Standing On Her Head

by wjw on August 26, 2009

Saturday night we joined Gene Bostwick for dinner and the Santa Fe Opera.

Dinner was at Espiritu, a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint next to K-Mart. Let’s just say that chipotle Alfredo sauce doesn’t sound like a good idea, but it tastes like a great idea. It’s lucky that I don’t live within 90 miles of Espiritu, otherwise I’d eat there all the time and blow up like a blimp.

The opera was La Traviata, with Natalie Dessay as Violetta.

Oh . . . my . . . God.

The first glimpse of the stage was not promising. Large oblong boxes made up the whole of the scenery. Apparently the story took place in a Second Empire that decorated primarily with packing crates.

Then Dessay turned up, skipping along the top of the boxes, and I felt sure that she’d lose her footing, fall, and break an ankle. Except that she didn’t.

The jumping around was only part of it. Dessay disdains “park and bark,” where the singer stands motionless and sings to the audience— acting, she thinks, means moving around. So she sang wonderfully while lying down, she sang wonderfully while jumping about the set, she sang with transcendent wonderfulness while curled up in a corner. She did everything but stand on her head— and I had the impression that if she had in fact stood on her head, she’d sound just fine.

I mean, she’d start singing and the whole audience would gasp. She was that freaking good.

She’s a tiny woman— the rest of the cast towered over her— and how she could create those glorious noises in such a weeny frame, let alone a weeny frame scrunched up between a couple of packing crates, is beyond my imagination.

Personally, I suspect a Deal with the Devil.

Up till this week, she’d sung opposite her husband Laurent Naouri as Germont, but this week he was replaced by Anthony Michaels-Moore, who was just splendid, and really held his own in every scene with the star.

Even more astounding: this was the first time she’s played Violetta.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a musical experience quite like this one. Three days later, I can still hear bits of Dessay rattling around in my head.

If the one remaining performance hadn’t been sold out, I’d have driven up to Santa Fe to see the whole thing all over again.

Rebecca S. August 26, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Oh, jeeze, that sounds wonderful beyond belief. To think that earlier this year I considered going down to Santa Fe with a friend for a couple of the operas, of which Traviata would have been one, but decided that no, I should stay home and get work done instead. Feh. But lovely that you had that experience. I will surely try to catch Dessay as Violetta (or anyone) if I have the chance.

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