The Metropolitan Opera's 2001/2002 season ended on a somewhat sour note with the much publicized cancellation of tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who turns 67 this fall.
Fortunately, the events leading up to it were generally happier affairs: with outstanding performances of Berg's Lulu (starring Christine Schafer as a peerless Lulu); a welcome revival of Parade (a collection of three French works by Ravel, Satie and Poulenc); a new but uneven production of Verdi's Luisa Miller (featuring Canadian bass Phillip Ens, who sang the role of Wurm with sonorous voice and sinister intent); a major restoration of Franco Zeffirelli's timeless production of Verdi's Falstaff; and the Met premiere of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's rarely performed opera, Sly: The Legend of the Sleeper Awoken.
Although listed as new, the Met production of Sly came from the Washington Opera, where the work had received its U.S. premiere in March 1999 with Jose Carreras in the title role. There was much controversy and many cries of "nepotism" surrounding the Met's decision to bring the production to New York. Tenor Placido Domingo, who was engaged to sing the title role, is also the artistic director of the Washington Opera, and his wife, Marta, was hired to stage the production. As a result of the politics, many were, regrettably, too quick in writing the entire affair off.
Sly, which received its world premiere at La Scala in 1927, is, admittedly, a problematic work on many levels. The libretto, which centres around issues of reality versus illusion, took its initial inspiration from a short scene at the beginning of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. But instead of Shakespeare's tinker, the central character in Giovacchino Forzano's libretto (which was turned down by Puccini) is turned into a poet, visionary and drunkard named Christopher Sly.
The first act takes place in the Falcon Tavern in London. Sly falls into a drunken stupor, and the Earl of Westmoreland orders the impecunious poet taken to the castle, cleaned up, dressed in finery, decked out with jewels and put to bed. When he awakes, Sly is to be told he has been ill for several years, he has recovered and he is, in fact, a wealthy aristocrat. Although the Earl is initially aided in this charade by his mistress, Dolly (who pretends to be Sly's wife), she becomes an increasingly reluctant participant as her true love for the poet develops. …