Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dessay and Florez in La Sonnambula

Our regular reviewer ST offers his thoughts on the DVD of the Met's new La Sonnambula, featuring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez:

La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini

Natalie Dessay as Amina
Juan Diego Florez as Elvino
Michele Pertusi as Rodolfo
Jennifer Black as Lisa
Jane Bunnell as Teresa

Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra
Conducted by Evelino Pido

This is the Metropolitan Opera's production of the charming Bellini opera recorded live in March 2009. The simple story of a young innocent girl in love being misunderstood because of her sleep-walking has been transformed to modern days. This updated version is set in the backstage of an opera house with a cast rehearsing the opera La Sonnambula. The soprano singing Amina was actually sleepwalking and caused all the misunderstanding among friends and colleagues.

I can accept updating of old works on stage but this staging caused some confusion amongst audiences. I am not sure if everything worked out well. Various changes achieved different degrees of success: Amina’s Act 1 aria showed Natalie Dessay trying out several pairs of shoes and several sets of wigs (ok and understandable), the Act 1 finale has chorus members throwing out music scores after tearing them to pieces (confusing and a bit silly), the Act 2 finale has Dessay walking over the orchestral pit on a moving plank simulating Amina sleepwalking among the audience (quite ingenious). Fortunately the beautiful score and musical performance carried the evening of entertainment successfully. The end of the opera brought us back to a stage depicting the little Switzerland village as Bellini intended and that was charming.

La Sonnambula is definitely one of those operas that rely much on the prima donna for a successful staging. Natalie Dessay has sung the role of Amina before. She looked charming on stage and her small and slim built was also convincing for the character. Vocally she was still agile but the voice lost some quality when subjected to pressure. It was loveliest in the quieter passages and the famous “Ah, non credea mirarti” turned out very well. The finale “Ah, non giunge” turned out reasonably sparkling but marred by occasional shrill notes that were not very steady. Compared to singers who have recorded this part, her performance lacked the drama and pathos of Callas (1957) and the beautiful tone and lovely trills of Sutherland (1962). Of course those great ladies recorded this extremely demanding music in studio.

To me, the star of the evening was Juan Diego Florez who has already made these high lying bel canto roles his own. He was in glorious voice and phrased beautifully. The duet “Prendi, l’anel ti dono” was meltingly beautiful. The high tessitura of the aria “Ah! Perche non posso odiarti” held no terror at all. In addition, he was a handsome sight to behold. No wonder Amina and Lisa were crazy about him.

The rest of the cast was more than adequate. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra performed well under Evelino Pido, who is by now a veteran conductor of these bel canto works. Other than the rather unconventional staging, the evening would have been a most entertaining one.

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