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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
La sonnambula (highlights) (1831)
Natalie Dessay (soprano) – Amina; Carlo Colombara (bass) – Il conte Rodolfo; Francesco Meli (tenor) – Elvino; Sara Mingardo (mezzo) – Teresa; Jaël Azzaretti (soprano) – Lisa; Paul Gay (baritone) – Alessio; Gordon Gietz (tenor) – Un notario
Orchestre et Choeurs de l’Opéra de Lyon/Evelino Pidò
rec. November 2006 during and subsequent to the concerts at the Opéra National de Lyon
VIRGIN CLASSICS 2647362 [74:01]


Experience Classicsonline

Bellini singing is undergoing something of a revival these days, and long may it continue! The appearance of great bel canto singers like Dessay, Bartoli and Florez has re-ignited interested in his music and has encouraged more houses to stage his work. This set of highlights comes from the set released in 2007 (see review) and it’s a very good complement to any existing set you may own, though it doesn’t knock any off its perch.

This opera begins and ends with Amina, a role which, at the time of writing, Dessay is singing at the New York Met. Her bright, clear voice is well suited to this role, though interestingly she is a far more human and vulnerable Amina than Sutherland or Callas were. The jaded sense of loss in the final sleepwalking scene is made all the more immediate by the pale tone she assumes. Her elation in the opening scene (Care compagne) is beautifully innocent. This is a relatively small-scale reading, unlike the fire-eating Callas or somewhat ethereal Sutherland. This only accentuates the sense of pastoral idyll that this work inhabits so successfully. Needless to say, Dessay’s coloratura is flawless: the dazzling runs of tracks 3 and 18 are only two examples that one could choose from many. None of her fans will be disappointed. 

She is by far the most interesting thing about this disc, however. Francesco Meli’s Elvino is solid and (mostly) secure in his singing. There is little strength or clarity about his voice the way you would find in, say, Pavarotti or Florez. However I’d still rather listen to him than Nicola Monti, Callas’s Elvino. He seems to be almost a little nervous about some of the more exposed writing. Consequently it is the quieter sections of his duets with Amina that are the most moving. Listen to the final minute of Son geloso del zefiro errante to see how well it works compared to what has gone before. Carlo Colombara is an unorthodox Count Rodolfo because he makes the character sound younger than he is normally portrayed. This may add an extra frisson to his encounters with Amina, but it means that you lose the sheer strength of a bass like Nicolai Ghiaurov - on Sutherland’s second recording. Jaël Azzaretti’s Lisa is fine, but the most interesting contribution to the big Act 2 ensemble is Sara Mingardo’s Teresa. Her voice leaps out of the speakers in a way those of the other characters do not, sounding imperious and individualistic as the maternal figure. 

Pidò conducts a lithe, sprightly reading of the score that brings out lots of percussive colour. The Lyon Opera Orchestra play almost like a period band, adding to the more intimate scale of the reading. 

So while Dessay dominates this recording it’s the lack of support from her co-stars that lets it down. My favourite version remains Sutherland’s second recording with Pavarotti and Ghiaurov, catching all three stars in the last flush of their great period. For a totally different - and arguably even more intimate - reading you could go to Decca’s most recent recording with Bartoli and Florez which sheds an entirely different but just as refreshing light on the piece.

Simon Thompson

see also Reviews of the complete set by Göran Forsling and Robert Farr

1. Act I, Scene 1: Viva! Viva Amina! (Coro) 2:17
2. Act I, Scene 1: Care Compagne, E Voi, Teneri Amici (Amina/Coro) 5:20
3. Act I, Scene 1: Sovra Il Aen La Man Mi Posa (Amina/Teresa/Coro) 4:36
4. Act I, Scene 1: Prendi: L'anel Ti Dono (Elvino/Amina/Coro) 5:05
5. Act I, Scene 1: Ah! Vorrei Trovar Parole (Amina/Elvino/Tutti/Lisa) 2:55
6. Act I, Scene 1: Vi Ravviso, O Luoghi Ameni (Rodolfo/Tutti/Lisa/Coro) 4:45
7. Act I, Scene 1: Son Geloso Del Zefiro Errante (Elvino/Amina) 6:26
8. Act I, Scene 2: È Menzogna (Elvino/Coro/Lisa/Amina/Teresa) 2:00
9. Act I, Scene 2: D'un Pensiero E D'un Accento (Amina/Elvino/Lisa/Teresa/Alessio/Coro) 4:44
10. Act I, Scene 2: Non Più Nozze (Elvino/Amina/Lisa/Teresa/Alessio/Coro) 2:55
11. Act II, Scene 1: Vedi, O Madre....É Afflitto E Mesto (Amina/Elvino) 4:04
12. Act II, Scene 1: Viva Il Conte! (Coro/Amina/Elvino/Teresa) 1:17
13. Act II, Scene 1: Ah! Perché Non Posso Odiarti (Elvino/Coro) 2:19
14. La Sonnambula: Act II, Scene 2: Signor, Conte, Agli Occhi Miei 4:50
15. Act II, Scene 2: Lisa! Mendace Anch'essa! (Elvino/Teresa/Lisa/Rodolfo) 4:26
16. Act II, Scene 2: Oh! Se Una Volta Sola (Amina/Rodolfo/Teresa/Tutti) 5:20
17. Act II, Scene 2: Ah! No Credea Mirarti (Amina/Teresa/Rodolfo/Elvino/Alessio/Coro) 6:43
18. Act II, Scene 2: Ah! Non Giunge Uman Pensiero (Amina/Tutti) 3:48


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