After an abominable entrance scene of ill-supported crooning (the point at which I switched off last month's matinee broadcast), Netrebko's vocal night did improve as it went on. With her high notes long-held and mostly (when in tune) solid, and a now-stable darker squillante fullness in slower parts, she even made a sonic success of her part. Well, as much of a success as an Elvira who goes off pitch with every (muddled) coloratura passage can have.
But let's be clear: just because Netrebko is young, thin, and mobile does not mean she can act. In fact, her "acting" works best when she sits still in a pose and hits a high note; in motion, her gestures fall between a nice try and bad camp. Of course she's not at all helped by her trapped colleagues, the bland production of Sandro Sequi, and the invisible stage direction of Sharon Thomas, but the essential culprit is -- as in last season's Don Pasquale -- her own lack of interest in the character she's playing. Elvira's inner contest between sweetness and sublimated rage? Nowhere to be seen. The real contest is between the bored audience and this would-be star trying to shake them out of their seats by any means to hand (or, as with the lying-over-the-pit stunt, head). Bellini is not the winner.
Let's not, however, take this as an excuse to tar the composer or even his much-maligned librettist Pepoli. The action, if unbelievable, is a decent correlative for the slow and quick melodies, contrasts, and elaborations that make the score enjoyable even in this provincial-level presentation. And credit to Patrick Summers, too, for sustaining a respectable and even occasionally urgent musical underpinning to the mess. Under his baton flutist Michael Parloff had, I thought, the best bel canto moments of the night.