Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Les Indes galantes, Bavarian State Opera

Baroque opera has long been an important part of the Bavarian State Opera’s programming. And beyond the company itself, Munich’s tradition stretches back many years indeed: Kubelík’s Handel with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, for instance.

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Eglise Gutiérrez as Amina [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
05 Nov 2011

La sonnambula, Royal Opera

Bellini’s La sonnambula does not have the most gripping or convincing of opera plots: a young girl sleepwalks into a stranger’s room, where she is discovered by her fiancé; disbelieving her pleas of innocence, he jilts her and plans to wed another; but, she is vindicated when she is spied on a nocturnal wander, and the lovers are reconciled.

Vincenzo Bellini: La sonnambula

Elvino: Celso Albelo; Amina: Eglise Gutiérrez; Lisa: Elena Xanthoudakis; Count Rodolfo: Michele Pertusi; Alessio: Jihoon Kim; Teresa: Elizabeth Sikora; Notary: Elliot Goldie. Director: Marco Arturo Marelli. Conductor: Daniel Oren. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera Chorus. Set designs: Marco Arturo Marelli. Lighting designs: Marco Arturo Marelli. Costume design: Dagmar Niefind-Marelli. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Wednesday, 2nd November 2011.

Above: Eglise Gutiérrez as Amina

Photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

However, the wafer-thin text is more than compensated for by the composer’s ravishing score and reams of gorgeous melody.

SONNAMBULA ©BC20111029238 - KIM AS ALESSIO (C) COOPER.pngJihoon Kim as Alessio

It’s a simple tale and needs a light touch. Sadly, in this revival of Marco Arturo Marelli’s 2002 production, both the presumptuous direction and Daniel Oren’s sluggish tempi weigh down the proceedings, and the result is narcotic.

Not trusting the music itself to provide depth and insight, Marelli has given the opera a ‘psychological makeover’. Thus, the Swiss village setting is replaced by an Alpine sanatorium (intended, we are told, to suggest the world of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain) where Elvino – no longer a local landlord but a composer – has been undergoing treatment since the traumatic death of his mother. Bellini’s orphaned maid, Amina, to whom Elvino is betrothed, is now a waitress at the sanatorium. So, we have no gentle pastoral woods and byways, rather a sublime mountain-scape panorama, visible through vast atrium windows; sublime, that is, until an avalanche crashes through the windows and ruins the grand piano! And the site of the opera’s only really dramatic event – the narrow bridge over the rushing mill stream upon which the villager’s witness the precarious exploits of the sleepwalking, thereby proving her innocence – is also dispensed with. Instead, Anima has to navigate her way across the wreckage of the piano. Nineteenth-century village yokels are replaced with bustling nurses in crisp uniforms and wheelchair-bound patients sporting modern evening dress. It’s enough to send us all to the asylum.

SONNAMBULA ©BC20111029200 - PERTUSI AS COUNT RODOLFO, GUTIERREZ AS AMINA (C) COOPER.pngMichele Pertusi as Count Rodolfo and Eglise Gutierrez as Amina

But, bel canto is all about the singing, so perhaps some high-class performances could rescue this production from insanity and inanity? Sadly, our Elvino, Spanish tenor Celso Albelo, could not provide the stature and presence required. While his diction was good and his tone sweet and pure, some incredible high notes and considerable vocal agility could not compensate for a total lack of charm. Albelo’s acting was leaden, and he needs to use his face more expressively to ensure a fully convincing sense of style.

As Amina, Eglise Gutiérrez demonstrated a beautifully tender pianissimo, floating, delicate upper notes, and an expressive vibrato. Crucially, however, her Italian is very poor, and occluded diction destroyed the inherent line of the melodies whose elegance is so intimately rooted in the language. Gutiérrez also adopted an overly fussy approach to the demanding coloratura. The florid passages stretched her technique to its limits, and she simply didn’t have the notes, especially in the final aria, in which she celebrates her lover’s return. Gutiérrez wasn’t helped by Marelli’s decision to bring the curtain down at the very moment she wakes, swap her demure, white nightgown for a plunging, scarlet velvet gown, and force her to stand on a table to deliver this fiendish number. With soloist and conductor wildly adrift, it made for an anticlimactic ending.

The rest of the cast were solid. Elena Xanthoudakis did a good job of conveying Lisa’s bitter jealousy, and mastered the stratospheric pyrotechnics (though why is she costumed as a lusty barmaid?); and as Count Rodolfo, Italian bass-baritone Michele Pertusi was appropriately authoritative and resonant. Elizabeth Sikora sang the role of Teresa, Amina’s foster mother, most impressively, making much of her powerful interjections. Jihoon Kim (Alessio), a Jette Parker Young Artist, and Elliot Goldie (Notary), a member of the ROH chorus, were reliable in their minor roles.

SONNAMBULA ©BC20111029261 - ALBELO AS ELVINO, XANTHOUDAKIS AS LISA (C) COOPER.pngCelso Albelo as Elvino and Elena Xanthoudakis as Lisa

Bellini composed the opera after a holiday in Como, where he admired the landscape and simple pastoral lifestyles of the inhabitants; the folk music he heard inspired him to create the beautiful, quite substantial, choruses which abound in the score. The Royal Opera chorus were a bit ragged, but they did have to endure Marelli’s silly stage antics; the instrumentalists of the ROH orchestra fared better, despite Oren’s uninspiring, tentative guidance.

But, although Marelli’s sweeping scenic designs are pleasing to look at, the production’s psychobabble is pretty unpalatable.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):