La Sonnambula, Vienna Staatsoper, October 2001

La Sonnambula or "The Prima Donna in Red"
by Moore Parker,

Vienna State Opera,
19 October 2001

The curtain rises to reveal the spacious reception hall of a 5-star
hotel - or even a Sanatorium which echos Thomas Mann's "Der
Zauberberg" - set for a wedding reception. Vast windows open out to a
panorama of snowy Swiss Alps in the background. Placed squarely in the
20th century, this Amina has to earn her living - possibly as a
waitress - judging by her pre-wedding costume.

Her Elvino is a young romantic composer who slaves over his staves at
the piano as the curtain rises. Rodolfo - a kind of singing Clarke
Gable - steals the best entry of the night with a knee-length Wolf
coat - a useful prop which later serves to envelop the sleeping Amina
and fire Elvino's jealousy. Lisa's nicely-rounded "Schlampe", sung here
by Simina Ivan, is obviously bored by yet another girl's wedding
proceedings as she takes long draws of a filter-tip at the bar. Sad
habit let's her shed a silk stocking for any admirer who comes to hand
in her fruitless attempt to find love - or at least a lover.

There's little real joy between Amina and Elvino in this production -
here there are different forces at work. Maco Arturo Marelli, who is
responsible for the direction, lighting and sets, reflects on the
"Amina-Anima" psychology of the piece. Elvino's memories of his deceased
mother, and his idee´ fixe of the "ideal" woman thwart romance from the
start! As tension mounts in the first act, the production enters the
surreal with Elvino venting his jealousy by throwing open one of the
huge windows to the snow blizzard outside. A snow cannon - apparently on
turbo setting - cascades avalanches of white powder over the proceedings
to bring down the first act curtain.

By the time we join the scene again, most of the stage is overcome by
the snow drift and Elvino's fit has left furniture scattered everywhere.
His grand piano has landed on its side - later to serve as a symbolic
"tight-rope" for Amina's sleepwalking scene.

Natalie Dessay rehearsed the production but was forced to cancel the
entire run due to indisposition! Stefania Bonfadelli triumphed in her
place as Amina - looking stunning in the part, and spinning out
Bellini's long plaintive melodies with limpid tone. Her accurate
cabaletti were crowned by secure top notes which brought the house to
its feet. Not in her shadow for a second, Juan Diego Florez was an ideal
Elvino. With a beautifully-schooled tenor reminiscent of the young
Gedda - his sensitivity and musicality brought style and class to the
role. Egils Silins was a light-bassed Rodolfo - but his broad shoulders
and suave acting make him a perfect foil for the boyish Florez. Nelly
Boschkowa was an attentive Teresa.

Stefano Ranzani's tempi may be a shade conservative, but the orchestra
played with sensitivity approaching Pollini's best Chopin. Those with
the Live" Berstein/Callas interpetation from the Scala in their "minds
ear" might call for greater contrast with more light and shade - but
this Sonnambula was unquestionably an evening of fine music-making.

This is the first production of Bellini's "La Sonnambula" at the Vienna
State Opera since 1935. It was met with a chorus of boos for the
production and bravos for the cast - not uncommon in this part of the
World, these days!

Amina's final aria "Ah non credea" is sung in nothing but a white slip -
despite the snow Rodolfo's offer of his Wolf coat is rejected by Elvino
and Teresa, who apparently would rather see Amina catch pneumonia than
witness another faux pas in the family!

Then the house lights are slightly raised, the curtain falls, and
audience heads turn questioningly as the introduction to the famous
cabaletta continues - without the soprano! Just in time, Amina slips out
before the curtain. Now, dressed in sensuous red velvet, she has finally
become the "PRIMA DONNA" Elvino - and Marelli - have longed for!

Die Geburt der Primadonna [excerpt]
Gert Korentschnig,, 20 October 2001

[...] Ihr Bräutigam Elvino (für Marelli ein Komponist), der sich nicht von
seinem Mutterbild lösen kann und glaubt, permant betrogen und zum
Trottel gemacht zu werden, ist der peruanische Tenor Juan Diego Florez.
Auch er bringt ideale Voraussetzungen mit, singt prachtvolle Kantilenen,
vielleicht eine Spur zu brav. Bestimmt wird seine Stimme noch etwas
wachsen. Dank dieses Paares müssen wir erst gar darüber diskutieren, ob
Bellinis Zuckerguss (in dem freilich viel mehr Qualität steckt als in
zahlreichen anderen scheinbaren Belcanto-Banalitäten) noch genießbar
ist. [...]

Page last updated on: November 3, 2001