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La sonnambula, Metropolitan Opera, New York, March  2009
Juan Diego Flórez as Elvino and Natalie Dessay as Amina 
La sonnambula, Metropolitan Opera, New York 2009

          Met's 'Sonnambula' Strays Into Hostile Territory, Washington Post, 4 March 2009
          What Was She Thinking? Bloomberg News, 3 March 2009
          Best Just Walk Away, New York Post, 4 March 2009 
          Lovelorn Sleepwalker, Caught Between Rehearsal and Reality, New York Times, 4 March 2009
          Met Opera makes a travesty of La Sonnambula, Associated Press, 3 March 2009
          La Sonnambula, The Metropolitan Opera, Opera News,  May 2009

Met's 'Sonnambula' Strays Into Hostile Territory
Anne Midgette, Washington Post, 4 March 2009

A few years ago, it seemed that Bellini's operas were seldom performed. Now they're done all the time, in part because of the ascendancy of two sopranos -- Natalie Dessay and Anna Netrebko -- who are seen as ideal for this repertory. Netrebko did Bellini's "La Sonnambula" in Vienna in 2006. Cecilia Bartoli, the mezzo-soprano, has just recorded it for a CD. And on Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera's new production, with Dessay, earned boos at its first performance. (The production will be shown live in movie theaters on March 21.)

One reason not to do "Sonnambula" is that it's silly: Oh-so-innocent young girl loves boy, sleepwalks, is found sleeping in strange man's room, regains trust of lover. But plenty of operas are silly and are staged nonetheless, because of the music. The Met's problem was that it approached the opera backward, engaging the stage director Mary Zimmerman -- a tacit indication that the staging will play a leading role -- and two proven leads, Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez, but leaving the conductor as the weakest part of the equation.

Bel canto opera only sounds easy. To bring it off you need a musical leader who can weave all those delicate musical threads into a single strand. Evelino Pidò, in the orchestra pit, was not that leader, and the music was wishy-washy as a result. The chorus, which has been sounding fantastic since Donald Palumbo took over as chorus master in 2007, was not fantastic at all. And even the good leads found the opera somewhat heavy to carry entirely on their own.

In a recent profile in the New Yorker, Dessay said that "it's almost impossible to sing and really act at the same time." This statement perfectly sums up the weaknesses in her performance. When she is focused on singing -- as when she sleepwalked through the auditorium, one of the most satisfying moments of the evening -- her voice fills out and expands through the house. But acting is her calling card; when she is building character, adorable though she be, she scales back her singing, and it is simply less interesting.

Flórez is singing really well these days. Always a formidable technician, he seems to have tempered the bothersome driven quality in his voice, and his sound is more supple and elastic (he also stars on the Bartoli recording). Like Dessay, he has to contend with the restrictions imposed by a smaller voice. His voice, like hers, blossomed when he focused wholly on the singing (particularly in their Act 1 duet and in his cabaletta after Elvino, his character, rejects his bride in Act 2).

The other singers all did what they could. I found the bass Michele Pertusi disappointingly pale as the Count (whose simple aria is a favorite). Jennifer Black was a lively, brassy Lisa; Jane Bunnell was fine as Teresa, and Jeremy Galyon made his company debut as the bumpkin Alessio.

But what about those boos?

I, too, have approached this performance backward. For while I believe the music comes first, what drew the boos on Monday night, and what everybody will be buzzing about for days to come, was Zimmerman's production.

Zimmerman did a lot better with this than she did with her last Met outing, the unfortunate "Lucia di Lammermoor" (also with Dessay) that the Met just revived with Netrebko and broadcast in movie theaters last month. She hasn't learned to work with a chorus yet -- her crowd scenes are generally disastrous -- but she managed to make a few things happen on the stage, like that inspired sleepwalking scene.

But sadly, the production still didn't quite work. And because it is more daring than the "Lucia" -- the conceit is that the cast is meeting in a New York loft space to rehearse the opera, and their characters' actions bleed over into real life -- it is probably going to bother people more than "Lucia" did.

It's refreshing to see Amina depicted with some spunkiness. The heroine is usually so naive and vulnerable as to become cloying. Here, instead, she made a diva entrance, talking on her cellphone while chorus members, all in street clothes, gathered around to take her coat and present costume options to her. And Elvino (Flórez) was the diva's real-life lover, who proposes marriage during a break in the rehearsal proper.

Well and good. But then the Count enters, and the stage manager, Lisa, fixes him up with a bed for the night. Who is the Count, and why is he sleeping in a rehearsal room? Why is the diva napping on the job, or is she supposed to be in character when she starts sleepwalking? Confusion is a hallmark of bel canto operas, but it shouldn't extend to the audience as well. And the Act 1 finale, which had the chorus throwing torn-up paper and cups around the room, was inexplicable.

I have no problem with updating opera or reinterpreting it, as long as the whole thing hangs together. But in order to work, it has to make sense. This production managed to follow the contours of the story while making no sense at all. At the end, the whole chorus appeared for the first time in quaint Swiss costume: Okay, they're putting on the show now; I get it. But how did that fit Zimmerman's conceit? Perhaps by her next Met production, Rossini's "Armida" in April 2010, she will be comfortable enough with opera to deliver something better than merely the next step on what is, apparently, a long learning curve.

What Was She Thinking? Booing Greets Met's Weird Sonnambula
Zinta Lundborg, Bloomberg News, 3 March 2009

Bellini's sweet piece about a sleepwalking girl in 19th-century Switzerland received a new production -- and a lot of boos -- at the Metropolitan Opera last night.

"La Sonnambula" (1831) has a number of nice tunes, especially for Amina, the sleepwalker, and her beloved Elvino, who nearly forsakes her because she ended up in the wrong bed during one of her nocturnal excursions.

Thank God for soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Juan Diego Florez, who sang adroitly all night long while stuck in a production by Mary Zimmerman that makes you question whether poor Amina was the only sleepwalker at the Met.

Unlike most operas involving a woman's honor, this one ends happily after Amina proves her innocence by walking dangerously in her sleep for all to see.

Zimmerman, who usually works in theater, showed little sensitivity to the delicate psychology of early-19th-century bel canto opera when she staged "Lucia di Lammermoor" last season.

This show is far worse.

Everything slides confusingly downhill after the first glimpse of the show curtain's Alpine scene where Bellini set the story.

The Tyrolean spell is quickly broken during the overture by two ugly, white utilitarian doors. Then a woman walks across the stage and, with a weary shrug, disappears through them.

Soon chorus members in street clothes bustle around a rehearsal studio, furnished with coffee makers, blackboards, clothes racks and garbage cans. This is a one-set production, suggestive of the Met's new austerity plan. The only hint of Bellini's Swiss village is the tiny diorama depicting a traditional production.


By now, of course, we have sadly understood Zimmerman's concept: This is going to be a play within a play. Yes. Indeed. How original. Everyone on the stage is rehearsing a production of "La Sonnambula."

To give the story greater interest as she sees it, Zimmerman has moved the action to the present day. Dessay makes her first entrance wearing a white coat, red scarf and gloves, chatting on her cell phone, every inch the diva. She multitasks during her first aria, having her costume altered, picking out shoes, a nice green pair, and rejecting wigs. All this stuff distracts from the sweet beauty of the music.

Later, she "sleepwalks" in from the rear of the auditorium, singing her way down the left aisle. Where is her bed? In the Met opera gift shop?

Florez looks tough in his black-leather jacket, but what 21st-century man would carry on just because his girlfriend has been found sleeping on a strange bed? And why is this bed in the rehearsal studio anyway?

Round of Boos

At the end of the first act, when Elvino calls off the wedding, the chorus/villagers turn on Amina. Paper is torn into pieces, costumes are thrown about and the bed is disassembled. Even the garbage cans are emptied onto the floor, why is never made clear. As the curtain came down, the first round of boos rang out.

In the next act, we briefly enjoyed Florez's impassioned aria, but even the fabled sleepwalking scene was ruined by Zimmerman's "improvements." Dessay stopped and chalked "aria" on the studio blackboard. Come on.

Why stage an opera you don't like or trust?

Evelino Pido by contrast clearly loves the music and conducted with a light touch and support for the singers, the lot of them encumbered by silly outfits. Michele Pertusi swaggered around in a camel-hair coat and didn't fit into Zimmerman's concept at all -- who was this rich stranger who had to sleep on a bed in the rehearsal studio?

Period Costumes

Just before the end, the set turned and the choristers entered, now dressed in spanking new Swiss village period costumes and hats.

Dessay and Florez, also clad in stupid Tyrolean finery, join them in a final song and dance number that came off as a mockery of Bellini. "Is this what you expected?" Zimmerman seemed to be asking.

The audience's final response: a cascading chorus of boos.

Best Just Walk Away
James Jordan, New York Post, 4 March 2009 

At  the Metropolitan Opera's opening per formance of "La Son nambula" Monday night, the most vigorous vocalism emerged from the wrong side of the footlights. Hundreds of the capacity audience erupted in loud boos when director Mary Zimmerman took her curtain call - clearly displeased with the Tony winner's postmodern take on Bellini's wispy plot.

In his 1831 opera "La Sonnambula," small-town virgin Amina (Natalie Dessay) loses her reputation after waking up in a strange man's bed. Even her boyfriend Elvino (Juan Diego Florez) rejects her, until he realizes she is, as the title implies, a sleepwalker.

Zimmerman attempts to add a layer of sophistication to this naive tale by setting the action in a modern-day rehearsal hall. A soaring SoHo-like loft space designed by Daniel Ostling, the room is scattered with folding chairs, music stands and costume racks, ready for a run-through of "La Sonnambula."

The "villagers" are now choristers in jeans, sweaters and casual skirts, and the drowsy ingenue has become a bitchy diva complete with cellphone and oversize sunglasses. As Amina sings delicately of nature and the joy of first love, she tries on shoes and trashes a half-dozen wigs.

Stranger concepts have succeeded in the opera house, but Zimmerman's ideas lacked both conviction and consistency. Why, for example, did the chorus tear its music into confetti during the first-act finale?

The audience, unsure of what was happening onstage, tittered nervously. Even the finale, with the entire company decked out in glitzy Swiss costumes for a campy "Springtime for Hitler" production number, puzzled more than it pleased.

The worst opera staging can be redeemed by great singing, and in Florez, the Met can boast one of the world's most stylish tenors. His light, tangy voice alternated between sweetness in the lyrical sections and sheer adrenaline when he skyrocketed into the stratosphere around high C.

Dessay was less happily cast as Amina. Her manic mugging couldn't camouflage a worn voice that left Bellini's elegiac melodies sounding threadbare.

The strong supporting cast featured Michele Pertusi, who unfurled a suave bass as a mysterious count. Conductor Evelino Pido showed consideration in keeping the Met orchestra down, never overwhelming the light voices of his cast. But an opera about sleepwalking needs someone more alert in charge or else the audience is likely to doze..

Lovelorn Sleepwalker, Caught Between Rehearsal and Reality
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 4 March 2009

The premise behind Mary Zimmerman's exasperating new production of Bellini's "Sonnambula" for the Metropolitan Opera, which opened on Monday night, is that the story of this 1831 bel canto classic is hopelessly absurd.

Amina, a sweet young woman in a 19th-century Swiss village, has fallen in love with Elvino, a wealthy young landowner. Alas, Amina is a sleepwalker, and on the night her engagement is formalized, she wanders in a trance into the room at an inn where a mysterious count is staying. The villagers are shocked; Elvino is outraged. But Amina's innocence becomes clear when, mad with grief, she sleepwalks in the presence of her beloved, and all ends happily.

Yet through his emotionally piercing and sublimely lyrical music Bellini touches on the buried complexities of this flimsy story. You would think an opera director could find contemporary resonances. Amina is an orphan, raised by a single parent, a good-hearted mill owner with ambitions for her daughter. From her opening aria the fragile Amina seems almost disbelieving of her luck at finding a mate as splendid as Elvino. By sleepwalking into the count's room, is she exposing some subconscious desire? Or sabotaging her happiness?

Instead of trying to take the opera on Bellini's terms, Ms. Zimmerman places the story in contemporary New York, where we see a small opera company rehearsing "La Sonnambula." The soprano and tenor stars are romantically involved. As a directorial concept, "This is just a rehearsal" has become almost as clichéd as "It's all a dream." So despite its seeming boldness, Ms. Zimmerman's staging, the first Met production of the work since 1972, comes across as a cop-out.

It must be said that Ms. Zimmerman has elicited wonderfully sung and mostly affecting performances from her leads, the riveting French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay as Amina, and the charismatic Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez as Elvino. And Ms. Zimmerman conveys the hubbub of an opera company vividly. The unit set by Daniel Ostling depicts a warehouselike rehearsal room, with tall glass windows overlooking downtown streets. A metal stairway leads to an upper-floor office, and the place is cluttered with costume racks, music stands and a blackboard on which the director writes the settings for each scene: a village square, a town inn.

The Met choristers, portraying the members of the opera company, look relaxed in their workaday clothes, designed by Mara Blumenfeld. When Ms. Dessay arrives for rehearsal, a little late, she descends the stairs in a creamy white coat, her ear to a cellphone, looking distracted but confident as the company's prima donna. Mr. Flórez is a dashing Elvino in black pants and leather jacket, exuding energy and knowing charm.

The bright-voiced soprano Jennifer Black plays Lisa, who, as Bellini presents her, is an inn hostess frustrated in her enduring love for Elvino. Here she is the efficient director of the company. The mezzo-soprano Jane Bunnell sings with appealing warmth and makes a charmingly frumpy Teresa, Amina's adoptive mother.

When the Italian bass Michele Pertusi, a sophisticated singer, made his entrance as Count Rodolfo, dressed impeccably in a cashmere coat, I wondered whether Ms. Zimmerman might have simply updated the story and left it at that. The added conceit encumbers the entire production. When Elvino proposes to Amina, is it real or just a rehearsal? That the choristers look on, slightly bored and slightly touched, gives no clue.

Ms. Dessay's entrance during the first crucial sleepwalking scene is a theatrical coup. From a rear door of the Met auditorium, a bright light pointing the way, she walks down the aisle toward the stage, turning around midway to sing the opening recitative, looking and sounding spectral. Soon, she wanders up to the stage and the waiting count. Yet again the questions come: Is her sleepwalking just a rehearsal? If so, who is directing it?

When the villagers in Bellini's opera discover Amina asleep in the count's room, they are scandalized. But why would Amina's colleagues be so shocked by a little backstage hanky-panky? What kind of urban opera company is this?

The ensemble scene that ends Act I is a meticulously staged and unmotivated muddle. The choristers, riled by the breakup of Amina and Elvino, go crazy and trash the rehearsal room, ripping up their scores, flinging costumes on the floor, knocking over music stands.

Clearly Ms. Zimmerman wants her audience to respond intuitively and not think too hard. But this does not excuse her from having to work out the details of the concept. Paradoxically, I have never been so caught up with the implausible specifics of the libretto. With the disconnect between the story and the staging, I kept thinking, "But that's not what Amina means."

Ms. Dessay was not too happy working with Ms. Zimmerman on the Met's new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" last season. But on Monday, when Ms. Zimmerman's appearance during curtain calls was met with an outburst of lusty booing, Ms. Dessay tried to shush the audience and applauded her director vigorously.

I wish I could say that Ms. Dessay has been thoroughly emboldened by this production. There are wondrous qualities in her singing. Though not large, her voice has such bloom and is supported so securely that it fills the house easily and sends Bellini's phrases soaring. Her feeling for nuance in the lines and the words is always sensitive.

Still, there is sometimes a tentative quality to her work, as during the opening cavatina, "Come per me sereno," when Amina expresses girlish contentment in her love through radiant music suffused with sadness. As Ms. Dessay sings this aria, her Amina blithely endures a costume fitting, which makes her expression of romantic bliss come across as insincere.

I seem to be among a minority who find the timbre of Mr. Flórez's voice a little tight. But he certainly sings Elvino with abundant energy, stylish phrasing and ringing top notes. He won a tumultuous ovation from the audience. Evelino Pidò conducted a nicely subdued account of the score, though in places his halting execution seemed overly deferential to the pacing onstage.

Hanging over the production is the perception that no one seems to believe in this opera. Before the mad scene, Ms. Dessay's somnambulant character writes the word "aria" on the blackboard, which of course induces a laugh and practically announces, "Do not take this scene seriously."

The jubilant final ensemble is staged as a dress rehearsal, with everyone in cutesy Swiss villager costumes. Of course they look ridiculous. But with this gesture Ms. Zimmerman sets up a straw man, as if the only choices were either to place "La Sonnambula" in Heidi's hokey Alpine village or to turn it into a Pirandello play.

Met Opera makes a travesty of La Sonnambula
Mike Silverman, Associated Press, 3 March 2009

In the final scene of Vincenzo Bellini's opera "La Sonnambula," the heroine is reunited with her true love after sleepwalking across the dangerously high eaves of a rooftop.

Had she caught a glimpse of the new production that opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, she might have decided to jump instead.

Director Mary Zimmerman has taken this fragile pastoral fantasy  - set to some of the most gorgeous melodies ever written - and imposed a play-within-a-play framework that makes a joke of the story and robs it of its sentimental charm.

So, instead of Amina and Elvino in a Swiss village, we get opera singers who happen to be named Amina and Elvino, rehearsing a production of "La Sonnambula" in a large, modern studio.

At first it almost makes sense _ the performers are in love, just like their characters in the opera. But the lines quickly blur as the plot unfolds.

In the opera, Amina sleepwalks into the bedroom of the visiting Count, causing her jealous lover to think her unfaithful. Only when he sees her sleepwalk again does he realize she is innocent. But in this production, who is the Count, exactly, and why wouldn't the modern-day Elvino know that his fiancee walks in her sleep?

Zimmerman clearly has no use for the libretto by poet Felice Romani, referring to it in program notes as "famously light and ... a little incredible." She shares this opinion with soprano Natalie Dessay, who stars as Amina and who reportedly insisted the production be set just about anywhere except a real Swiss village.

Dessay gets two of the evening's biggest laughs, both at the expense of genuine feeling. The climactic high note of her opening aria should be an expression of joy at her upcoming marriage; instead, it becomes a shriek of dismay as a cart full of ugly wigs is wheeled out. Even worse, just before launching into her unearthly beautiful final aria, she breaks out of her trance long enough to scrawl the word "ARIA" on a blackboard. Gales of laughter; spell broken.

The triumphant ending, with Amina and Elvino reunited, becomes an occasion for one more gag, as the chorus, dressed until now in street clothes, appear in Swiss villager garb. Amina and Elvino sprout peasant outfits as well, and suddenly they're apparently performing the finale of the "real" opera.

"La Sonnambula" was wildly successful at its premiere in 1831 and throughout much of the 19th century, but it's admittedly not as easy for modern audiences to take seriously as some other works of that era. It's neither a blood-soaked tragedy like Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," nor a comic romp like his "La Fille du Regiment" ("The Daughter of the Regiment").

Both of those were big hits at the Met last season, both starring Dessay. Zimmerman also directed the "Lucia," taking some liberties (introducing a ghost and a photographer who shoots the wedding party during the Sextet), but remaining more or less true to the spirit of the work.

This time she and her production teammates have done the opera a disservice, and they deserved the boos to which they were subjected at their curtain call.

When Dessay wasn't clowning, she did some lovely singing. She gave that final aria, "Ah! non credea mirarti," a hushed, soulful quality that seemed the very definition of mournfulness. And in the ecstatic cabaletta that follows, "Ah! non giunge" her high notes had an enviable sparkle.

As Elvino, tenor Juan Diego Flores, who conquered those nine high Cs last season in "La Fille," sang with angelic purity and impressive command of bel canto ornamentation. Bass Michele Pertusi lent strong support as the Count, but soprano Jennifer Black had difficulty in her upper register as Lisa, Amina's rival for Elvino's affections.

Conductor Evelino Pido led a buoyant reading of the score, never rushing the long melodic lines for which Bellini is famous.

La Sonnambula, The Metropolitan Opera
F. Paul Driscoll, Opera News,  May 2009

Vincenzo Bellini's La Sonnambula is an anomaly within the bel canto canon; neither comedy nor tragedy, it is a sentimental romance, the story of young love derailed, albeit temporarily, by a silly misunderstanding. The beauties of its score are legion and without peer. The merits of its dramaturgy are less universally applauded, although the libretto by Felice Romani skillfully contrives a series of situations that allow Bellini's languishing heroine, Amina, and her hotheaded beau, Elvino, to express themselves in some of the most ravishing melodies ever written. The return of the opera to the Met's repertory on March 2  after an absence of more than thirty years  was eagerly awaited, but the company's new production by Mary Zimmerman was a disappointment, its various conceptual conceits proving too heavy a burden for this delicate work to bear.

In several published statements and in remarks during the Met's 2008 season-preview press conference, Zimmerman revealed that she had originally planned a fairly faithful production scheme for her new La Sonnambula  choosing to set it in a Swiss village, as specified in the original libretto. Conversations with Natalie Dessay, the theatrically savvy star scheduled to sing Amina, convinced Zimmerman that something less traditional was in order. The opera's setting was changed to the rehearsal hall of a contemporary opera company preparing a production of La Sonnambula with singers named Amina and Elvino, who happened to be lovers, starring as Bellini's lovers, Amina and Elvino  a concept that sounded promising on paper but proved baffling in performance. What was happening to whom and at what time was rather unclear, especially as the updating, if that is what it should be called, was applied inconsistently. Some elements of the libretto were reinvented out of whole cloth (the innkeeper Lisa was transformed into a stage manager; the simple villagers became contemporary professional choristers; the suspension of "real" time was indicated by the spinning hands of the rehearsal-room clock), while others  the count's bed (if not his bedroom), Amina's sleepwalking, Elvino's low tolerance for infidelity  were left unchanged. There were some striking visual images, as is always the case in Zimmerman's work, but few moments of honest sentiment in this willfully unmusical staging, which seemed to be working hard to impose a postmodern narrative on La Sonnambula at the expense of letting Bellini's score tell its part of the story. (Was that why it was so difficult to spot a piano in the rehearsal room?)

From a vocal standpoint, matters were considerably happier. Juan Diego Flórez, an Elvino lithe of voice, body and personality, seemed blithely unconcerned by the multiple storylines at work around him and contributed a dash of the thrilling stand-and-deliver vocalism that is his wont in more traditional stagings. Jane Bunnell, as Teresa, sang with impressive warmth and style, deftly balancing her duties within Zimmerman's new narrative and Romani's libretto. Michele Pertusi was a neatly aristocratic Rodolfo, dispatching "Vi ravviso" with admirable flair, though it was unclear exactly what role his nattily tailored figure was supposed to have in the rehearsal room. Jennifer Black, the talented young soprano cast as Lisa, could not quite summon the free high C required of her and seemed to be struggling with the somewhat shrewish characterization that the rehearsal-room storyline dealt her. Met assistant conductor Carrie-Ann Matheson contributed a game onstage cameo as a beleaguered prompter.

The most interesting dramatic tension existed between Dessay and the two Aminas that she was playing: this unfailingly honest artist left an equivocal impression in a vehicle that is clearly not a comfortable fit for her considerable gifts. Dessay is a performer of extremely positive temperament, whose best roles  Zerbinetta, Olympia, the Queen of the Night, Handel's Morgana, Donizetti's Marie and Lucia, Massenet's Manon  are those that take full advantage of her ferocious, unstoppable energy and the palpable physical force of her singing in allegro passages. She is at her most exciting when her characters are driving the action; as witness her scrupulous but bland Pamina at Santa Fe Opera in 2006, Dessay is not at her happiest when playing a powerless heroine. She can offer a reasonable facsimile of wistfulness in short bursts, but she's too much of a spunky gamine to sustain a victim's pose for very long: it's her unapologetically tough core that makes Dessay's dramatic choices in Lucia di Lammermoor so compelling. Her Lucia doesn't give in to her madness; she fights against it, tooth and nail.

La Sonnambula's Amina is not exactly a victim  at least not in the twenty-first-century sense of the word  but she's not much of a fighter, as far as Romani's libretto is concerned. Although Amina spends much of the opera wrongly accused of immoral behavior, she's constitutionally (and dramatically) incapable of speaking in her own defense: her response to her unhappy situation isn't blazing defiance, à la Anna Bolena, or a bravura mad scene but "Ah, non credea mirarti," a heart-stopping expression of ineffable sadness that is also one of the most exposed moments in the entire bel canto repertoire. By Dessay's own admission, her timbre is not a particularly Italianate one and lacks the innate color (and forward projection of vowels) that can give Amina's meanderings their needed bloom and warmth: in this sublime final scene, Dessay's concentration and commitment were admirable, as always, but her singing was uncharacteristically tentative and her tone thready and shallow. Intonation was better here than in Act I's "Care compagne  Come per me sereno," which involved the diva Amina (as opposed to the character Amina) trying on costume pieces, reviewing (and rejecting) wig possibilities, etc.  a device that allowed Dessay to deploy her astonishing physical dexterity and her razor-sharp comic timing but got things off to a rather soubrettish start. One might argue that Bellini's presentation of Amina's unalloyed joy at the beginning of Act I is a canny foundation for the pathos of Act II, but this production chose not to take advantage of that opportunity. Likewise fumbled was the chance to show off Bellini's joyous Act II finale as a celebration of the redemptive power of love  and of beautiful music; it was instead staged as a raucous, low-camp Swiss precision-dance number.

Evelino Pidò, a frequent collaborator of Dessay's in Europe and in the recording studio, conducted deferentially, with little clarity or point, especially in those sections of the score involving the Met chorus (prepared splendidly by Donald Palumbo), who managed to maintain their collective musical dignity throughout the evening  against considerable odds.