La sonnambula – Opera in two acts [libretto by Felice Romani from Eugène Scribe’s scenario for Jean-Pierre Aumer’s ballet La sonnambula; sung in Italian]
Amina – Eglise Gutierrez
Elvino – Dmitry Korchak
Teresa – Gabriela García
Count Rodolfo – Ferruccio Furlanetto
Lisa – Elizabeth Caballero
Alessio – Brian Kontes
A notary – Lake Grooms
The New York Choral Society
The Opera Orchestra of New York
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 27 February, 2008
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
The Opera Orchestra of New York – OONY – an institution beloved by New York voice-junkies for casting soon-to-be stars in seldom-performed works, has been a fixture at Carnegie Hall since 1972. In recent seasons the operas, performed in semi-staged version, have included such rarities as Donizetti’s “Dom Sébastien”, Italo Montemezzi’s “Amore dei Tre Re”, and Rossini’s “William Tell”.
Eve Queler, Music Director of OONY, founded the company in 1967, and over the years has shown a special affinity for the bel cantorepertory – for this performance it was Bellini’s masterpiece, “La sonnambula” (The Sleepwalker).
Frequently performed by Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and Renata Scotto, the work has become a rarity in the New York area. Metropolitan Opera’s last performance was in 1972 (with Scotto), and it has never been performed by New York City Opera. In 2005 Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts offered a single performance (with Sumi Jo), and in 1991 OONY did a one-night-stand of a concert-version featuring June Anderson.
Set in a rustic Swiss village, the opera tells the charming tale of Amina, an innocent maiden whose engagement to her beloved Elvino is threatened by a bizarre circumstance. Unbeknownst to anyone, the young girl is a sleepwalker, and she manages to wander into another man’s hotel room at exactly the wrong moment. She is finally exonerated when it is shown that it was somnambulism that led her there.
The libretto reflects the fascination with the supernatural and paranormal that was fashionable at the time of the opera’s composition (1831). Bellini’s score sighs and soars with the inner passions of the characters, but the bizarre story-line tends toward highly melodramatic characterization and perfunctory plot complications.
For this, her third engagement with OONY (she debuted as Philene in “Mignon” in 2004, and returned in the title-role in “Lakmé” in 2006), the rising Cuban-born soprano Eglise Gutierrez brought all her agility and brightness to the challenging coloratura role of Amina. Gutierrez is an extraordinary singer. She navigated the vocal gymnastics of her pre-nuptial aria ‘Come per me sereno’ (How serene this day seems to me) with ease, and was especially adept at sustaining the long, flowing melody in her closing scene, ‘Ah, non credea mirarti’ (Scarcely could I believe it).
In a very strong cast, in addition to the amazing Gutierrez, three other singers stood out. Veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto was an authoritative but warm Count Rodolfo. He displayed splendid diction and dramatic command throughout, most notably in the second act aria ‘V’han’ certuni che dormendo’ in which he explains the phenomenon of sonnambulism to the naïve villagers. The young Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak, who sang the title role in OONY’s “Dom Sébastien” last season, was appropriately boyish-looking as Elvino, and has a voice with just the right flexibility and heft. Another Cuban-born soprano, Elizabeth Caballero, with her wonderful, ringing tone and lively sense of drama, was a consistent success in the role of Lisa.
The New York Choral Society made a fine-toned group of town-folk, and Queler led a performance filled with excitement. The OONY players responded well, with the winds sounding especially splendid in their gentle accompaniment to Amino and Rodolfo’s Act One duet. Most of all, this was a vocally-thrilling performance, the kind that keeps OONY audiences coming back year after year, and one that deserved the prolonged and enthusiastic ovation it received.