To Sing Through the Night
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
02/09/2013 - & February 12, 15, 17, 2013
Vincenzo Bellini: La sonnambula
Rachele Gilmore (Amina), Michele Angelini (Elvino), Tom Corbeil (Conte), Hye-Jung Lee (Lisa), Cynthia Cook (Teresa), Adam Lau (Alessio), Matthew Newlin (Notario)
Florida Grand Opera Chorus, John Keene (chorus master), Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, Ramon Tebar (conductor)
Renata Scotto (director), Carlo Diappi (scenic & costume designs), Donald Edmund Thomas (lighting design)
M. Angelini & R. Gilmore (© Gaston de Cardenas)
Florida Grand Opera began its season with the biggest hit of all Italian opera and followed it by one of Mozart's warhorses. The season ends with Traviata so this Bellini is the season's novelty. For those of us who are eager for the less familiar, it is an opportunity; though it is pretty much understood that contemporary audiences do not appreciate La sonnambula as they did in the nineteenth century when it was one of the opera repertory's most popular. In fact Florida Grand Opera obviously made a careful decision by offering only four performances recognizing that it was not even good box office when it premiered in 2006. If you approach this opera looking for some drama with characters you can relate to, you might be disappointed. On the other hand, I was able to obtain a ticket to the final dress rehearsal for a 30ish male opera virgin who told me that the three hours passed as if it were three minutes.
When directors get it into their heads to “do something” with the little tale, it can come off as stupifyingly embarrassing. Thank goodness director Renata Scotto, a veteran Amina herself, shied away from extreme nonsense and just used the fine singers she was given to get the job done. The staging of Amina's second sleepwalking scene, part of which is done in a tree, is a clever one and not particularly unbelievable, in fact, quite useful for maintaining our interest in a solid, though silly libretto. This is an opera where it is the music that matters.
And what a bounty there is with La sonnambula. What's even greater is that the cast gave interpretations as good or better than one will hear anywhere. This is Amina's opera and in Rachele Gilmore, a star was made. The sensitivity and absolutely gorgeous sound made this potentially insipid character a sympathetic heroine. The opera's most famous number, “Ah! No credea mirati” has never sounded as moving and sad; immediately after Gilmore takes us into near musical comedy territory with “Ah! non giunge uman pensiero” offering all the good cheer that Scotto clearly intended. This is a soprano who will be around a long time; someone as accomplished as this is not common, and the world can't help but notice. We also got a tenor, Michele Angelini, who has the voice and looks of an opera matinee idol. Superb breath control, beautiful tone and a dramatic sensibility to make us feel Elvino's excitement in the first act and his deep grief of the second. Elvino's behavior might seem overly dramatic to today's theatre goers, though Angelini never condescended to the ridiculous, instead giving the opera more credibility than it may merit. The Amina-Elvino duets are feasts created by singers who display confidence that keeps an audience riveted. So the constant use of interpolated high notes almost
undermines the hard work becoming more like a sideshow attraction. If you can really give us what Bellini wrote, we don't need more.
Tom Corbeil was distinguished in both voice and appearance as the Count though his vibrato occasionally trumped the musical line. And the warm mezzo of Cynthia Cook gave Teresa an unusually satisfying presence making the role seem bigger than it is.
The singers are greatly indebted to the magnificent musical direction of Ramon Tebar. There were a couple moments the orchestra might have interfered with some of the extremely quiet passages, though its elegance and sensitivity defined the evening's character. The chorus led by John Keene has a tremendous amount to sing in this opera, so it is reassuring when as a whole it is treated like a part of the ensemble.
This physical production was created for Florida Grand Opera and its simple beauty and sometimes dramatic starkness play no minor role in the production's success. Compare this production to just about any offered on DVD, and it is always the winner.
Let's be grateful that Lisa's “De’ lieti auguri a voi son grata,” sung by the bouncy and talented Hye-Jung Lee, and the beautiful quartet “Lisa mendace anch’essa!” were not dropped as is often the case.
This production of La sonnambula is surprisingly a good show and never boring. It's uplifting that when standards in opera, as well as all of the arts, have become cheapened in order to attract newcomers, that a production like this one embraces the foundations responsible for making this art form so beloved.
And though wonderful to have the chance to explore the less familiar, it seems odd that Florida Grand Opera would revive something that had been offered just six seasons before when they have never offered some of Bellini's other popular works. Now under new leadership, this company is opened to chart the unexplored.