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BELLINI: La Sonnambula

spacer Pratt, Viola, Mellor; Mukeria, Parodi, Ciotoli; Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro La Fenice, Ferro. Production: Morassi. 
Unitel/C Major 714004 (Blu-ray), 132 mins., subtitled


Uh-oh, I thought, as I started watching this Venetian Sonnambula from April 2012, with its opening tableau — the observation deck of an Alpine resort, with guests attired in natty 1930s sportswear — catapulting me a century ahead of Bellini and Romani. I don't like my Sonnambula tarted up. But it didn't take long for this one to seduce me. For one thing, Massimo Checchetto's opening set — like its successors over the opera's two-act stretch — is winningly picturesque; for another, Bepi Morassi's staging within it seems perfectly natural, its charms never forced. Count Rodolfo's arrival by aerial tram drew from me not a raised eyebrow but a smile (as did, an act later, the ski-geared chorus's departure by bus); I soon began to believe in these companionable Swiss folk, with their bitterly efficient locandiera and the more effortlessly attractive "nice girl" she wishes she could be. 

In Morassi's vision, or at least in her lush embodiment by Jessica Pratt, Amina is the village's blond bombshell, an ingenuous forebear of Anna Nicole in plain-Jane wrappings that can't conceal her curves. This Amina is a real person, too — a girl who, on the eve of her wedding, nervously (and a bit peevishly) frets over her choices of flowers and cake. Pratt has a beautiful, expressive face, ever alive to Amina's changing fortunes and her unchanging love. Her voice, too, is lovely and expressive; if its midrange sounds a bit generic, it ascends to a more characterful top, with an especially luminous shimmer to her piano singing on high. I've heard cleaner figuration and, overall, firmer tone, but the money notes are clearly and cleanly there — and, more important, she never fusses. She's endearingly simple, just as Amina should be.

It's to Pratt's immense credit that her portrayal overcomes the considerable obstacle of her Elvino. Shalva Mukeria seems fond of the Rubini roles, but he commands this one no better than he did Anna Bolena's Percy on the sole occasion I've heard him live. His is an attractive light tenor, but he's no stylist and no virtuoso here; the fact that his music was snipped and simplified brought me no disappointment. His Amina's love must be very blind: he's the homeliest fellow onstage, a wooden actor with the look of a vaudeville comic. As his presumed rival, Giovanni Battista Parodi cuts a fine figure and makes an equally handsome basso sound, though it, too, wants greater firmness. He's watchable as well, whether brushing his teeth or, a minute later, divesting Lisa of her blouse (which here replaces her errant handkerchief), and he persuasively conveys Rodolfo's approach/avoidance dynamic in dealing with his unexpected, sleepwalking late-night guest. The tell-tale blouse is worn fetchingly (though with a very bad wig as company) by Anna Viola, who sings the role in typically brittle Lisa fashion; like Mukeria's, her missing measures aren't really missed. Gabriele Ferro conducts the Fenice forces with grace and practiced style. Again, nothing is overdone. The sound is spacious and the Blu-ray image crystal clear. Were it an audio-only document, with a dozen or two superior rivals, I couldn't recommend this new version. But it isn't, and (thanks to Morassi, Checchetto and Pratt) I do. spacer


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