This is the year when the Metropolitan Opera finally discovers Natalie Dessay, who has been singing there for more than a decade. She’s hardly been obscure—as long ago as 1998, she absconded with a production of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann when she sang the role of the malfunctioning doll Olympia and lit up the stage like a small nuclear power plant. Since then she’s been given roles that fit her pretty shape and Champagne soprano: Gounod’s Juliette and Zerbinetta in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.
On September 24, Dessay opens the Met season with a new production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and steps into bona fide divadom. It will be interesting to see how a singing actress with a seamless sense of ensemble handles the ultimate star turn. Lucia is one of those operas with a title role so dominant and demanding that audiences wade happily through its swampy plot to hear a soprano glitter. The work’s whole reason for existence is the Mad Scene, in which Maria Callas and, later, Beverly Sills exhibited finely wrought hysteria.
Dessay has sung the role before, but never at the Met, and in her honor the company is rolling out a production directed by Mary Zimmerman, whose name seems permanently fused to the epithet “visionary.” Few will mourn the loss of the dour staging from the old production, which seemed scavenged from Medieval Times. But Zimmerman’s reinvention will have to pass muster with more people than just bel canto buffs, since opening night is once again being broadcast to the giant screen at Times Square.