This year’s revival of Mary Zimmerman’s La Sonnambula at the Met requires too much suspension of disbelief to seriously work, but it provides a fun and vibrant take on Bellini’s bel canto opera all the same. The story, which isn’t “serious” at all anyway, concerns a soon to be married couple, Amina and Elvino, the jealous Lisa, and a stranger visiting from out of town, Count Rodolfo. When Amina sleepwalks her way into the stranger’s room at the inn, the townsfolk assume the worst, and Elvino refuses to marry her. In this production of La Sonnambula, the characters have been whisked from the village of Felice Romani’s libretto to a modern-day rehearsal space where they are preparing for a production of La Sonnambula. Their lives soon begin to parallel those of their “fictional” counterparts. So the already outlandish plot becomes twice as hard to swallow when we are expected to believe that a woman named Amina, who happens to be starring as a sleepwalker (also named Amina), begins sleepwalking herself.

Diana Damrau (Amina) © Marty Sohl
Diana Damrau (Amina)
© Marty Sohl

Despite the problematic plot holes, Ms. Zimmerman’s take on the story is still lively and irresistible. Daniel Ostling’s set is more than convincing: an auditorium complete with metal doors (and a red “Exit” sign above them), bare walls adorned only with a generic clock and a lazily oscillating fan, a water cooler, and a chalkboard informing us of each scene change. There are even a collection of harsh overhead lights, which T.J. Gerckens’ lighting design manipulates skillfully in its shifts from day to night and back again. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes range from the street clothes worn throughout the “rehearsals” to the traditional Viennese outfits of the final scene. Likewise, Daniel Pelzig's choreography encompasses a wide variety of movement, from the jeans-clad stagehands moving loosely and dreamily in Act I to the more traditional wedding scene at the end. It was all delightful, particularly the mayhem at the end of Act I: papers and skirts being thrown up in the air, flying everywhere, and a couple of stagehands gleefully spinning a bed (with Elizabeth Bishop as Amina’s mother perched on top) around in circles.

Elizabeth Bishop was only one in a stellar line-up for this production. As Teresa, Amina's doting mother, she provided comic relief with her full voice and humorous expressions. At the other end of the spectrum, Javier Camarena's Elvino wrung sympathy from our hearts. His powerfully sung arias and unwavering emotion kept the night from veering off into pure fluff. His Act II aria “Tutto è sciolto” elicited more applause from the Met audience than I've heard for some time. Amina's nemesis, Lisa (here the jealous director of the production), was portrayed energetically by Rachelle Durkin. Even as Lisa became more shrill and whiny, Ms. Durkin's voice never lost its sheen.

Diana Damrau (Amina) © Marty Sohl
Diana Damrau (Amina)
© Marty Sohl

Michele Pertusi lent his solid vocals to the scenes in which his character, Count Rodolfo, appeared, particularly towards the end as the Count insists on Amina's innocence. Beneath these figures, the Met Orchestra sounded just as cohesive and animated as ever, and although the brass smudged a few notes here and there, the orchestra generally contributed sprightly motion and lyrical contour under the baton of Marco Armiliato.

Diana Damrau (Amina) © Jonathan Tichler
Diana Damrau (Amina)
© Jonathan Tichler

In the title role, Diana Damrau knocked it out of the park. Whether sleepwalking down the center aisle of the opera house, or trying on shoes and zany wigs, her voice bounced effortlessly between timidity, unbridled happiness, and ragged distress as her unfortunate ordeal unfolded. At the end of her Act I duet with Elvino, her voice trembled and almost faded entirely before breaking into a forceful “Addio”. The slightest inflection in her voice caused changes so drastic and lovely that the contemporary actress Amina merged with Bellini's Amina to create a single, believable entity. She enlivened the stage, at times with exuberance and at others desperation. Ms. Damrau flitted eagerly between phrases and sustained her high notes with ease. During the Act II aria “Ah! non credea mirarti”, she sang on a ledge extended over the orchestra pit, her distraught murmuring escalating to a pleading, almost wailing outcry. Her demeanor quickly regained its jubilation, however, in the final wedding scene, in which the contemporary Amina had donned the costume of her “fictional counterpart”. After dancing vigorously, Ms. Damrau only added to our amazement when she turned not one, but two cartwheels.

****1