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“Sonnambula,” Met & Juilliard’s 6th Venture, Proves More Star Vehicle than Ensemble Piece
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert    |   follow us...

   
photo by Nan Melville
(front, left to right) Sara Couden, Sava Vemic, Speranza Scappucci, Hyesang Park, Kang Wang, Clarissa Lyons & Thesele Kemane, with Juilliard Orchestra, & choral ensemble
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The sixth annual joint effort of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and the Juilliard School’s Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts was composer Vincenzo Bellini and librettist Felice Romani’s lovely pastoral opera “La Sonnambula” (1831), given three semi-staged concert performances at Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater this month. Unlike the companies’ previous collaborative ventures, fully staged presentations of Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride,” Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte,” and scenes from comic operas, along with Stravinsky’s “Mavra,” as well concert versions of Gluck’s “Armide” and “Iphigénie en Aulide,” where the ensemble was the focus, “Sonnambula” essentially proved a star vehicle, showcasing the work of soprano Hyesang Park and, leading the solo singers, chorus, and Juilliard Orchestra, conductor Speranza Scappucci. The opening night, February 9, is discussed here.
“La Sonnambula,” neither rarity nor standard repertory, is an opera that young singers should experience, and Amina, the relatively hapless eponymous sleep walker, mistaken for a phantom, then condemned, and once again embraced by all, is an appropriate role for Park to sing, lending sensitivity and a flexible, silvery instrument, as much lyric as leggero, to Bellini’s long bel canto lines, in cavatinas “Come per me sereno,” at her happy entrance, and the elegiac “Ah non credea mirarti,” near the end of the opera, and gracefully ornamenting and adding climactic high notes to their cabalettas, “Sovra il sen” and “Ah! non giunge” respectively. Park’s bright top tones capped the first act finale and came between repetitions of “Ah! non giunge” as well. She might be leery, though of the thrust with which she delivers some of her singing, which could come to undermine the overall delicacy of the fabric of her voice. Sensitive support for Park was forthcoming from Maestra Scappucci, who called for now lively, now leisurely pacing, as befitted the proceedings. The pairing of Park and Scappucci was heard at Juilliard in 2014 in Rossini’s “Il Turco in Italia,” which was also considered in these pages.
On the other hand, I don’t envision the romantic leading role of Elvino, as high, lyric, and florid as that of Amina, remaining in tenor Kang Wang’s future repertoire: his timbre and approach hint at heavier roles. And though Sava Vemic brought both polished voice and commanding presence to the part of Count Rodolfo—who eyes both Amina and Lisa, and whose return to the little Swiss village drives Amina and Elvino apart, but ultimately unites them, as he explains to the disbelieving crowd that Amina’s sleepwalking put her in a seemingly compromising position with him—he sang his entrance scena, “Vi ravviso … Tu non sai con quei begli occhi” in a voice more baritone than bass and stinted on the lowest notes.
As Amina’s sometime rival Lisa, Clarissa Lyons sang her arias in a soprano more lyric than leggero and also suitably ornamented her line. The other soloists, Thesele Kemane as Alessio, Lisa’s on-again, off-again beau; Sara Couden as Teresa, Amina’s foster mother; and Miles Mykkanen as the notary made the most of their supporting roles.
Aided by Scappucci and the cast, David Paul, billed as dramatic consultant, made his presence felt in two scenes in particular. The first was a haunting scene, in Lisa’s inn, where Amina is discovered asleep in Rodolfo’s room, and when awakened, is rejected by Elvino and shunned by the villagers. This culminated in the ensemble “D’un pensiero,” so aptly parodied by Gilbert and Sullivan in “A nice dilemma,” in “Trial by Jury,” as Amina, Elvino, Teresa, Alessio, and the chorus pondered their own dilemma. The next was the gripping scene near the end, when the whole village witnesses Amina sleepwalking—somewhere out of our sight, up in the balcony, here, but ostensibly over a rickety bridge over a turning millwheel—and we held our breaths for her, much as those on stage did, lest she fatally misstep.
The opera was given neither note-complete or with all so-called standard cuts made, but in a version that fell somewhere in between. Forgivably, Park sang “Sovra il sen” three rather than four times, the statement of the melody and two, not three ornamented repetitions, and Vemic sang “Tu non sai con quei begli occhi” just once, not twice. The choral showpiece “Qui la selva è piu folta ed ombrosa,” which opens the second act and expresses the villagers’ desire to have Rodolfo speak up in Amina’s defense, was, unusually, cut. But two numbers in the last scene that used to be omitted were restored, Lisa’s florid “De’ lieti auguri a voi son grata,” when it appears that Elvino, having given up on Amina, is going to marry her rival instead, and the quintet with chorus “Lisa mendace anch’essa!,” when Elvino realizes that Lisa has also visited the Count in his room.
Next on tap for Juilliard Opera is Francesco Cavalli rarity “La Calisto,” on February 17, 19, and 21 (matinee), in Juilliard’s Willson Theater.

 

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