Monday, August 16, 2010

Opera Australia – Bellini’s La Sonnambula. August 14, 2010.

Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House (Seat Stalls X34, AUD$105).

Story. Elvino and Amina are engaged to be married. Amina sleep walks and ends up walking into the bedroom of Count Rodolfo who has disguised himself as a traveler. Rodolfo leaves the room, Amina falls asleep in the bed, and is discovered and wrongly accused of having an affair. Elvino calls off the wedding. Rodolfo is convinced by the villagers to explain the situation, and Amina appears in her sleepy state. Elvino, who is about to marry the innkeeper Lisa, recognizes his mistake and he and Amina are married.

Conductor – Richard Bonynge; Lisa – Lorina Gore, Amina – Emma Matthews, Teresa – Jacqueline Dark, Elvino – Aldo Di Toro, Count Rodolfo – Stephen Bennett.

I went to this opera with Steven and Ruth. By the time Ruth went to get the tickets, all the seats left were in the last row with no view of the surtitles. Even though the story is simple and I could basically understand how the story was unfolding, it was still difficult to get the funny lines without the help of the English surtitles. This greatly reduced my enjoyment of the story, but probably enhanced my appreciation of the music.

This is the first Bellini opera I ever heard. Certainly the composition is very melodic with pleasant music, but somehow none of the tunes are hummable. The story as I understand it is quite lame. With a comedy you don’t expect a tight story line, but one is left scratching one’s head as to why Elvino would decide to marry Lisa so readily and then change his mind about it, equally readily. And you get the sense that the story is unfolding too slowly. There is this long aria by Amina in Act 3 that, while nice enough, is unnecessary and incongruent with the general tone of the story. Perhaps one shouldn’t expect this sort of consistency with a comedic opera, but somehow I keep wishing …

The singing by most artists was adequate. Lisa, for instance, had a wide range and sounded strong. However, she needed to shout if she was to be heard over the chorus, and her voice sounded unrefined at times. Elvino had a good voice but it was relatively weak compared to the two ladies. The Count did a good job. I found Amina very impressive from the get go. She is one of these sopranos whose whispers can float above the din of the orchestra and the chorus. Even the slow aria (mentioned above) was nicely done as a piece of music, even though it didn’t quite work as part of the plot. Her voice was a bit strained towards the end of the performance, though. Let's hope she recovers in time for her next engagement.

The orchestra sounded weaker than how I remembered it from past performances. It was more an accompaniment than part of the show itself. Which is a pity. The conductor could have been a bit more assertive; it would have cut down on the instances of hesitation by the orchestra.

I guess overall “adequate” is the term that best describes this performance: the opera, the music, and most of the artists. Only exception is the excellent singing by the soprano Emma Matthews. In any case, the performance works well as a matinee, but, alas, not much more.

No comments: