La Sonnambula Dessay Dvdfab

A misunderstanding disrupts marriage plans in 'La Sonnambula'. Opéra national de Paris/ Julien Benhamou hide caption

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Opéra national de Paris/ Julien Benhamou

A misunderstanding disrupts marriage plans in 'La Sonnambula'.

Opéra national de Paris/ Julien Benhamou

The opera takes place in a Swiss village early in the 19th century. ACT ONE opens in the village square where there's an inn, and the local mill, nestled in the background. A chorus of villagers is joyous, but the young woman Lisa, who owns the inn, is down in the dumps. Her former lover, Elvino, a successful farmer, is about to be engaged to someone else — namely Amina, an orphan, brought up by Teresa, who runs the mill.

A man called Alessio rushes in and hugs an unenthusiastic Lisa. He's in love with her, but she pays him little attention. As the villagers arrive to celebrate Amina's engagement, she comes out of the mill with Teresa, and thanks them. Amina naively wishes Alessio and Lisa well, and Teresa notices Lisa's unfriendly reaction.

A notary enters, announcing the arrival of the groom, Elvino. With the notary as a witness, Elvino pledges everything he has to Amina, and she replies that all she has to offer in return is her heart. In their duet, Elvino gives Amina a ring that belonged to his mother, and a bouquet of wildflowers. They are now officially engaged.

The sound of coach wheels is heard, and a stranger enters; he's on his way to a nearby castle, but doesn't know exactly where it is. Lisa says he'll never make it by nightfall, and invites him to stay over at her inn. The villagers don't recognize him, but he remembers the mill and the countryside. He says that when he was young, he briefly lived in the castle he's looking for, and wonders what became of the count who owned it. The others tell him the count died long ago, and his heirs are missing. This stranger, Rodolfo, is quickly smitten by Amina, who reminds him of a youthful love.

It's now dusk and Teresa urges everyone to leave. She warns Rodolfo about a phantom, in white clothes, that haunts the area at night. Rodolfo is skeptical, but the villagers back up her story, describing the ghost to Rodolfo. He says a fervent good night to Amina, much to Elvino's indignation. Left alone, Elvino and Amina quarrel, and then make up, in a florid duet.

In the next scene, at the inn, Rodolfo is flirting with Lisa, who tells him that the local mayor has recognized him as the old count's legal heir, and thus the new lord of the castle. They're startled by a noise, and as Lisa hurriedly leaves, she drops her kerchief. Amina, dressed in white, comes in through the window; she's walking in her sleep, and Rodolfo realizes that she must be the "phantom" the villagers have been seeing.

In disjointed phrases Amina talks about her forthcoming marriage, Elvino's jealousy, and their quarrel. Rodolfo refrains from taking advantage of "this pure and innocent flower," and exits through the window, leaving Amina asleep in his room.

When the villagers arrive to welcome Rodolfo as castle's new lord, they're amused when they discover a girl in Rodolfo's bed. They're about to leave discreetly when Lisa walks in with Elvino and Teresa. Lisa triumphantly points to the sleeping girl, and everyone is shocked when they recognize Amina.

The commotion wakes Amina. She's confused, and says — honestly — that she has no idea how she wound up in Rodolfo's room. But the villagers denounce her, saying she's lying. Teresa, the only one who believes her, picks up the kerchief Lisa dropped earlier, mistaking it for Amina's, and puts it round Amina's neck. As the act ends, Elvino is convinced that Amina has betrayed him, and angrily calls off their wedding.

ACT TWO opens in a valley between the village and the local castle. The villagers are headed for the castle to put Amina's case to Count Rodolfo, while Amina seeks consolation from Teresa.

Meanwhile, Elvino is miserable, and treats Amina with anger. The villagers return, announcing that the Count has exonerated Amina. But that's not good enough for Elvino, who furiously snatches his ring from Amina, refusing to take her back.

In the next scene, in the village square, Lisa again brushes off Alessio's advances. With Amina in disgrace, she's now free to marry Elvino, who seems agreeable. He kisses her hand and leads her towards the church, while Rodolfo, arriving with the villagers, proclaims Amina's innocence.

In a quartet, the Count tries to explain to Elvino that Amina never betrayed him — she really was sleep-walking. Meanwhile, Teresa is shocked to see that Elvino is about to marry Lisa, who helpfully points out that she was not the one who turned up in another man's room. But there's proof that she had been in Rodolfo's room! She left in a hurry when Amina turned up, dropping her kerchief in the process. And when Teresa produces that kerchief, Elvino realizes that Lisa has been lying.

Then, as everyone is in an uproar, a white figure appears on the roof of the mill. It's Amina, sleepwalking again. To the relief of the crowd, she descends without falling.

Still asleep, Amina begins to sing about Elvino and her grief over losing him. The beauty of her sentiment convinces everyone, including Elvino, that she is innocent after all. Elvino returns the engagement ring to Amina's finger, and she's gently awakened. She and Elvino are both overjoyed, and as the opera ends, the villagers hurry them off to the church to be married.

Natalie Dessay ………… Amina

Javier Camarena ……… Elvino

Marie-Adeline Henry ……. Lisa

Michele Pertusi …….… Rodolfo

Cornelia Oncioiu …..….. Teresa

Nahuel de Pierro ……… Alessio

Jian-Hong Zhao ……… Notary

Although Act 1 finds Mr. Marelli bringing out the story’s charm, while paying close attention to the innkeeper Lisa, who had hoped to win Elvino for herself, one gets the impression that in Act 2 he got tired of taking “La Sonnambula” seriously.

For Amina’s ecstatic “Ah! non giunge,” sung at the end after all is resolved, Ms. Dessay suddenly appears in a red gown, comes to the footlights and sings in front of a backdrop resembling the trompe l’oeil curtain of the Palais Garnier. This operatic moment points up that, splendid though Ms. Dessay’s singing is, others have brought more vocal brilliance to this dazzling moment. Limpid melodies are more her thing.

Ms. Dessay is happily partnered with the tenor Javier Camarena, who as Elvino sings with handsome, well-modulated tone and arresting dynamic shading. He delivered only one verse of his cabaletta “Ah! perchè non posso odiarti,” but ended it with a loud interpolated high note, as if that compensated the omission.

The suave baritone Michele Pertusi finds the nostalgic essence of Count Rodolfo’s aria “Vi ravviso,” and Marie-Adeline Henry offers a perky, vibrantly sung Lisa. Evelino Pidò is an able conductor, whom singers apparently like because he lets them do pretty much what they want. Among the cuts he sanctions is the charming chorus at the start of Act 2.

Paris offers so many opportunities to hear 17th- and 18th-century operas played on period instruments that you might expect the Opéra’s modern-instrument orchestra to cultivate big-boned Mozart performances in the manner of a Muti or a Levine.

For the current revival of Luc Bondy’s production of “Idomeneo” at the Palais Garnier, however, the early-music specialist Emmanuelle Haïm was engaged on expectations that she would bring period flair to the performance.

It was not to be. Just two days before the premiere, Ms. Haïm pulled out. As Le Monde put it, the Opéra orchestra has a reputation as a “killer of conductors.”

“This is a French phenomenon,” it added. “If a conductor is unacceptable to a German, British or American orchestra, the players will play as well as possible and be content not to have him invited back.”

Under the circumstances, it is understandable that the orchestral performance under the replacement conductor Philippe Hui fails to have much of a profile. Still, with Charles Workman in the title role of the Cretan king, Mozart’s great sacrificial drama manages to work its effect. The excellent soprano Tamar Iveri sings the jealous Elettra with iridescent tone and, in her final rage aria, riveting excitement.

Vesselina Kasarova is always a pleasure to encounter in any trouser role, here as Idomeneo’s son Idamante. Isabel Bayrakdarian, though her voice sometimes sounds wiry, also makes an impression as the Trojan princess Ilia.

Mr. Bondy’s somber production, set on the desolate beach of Erich Wonder’s décor, with murky images of stormy skies and seas, makes important moments tell, like the recognition scene for Idomeneo and Idamante. It also brings home the devastation Idomeneo causes his subjects by failing to fulfill his vow to Neptune and sacrifice his son.

Yet amidst the rejoicing at the end, a thunderstorm gratuitously breaks out, the chorus runs off and the music fades away. The effect is sophomoric, in much the same way that the close of Mr. Bondy’s “Tosca” is for the Metropolitan Opera, when the heroine, jumping to her death, is seen suspended in midair.

La Sonnambula. Directed by Marco Arturo Marelli. Opéra National de Paris, Opéra Bastille.

Idomeneo. Directed by Luc Bondy. Opéra National de Paris, Palais Garnier.

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