend them. It was acceptable considering the beauty of her voice and her good taste. Although the close-up angles showed a very much self-possessed look, I somehow liked her more economical gestures in that scene, compared to Dessay and Damrau’s more semaphoric attitude, which seemed finally distracting to my taste. If I have to point out another good novelty, this would be the very light suggestion of repressed incestuous feelings between the siblings. I had never thought of something like that, but this could offer a modern-psychology explanation for a lot happening in this opera.