Funny how, when you're approximately the only person that liked something, you feel like its defender and champion even if you liked it in a decidedly tepid way.
Here's what I think happened, though I didn't come up with this entirely on my own: people read/heard/read about/heard about Dessay's dismissive remarks about Sonnambula and it colored their reaction to the entire piece, made them see satire and condescension where, by and large, it wasn't there (even if what was there wasn't exactly beauty or genius.) Central to this idea, for me, is the now much bemoaned piece of business in which Dessay makes her entrance to that enchanting orchestral bit just before singing "Ah, se una volta sola..." and walks up to the board on which has been written "Village Square" and all that, and dreamily writes "ARIA" in big letters.
Judging by the reaction, people find this to be a gigantic "fuck you" to Bellini, to the audience, to the stagehands, to Jesus, and pretty much everyone else. I kind of understand why, especially when I reach back and think of Mark Morris' kitschy-cute biz for Amor in his Orfeo, but I just think this reaction is mostly about things external to the moment. When I saw it, before the angry outpouring, I found it to be gently funny, albeit basically of a piece with the shallow self-referentiality that even I concede makes the Concept ultimately unworkable.
There is only one truly derisive gesture in the piece (coupled with one absolutely inexplicable one, the tearing of the scores and that whole hoedown before the first curtain) which is the aggressively dopey Swissing it up for "Ah, non giunge." Perhaps people are right to feel poked in the eye by that one. Since I don't love the opera itself, I found it funny, but this is (a little to my surprise, I'll admit) a minority opinion.
Listen, our forgiveness of ridiculous libretti is, I think, directly proportional to our love for the music. I guess I might get indignant about a production that seemed to mock La Gioconda even though it's asking for it. I pissed off a friend by calling Sonnambula nonsense: it's no more nonsensical than plenty of other things. I've just never found the music sufficiently wonderful to transport me to that land of suspended disbelief we ideally inhabit in the opera house when we need to.
The reaction at the prima still feels bitter and puritanical to me, but only in tenor and volume; I'm willing to grant that Ms. Zimmerman took a potshot at her audience (and by this I mean the people she should have considered her audience--the people who love the opera she chose to conceptualize) with the sarcastic folk-dancing, even if it felt more like a gentle nudge to me.