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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

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):