OPERA NEWS - La Sonnambula 
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La Sonnambula 

Bolshoi Theatre

For a while now, Bellini’s La Sonnambula hasn’t enjoyed the same popularity as the composer’s other masterpieces. Though hardly an obscure work, it is nevertheless one that nowadays seems to require a larger-than-life soprano, such as Natalie Dessay or Diana Damrau (both of whom have sung the title role at the Met) to convince audiences that they should care about the sleepwalking Amina. 

  The revival of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2013 production on the new stage of the Bolshoi featured no marquee name diva; instead, it tried to appeal to the Moscow audience by virtue of a distinctly Russian setting (seen June 6). With the expectation of the churning mill in the final scene, one could easily have mistaken the staging for a recycled production of Eugene Onegin. The rustic sets and costumes were handsome, as were the imposing birch trees, but the mise en scène rarely seemed to belong to Sonnambula. From the nineteenth century folkoristic garb to the often-brooding character of the orchestral playing to the speech patterns of some of the singers, this was bel canto with a strong Russian accent. There was even a perfectly pleasant yet wholly irrelevant ballet, presumably just to remind us that we were at the Bolshoi. 

Even without a star-studded cast, however, the Bolshoi assembled a worthy lineup, mostly from the company’s ensemble, that were collectively more convincing that Pizzi’s staidly formal staging. Uliana Alexyuk put her bright, trill-heavy voice to fine use as the sleepwalking Amina. The Kiev-born soprano had a fluent and expressive coloratura and attractive, if unevenly deployed, pianissimo. Conversely, her voice could sound exposed when she let it grow too big as in "Ah, non giunge," which was a bit of a pity coming on the heels of her careful and moving “Ah! non credea mirarti.” But in all, it was a highly accomplished and sensitive portrayal. Aside from Alexyak, the most impressive singing of the evening was heard from tenor Stanislav Mostovoy. As Amina’s betrothed, Elvino, he evinced lyrical refinement, coloristic versatility and sheer vocal force. His controlled and ardor-filled account of “Tutto è sciolto” was one of the evening’s highlights.

Oleg Tsybulko, a young Moldavian bass, produced a mixed impression as Count Rodolpho, the returning nobleman. With his sonorous, creamy tones, he was very much at home in the role, although he was quite flat dramatically and emotionally detached. The young Armenia soprano Nina Minasyan made a delightful Lisa, the innkeeper who also loves Elvino. She tossed off “De' lieti auguri a voi” with a soft bounce and an exciting coloratura technique whose ostentation was judiciously curtailed. And mezzo Elena Novak, an old hand at the Bolshoi, invested the millerTeresa with grace and authority. 

Aside from the occasional slip in the horns, the musicians played with elegant unity, although maestro Enrique Mazzola tried and often failed to coax a light and pliable sound out of them. The result could often sound a bit arthritic, although on the plus side, the various soli (cello, flute, oboe and clarinet) were vividly dispatched. The chorus, for the most part, seemed to follow the orchestra’s lead, doing mostly unified but somewhat rigid work. —A. J. Goldmann

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