BELLINI La Sonnambula (complete opera) (2011)

by | Jun 9, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

BELLINI: La Sonnambula (complete opera) (2011)
Conductor: Maurizio Benini/ Cagliari Lyric Theater Orchestra and Chorus
Cast: Simone Alaimo (Count Rodolfo)/ Eglise Gutierriez (Amina)/ Gabriella Colecchia (Teresa)/ Antonino Siragusa (Elvino)/ Sandra Pastrana (Lisa)/ Gabriele Nani (Alessio)/ Max Rene Cosotti (Un notaio)
Director: Hugo De Ana
Studio: Dynamic 33616 [Distr. by Qualiton]
Video: 16:9 Color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
Length: 141 minutes
Rating: ***1/2
La Sonnambula is not an opera fit for our age; “somnambulistic” is an apt term for this opera, which features little action, much meditation, lots of moralizing, and an amazingly insipid plot that falls back on the old “virtue rewarded” scenario. Bellini uses this as scaffolding for many extended arias which display to no little extent the vocal talents of the lead role, Amina, the sleepwalker who is wrongly accused of infidelity. Though the initial production was an enormous success for the composer, coming only a few months before his Norma would take the opera world by storm, its long-lasting influence has declined over the centuries, and today it is more admired than performed. So any new production deserves special attention.
I know nothing of the Cagliari Lyric Theater Orchestra and Chorus, though conductor Benini is active at the Met and well-respected. The performing forces are first rate, whether the orchestra or chorus is under consideration. As mentioned, one does not enter into a production of La Sonnambula with expectations of Star Wars action—it will be a long couple of hours if this is the case. You have to be able to appreciate Bellini’s melodies and put up with a lot of stagnant action. This production excels in that regard—the rather large chorus employed for the production does little else but stand around like a Greek chorus through most of the opera. Okay, there isn’t much more called for in their case, but this is simply beyond the pale—statues could almost have been used as well, and in fact a scene in the first act does just that! So with all sentient life essentially frozen, the focus turns to the singing alone. By the way, the scenery is quite nice in this production, along with the period costumes, though I will admit this is one opera that could be transported to almost any time period and still work.
Most of the principals can be dismissed from the start; Simone Alaimo (Count Rodolfo) is adequate but nothing outstanding; Gabriella Colecchia (Teresa) and Sandra Pastrana (Lisa) turn in creditable performances that meet the requirements of the opera and don’t detract—they don’t go much further than that. Antonino Siragusa’s Elvino is inept. His vocalizing is irritating with its incessant nasal twang that reduces his upper register to a thin and almost woman-like tone. To top it off he suffers from an insecurity in pitch that manifests itself in that all-too-common habit of starting a high note from an unwritten lower note and jumping up to the proper pitch, something that can drive you crazy after a while.
The real star and the real interest in this video is the role of Amina played by the award-winning and much-lauded Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierriez. She has made a specialty of the role and recently performed it at the Royal Opera in Covent Garden. She knows her stuff—the difficult coloratura of Bellini’s writing poses no threats for her, and technically she is beyond reproach. But I find her high notes quite lightly-shaded with little power, and little in the lower and middle ranges that project any specific vocal colorization that stands out. This is not to say it is a bad performance, far from it; but I wish there was more projection and a vocal largesse that allowed for more overtones in the voice and a greater sense of richness. But she does provide some exciting moments and is always spot on in her high notes—and Bellini provides many opportunities to show them off. Essentially she is the reason to own this release. Picture is very good but not great while the Dolby sound is realistic and full.
Steven Ritter

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