I’ll be quite honest and confess I went to the Met tonight with a negative disposition. I am a bit fed up with Natalie Dessay’s recent interviews in which she tells stories about herself and her artistry different from those she used to give ten years ago (yes, I have a good memory…) and I am still diggesting her Lucia “with an attitude”. I can even tell you right away that the first 30 minutes seemed to prove me right about my intuition – the overture was pretty disjointed, Dessay’s soprano wanted focus, brightness and projection during Au bruit de la guerre… By then, the whole performance promised to be long and pretentious. And then Juan Diego Flórez appeared on stage. I knew his comedy actor skills from the Met’s Barbiere di Siviglia, but his Tonio is a step further. His acting fulfilled to perfection the image of naiveté and gaucherie designed by the director. And that man really can sing. His tenor was at it most ductile and caressing and he seemed to laugh of the impossible difficulties in Ah, mes amis. Judging from what I heard, even if that aria had 27 high c’s, this would not cause him any trouble!
As for Dessay, it is beyond doubt that her voice has lost its former sheen and impetuosity and that she has some grey-toned patches and moments of virtual inaudibility. That said, I can tell you that those who were in the Met tonight left the theatre convinced that they have witnessed the work of a great artist: her talent for physical comedy is phenomenal, her delivery of the spoken lines is indeed worthy of an experienced actress, her musicianship is admirable and her charisma is irresistible. Most amazing of all, during the performance itself, it was very difficult to analyse those elements in their own values since they were closely imbricated on each other. Although her flexibility in coloratura is still something to marvel, she really won me over in lyric moments such as Il faut partir, when her voice regained the hallmark gleam, her legato could flow undisturbed and ethereal high pianissimi could be floated, all in the service of expression.
In the role of Sulpice, Alessandro Corbelli not only was in strong voice and showed command of French language, but also built a most likeable stage presence, funny without any hint of exaggeration. I cannot say this virtue was shared by Felicity Palmer, but I guess the role of the Marquise de Berkenfield requires the all-out approach. Her bright vibrant mezzo soprano was the aural image of the decadent and moody aristocrat.
Once past the mess in the overture, Marco Armiliato seemed to be concentrated on finding the optimal level of volume in order not to drown his lightweight cast (those are definitely not the Sutherland/Pavarotti-style voices), something with which he had relative sucess. Tempi tended to be animated and the lyrical moments revealed some inspired playing by individual players in the orchestra.
Laurent Pelly’s production looks somewhat like an illustration for Tintin comics – the idea of representing the Tyrolese relief with mountains of map is beautiful and intelligent, to start with. The stage direction is coreographied with Swiss clockwork precision and not only do the soloists act splendidly, but also the chorus. His Einverständnis with Dessay is particularly positive – she relishes the busy gesturing required from her and often uses it to give dramatic meaning to her fioriture. Someone seated next to me mentioned he felt as if he were watching a play and not an opera – and this should be understood not in the sense that theatrical values had price of place, but as a result of a wholly integrated approach to musical and dramatical expression. Bravo to Mr. Pelly and his truly talented cast.