Notes and Editorial Reviews
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BELLINI La Sonnambula • Gabriele Ferro, cond; Jessica Pratt (Amina); Giovanni Battista Parodi (Il conte Rodolfo); Julie Mellor
(Teresa); Shalva Mukeria (Elvino); Anna Viola (Lisa); Dario Ciotoli (Alessio); Raffaele Pastore (Un Notaro); Ch & O of La Fenice Venice • C MAJOR 714004 (Blu-ray: 132:00) Live: Venice 04/2012
Bellini’s tunefully creaky, Alpine drama putters by me on yet another video release, this time on Blu-ray. I’m guessing it is the format, rather than the star names, that make C Major think it worth the money. More a dramatic operetta than drama, there are comic subplots, Lehar-esque misunderstandings involving other women and sudden marriage proposals, with everything tied together neatly in a joyous ending. Only the righteous male anger of betrayal and florid soprano writing tell us that we are in bel canto territory. An obvious star vehicle, this tale of the fiancé sleepwalking into another man’s room has attracted every soprano with a decent top, from Callas to Natalie Dessay, the latter being the most obvious DVD rival to the new name on this version, Jessica Pratt.
This is my first encounter with Pratt, and I’m generally impressed with how she compares with the big names in rival recordings. If Dessay is a coloratura with a consistent, soft tone, then Pratt comes from the other end as a lyric soprano with a remarkably free top. Her high notes are clean if a little tentatively worked up to, and there is a hard edge when pressed, but her overall tone is enchanting, and words mean more to her than, say, Joan Sutherland. A big, curvy blonde bombshell, Pratt gives the usually drippy Amina a bit of sassiness lacking from the passive Sutherland or peppy Dessay and lending the overall staging some much needed grace.
The production has been pointlessly but harmlessly updated to the 1950s. With a Swiss flag, wooden skis, and a vast back drop of the Alps, Beppi Morassi’s staging comes from the “No kidding” school of directing. The chorus, likewise, has clearly been threatened to make the jaunty first act FUNNY!! Cue grinning, grand gestures, and over-reaction at a principal’s every move. Maybe they were worried the back row couldn’t see at La Fenice, but in close up, it is am-dram hell. Still, like the rest of the cast, it is serviceable and colorful.
Although no match for Juan Diego Flórez, Shalva Mukeria has a fittingly bright tone and diction, but is a feeble, clumsy actor as the jealous Elvino, and his tone thins badly towards the end. Battista Parodi sings with impressive strength as the sinisterly over-familiar intruder, Rodolfo, until you spot the tell-tale microphone taped to his ear (Microphone usage really needs full disclosure now in the opera world), and Anna Viola is a brittle but effectively devious Lisa. Likewise, there are few complaints about the remaining comprimario roles, especially the fruity-toned Julie Mellor.
Orchestra and chorus are fine and it is nice to see the veteran Gabriele Ferro going strong. I’ve heard more urgent, propulsive readings than this, but textures are light and the lyrical side of Bellini is well brought out. Video direction is a little odd at times, with some very tight, ungainly angles. Picture is as fine as you’d expect from the medium, and sound is well balanced, but the extras aren’t worth mentioning. Musically this doesn’t come even close to the Evelino Pido DVD on Decca with Dessay and Flórez, but few would want to watch that naff concept staging repeatedly. My gut instinct would go for the 1956 TV film on VAI with that ultimate singing actress, Anna Moffo, but this Blu-ray is a competent high definition version to be stuck with. There are better Sonnambulas out there, but Jessica Pratt will keep you awake.
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Works on This Recording
La sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini
Dario Ciotoli (Bass),
Anna Viola (Soprano),
Giovanni Battista Parodi (Baritone),
Jessica Pratt (Soprano),
Shalva Mukeria (Tenor),
Julie Mellor (Mezzo Soprano),
Raffaele Pastori (Tenor)
Venice Teatro la Fenice Orchestra,
Venice Teatro la Fenice Chorus
Written: 1831; Italy
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