La Sonnambula

Tonight’s opening performance of that tuneful Bellini 1831opera calls for many kudos and a few criticisms.

The voices:

Natalie Dessay as Amina-simply gorgeous in singing and acting .She rendered ever so beautifully the haunting qualities of the sleepwalking scenes ( one can only regret the niekulturnyii applause before she could finish one of her arias) .Her performance as Amina  was, if anything, better than in La Fille du regiment.

Juan Diego Flores as Elvino, was simply monumental. He does remind one of such great tenors as Beniamino Gigli and Nicolai Gedda.

Jennifer Black as Lisa was quite competent, and for a relative newcomer -a graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program-she deftly avoided the trap of wanting to impress the audience and, as a result, forcing her voice. Her performance was solid throughout .We can only look forward to hearing more of her as she develops.

Michele Pertusi, the Italian bass, as Count Rodolfo was excellent in the role, both in his singing and in his acting .Aficionados will recall him as Leporello, Raimondo or Count Almaviva for his Met debut in 1997.

The conducting:

Evelino Pido conducted with crispness and suppleness, melding the voices and the orchestra into a most pleasing whole. Don’t you cringe when a singer sings softly a beautiful aria and the conductor drowns it out by not controlling the volume of the orchestra? Here again, we could only regret the ill-timed applause that ,on two occasions, started before the orchestra had finished the last bars, an all too frequent phenomenon at the Met where the audience seems inordinately fond of interrupting the performance with applause. No wonder many music lovers prefer Carnegie Hall where such behavior is almost unheard of.

The staging

Set in modern day Switzerland with modern day costumes could take aback some. We did overhear some comments to that effect. I rather liked the effect of modern costumes: somehow it did seem to fit quite well with the Bellini score and the Romani libretto.

Yet, in spite of all the marvelous performances, I feel sad, disappointed and not a little miffed by the staging of last scene, the wedding scene. That scene follows on the heels of the last episode of sleepwalking done with a sparse set, few protagonists, superb lighting and extraordinary singing by Dessay and Flores. The wedding scene with singers now decked in costumes purporting to be traditional Swiss costumes after the entire opera was done in modern day clothing has a jarring effect that breaks the mood set by the rest of the opera and, especially, the preceding scene. To add insult to injury, the costumes do not even look Swiss: rather, they look like they are Macedonian or, perhaps out of Tintin’s The Scepter of Ottokar.

New York March 2,2009

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