Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):