Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
La Sonnambula (1831) [141:00]
Amina - Eglise Gutierrez
Elvino - Antonino Siragusa
Rodolfo - Simone Alaimo
Lisa - Sandra Pastrana
Alessio - Gabriele Nani
Notaro - Max René Cosotti
Teresa - Gabriella Colecchia
Chorus of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari/Fulvio Fogliazza
Orchestra of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari/Maurizio Benini
Director, Set and Costume Designer – Hugo De Ana
Light Designer – Paolo Mazzon
Choreographer – Leda Lojodice
Video Director – Matteo Ricchetti
rec. Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, October 2008
Dolby Digital 5.1, Linear PCM 2.0
DYNAMIC DVD 33616 [141:00]

La Sonnambula has many of the qualities that make for a particularly good Romantic Opera. There is a mix of larger-than-life personalities, an emotive score full of cheer and also pathos and the 'extra' delights of pretty scenery, good tunes for the chorus and the potential for coloratura 'fireworks'. If the plot seems too simple – boy meets girl, boy leaves girl when she sleepwalks into another man’s house, boy learns truth and the couple reconcile ‘happily ever after’ – at least it is not terribly convoluted. It has helped that singers who have had success in the main parts on stage or on record tend to be larger than life - such as Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti and more recently star singers such as Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez.

With this staging you find that the stylised movements of the chorus are often even more distracting than in grand Zeffirelli-style performances with the chorus toing and froing. It might have been more effective in the opera house as when the camera pans back the combination of set designs, which are very beautiful, and pretty costumes - such as the yellow dresses in the first act - would create a lovely effect. However, with the camera zoomed in the (over)acting of the singers is frequently distracting with the men often acting buffoonish in a way that falls flat. Some of the male chorus members’ costumes look rather foolish also. Perhaps a more natural style of acting would help here?

The performance of Eglise Gutierrez as Amina is quite successful. The soprano starts off with some stock gestures but, ignoring that, her singing is not bad, even stylish. She has some personality and a dark voice which manages, with some mollycoddling, the high notes and coloratura. Occasionally one wishes she would really hit some of the high notes to inject a little bit of drama into the performance. More troubling is that too often she sounds behind the beat (notably the First Act). The result lacks drama – only coming and going in ''Ah! non giunge'' for example - but is pretty and she creates a sympathetic character as the performance goes on.

In "Come per me sereno" she sounds totally in-tune with the conductor while at other moments he lets her down by losing any tension. Occasionally she is all too happy to slow down which is not to the music’s benefit One does not need to think back to Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland to imagine a finer performance but taken in isolation the singer acquits herself with some success. It is interesting to hear a darker voice in the role although some singers like Eva Mei or Natalie Dessay achieve more with brighter and more lyrical voices. Has the (apparent) concept of the opera by the director as a paper-thin plot that deserves 'stand and deliver' acting inhibited the soprano's performance? I am somewhat surprised at her busy schedule in the dramatic roles of Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda in Rigoletto or I Puritani which demand greater reserves of spontaneity and drama – indeed Mad Scenes galore! - than is evident in her performance here.

The tenor Antonino Siragusa acts and looks the embodiment of a nineteenth century gent – an illustration brought to life. Lively in recitative and having been successful in Rossini and Donizetti he seemed well placed to give the role a try but his singing and especially his partnership with Eglise Gutierrez are not a compete success. Siragusa’s voice is very light-sounding in a boyish way with choirboy purity, without a rough edge, and little drama. Oddly enough he lacks ringing high notes - the voice goes up to a certain level and beyond that there are not the reserves of power or brilliance one might hope for - instead the voice is bright and even shrill. In the case of Juan Diego Florez the brightness is reduced by a richer chest voice with quick vibrations. Perhaps it is something to do with microphone placement? Legato -'smoothness' - of phrasing is lacking in the first few items but he does improve through the performance.

'Son geloso' etc makes for a rather mismatched pairing even though the singers are fine in isolation with Eglise Gutierrez sounding rich voiced and the tenor light if rather 'reedy'. It could have been a better partnership with a lighter soprano like Eva Mei or Sumi Jo where his good qualities - a fresh and bright tone - would be made welcome in partnership with the soprano and his lack of warmth or 'cushion' less obvious. As it is, the voices do not blend very well. It would be a performance you would applaud in the opera house as one unstinting regarding many of the demands of the part but not one to bear competition with famous tenors on record.

Age 58 at this performance, Simone Alaimo followed his Count Rodolfo at Cagliari with performances as Dulcamara (L'Elisir d'amore at the Met, Covent Garden and Catania) as well as Don Basilio (Barber of Seville, Liege and Palermo) and Mustafa (L'Italiana in Algeri, Florence). His aptitude for comedy is evident throughout without being vulgar. His bass voice is lighter than Nicholai Ghiaurov (luxury casting on the Bonynge/ Sutherland/Pavarotti recording [Decca]) Ferruccio Furlanetto (a near contemporary) or the younger bass Giovanni Furlanetto (who has a darker and richer sound), but the flexibility of the voice is an asset. There is not a great deal of drama in his performance but that is a criticism of the set as a whole.

The conductor does a fair job without quite gelling the elements on stage and pit. There are times when the orchestra pushes ahead and the chorus sounds rushed. Occasionally the orchestra wallows somewhat in the beautiful tunes and the singers – notably the soprano – are still behind the beat. Richard Bonynge had the advantage of multiple retakes [Decca]– his is a studio recording – as did Antonio Votto [EMI] who had a finer orchestra at La Scala.

This is an enjoyable enough set but not one I should imagine you would watch over and over. The different elements- the staging, singing, and conducting - are all variable with the overall effect being somewhat disappointing.

David Bennett

A recording with some good points but one in which the acting, singing and conducting do not always gel.