(AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl)
"I missed a high note today," said soprano Natalie Dessay, "I'm sorry!"
Dessay confessed to the live in HD audience during intermission about a pitch that seemed placed but for which no sound came out at first. The note finally did speak and she closed the vocal cadenza at the end of Sempre libera.
Dessay struggled against her voice throughout the performance. It lacked her characteristic power, agility, and crystalline color. Often the sound seemed torn and raspy, and the cords did not always vibrate at her command. One hoped she would warm and rally. One hoped that it would not become a distraction; after all this is a heroine who is ill. But there was no rally. It was distracting.
But it was also filled with an unusual kind of emotional charge. Her determination was inspiring. Her extraordinary musicianship was also inspiring; and it allowed her to continue in spite of all challenges.
But in spite of huge sound from Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont and an effective performance from Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo, the connection among characters that needed to take place in order to fully mine this plot never materialized.
The Willy Decker production remains "timely." The connection from the end of the second act into the opening of the third proved that the death scene need not take place on a Victorian sickbed, but that it was connected to the very location of abandonment. Alienation was expressed during the final moments by staging the heroine's drops into death alone and unattended by those around her.
During the first curtain call everyone else had vanished and Dessay alone was onstage for the first bow. She had somehow managed to draw us close.