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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

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):