Bellini: La Sonnambula / Benini, Siragusa, Gutierrez, Colecchia [blu-ray]

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BELLINI La sonnambula Maurizio Benini, cond; Eglise Gutiérrez (Amina); Antonio Siragusa (Elvino); Simone Alaimo (Count Rodolfo); Sandra Pastrana (Lisa); Gabriella Colecchia (Teresa); Gabriele Nani (Alessio); Teatro Lirico di Cagliari O & Ch DYNAMIC 55616 (Blu-ray: 141:00) Live: Cagliari 2008

For those of you who may hold the opinion that Vincenzo Bellini was rather a minor composer, you need to see and hear this opera, La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), particularly the last 15 minutes or so. The music transcends the heavens, it surpasses anything written by Rossini, Donizetti, or even Verdi. Okay, I guess my enthusiasm is showing a bit, but I truly love this music, however it stacks up in the pantheon of consummate 19th-century Italian composers. The story is simple. The betrothed young village girl, Amina, is discovered in the bed of the local Count in his room at the village inn, he returning to his native environs for the first time in many years. Everyone is shocked, horrified, including the prospective groom, Elvino. Lisa, the young mistress of the inn, also smitten with Elvino, takes advantage to whisk the tenor hero away from his now disgraced intended. It turns out Amina sleepwalks, which the townsfolk and Elvino eventually discover, and after a ravishing double aria for the leading lady in the finale of act 2, all is set well again. The simple tale is charming and if you enjoy bel canto, it doesn’t get any better than this.

I was pleased to get this disc for review because I have been hearing the praises sung for young Cuban American coloratura Eglise Gutiérrez for a few years now, and have not had much opportunity to see or hear her. (She was the fairy godmother in Massenet’s Cendrillon, which I enjoyed, but that opera is hardly prime bel canto land.) I am here to report Gutiérrez is the real deal. Vocally she harkens back to the days of the true Bellini divas, to Giuditta Pasta and Maria Malibran. The young singer’s top range is incredible and solidly in place, everything is precisely on key, sung easily and cleanly. Vocal agility is excellent: Gutiérrez has not the slightest problem with Bellini’s pyrotechnics and she ornaments tastefully and often, like the best of bel canto songbirds. If her acting and stage presence are at times rather ordinary in this 2006 rendering, we should remember that La Sonnambula does not require the histrionics of a Tosca. The young soprano’s portrayal is very charming here, certainly a plus for the production.

Sets are kept simple and traditional, with rustic pastoral settings evoked by a grassy forestage and colorful painted backdrops. It is lovely to watch and far outshines its more famous Metropolitan Opera counterpart (to be seen again this April with Diana Damrau). The costumes, if anything, seem a bit too lavish and colorful for peasant wear, but sumptuous to the eye; I am not complaining. Staging is strictly traditional, as this little charmer of an opera almost necessarily requires. The visual realm is almost completely in service to the music here, and when La Sonnambula is performed in this fashion cannot fail to please even the most jaded opera goers.

Warning: now comes the caveat! Unfortunately, the tenor Elvino is disappointing. Antonio Siragusa sings well and with excellent pitch control, but has an annoying nasal vocal tone, especially when he pushes the voice, that quite spoils his part in the proceedings. It is something you can get used to when he sings alone, but next to the ravishing voice of Gutiérrez and the other fine voices on this set in duets and ensembles, it is continually noticeable and jarring. The Count Rodolfo is sung by veteran Simone Alaimo, who still brings plenty of rich baritone beauty to the role and just the right touch of innocent paternal concern for the beleaguered Amina. Another standout vocally is young Sandra Pastrana as Lisa, who also handles Bellini’s fioratura with delightful expertise and is a big asset to this production. Smaller roles are likewise filled with quite good singers, and the orchestra from the Teatro Lirico Cagliari gives us an impressive rendition of Bellini’s wonderful score. The chorus, a particularly integral part of La Sonnambula, also turns in a first-class performance. It really seems a shame to me that Gutiérrez could not have been paired with a tenor who could at least have gotten out of her way here, let alone the hopeless wish for a Juan Diego Flórez or Lawrence Brownlee in the role. If that had happened this would be a La Sonnambula for the ages; as it is, it’s still very good.

As is to be expected these days, the Dynamic Blu-ray is quite sharply detailed and in exceptionally vivid colors, with state of the art audio formats providing excellent sound. The only current Blu-ray competitor is a recent release to be found on the C Major label. I have not seen it, but soprano Jessica Pratt is also a rising young coloratura star and from what I have heard on YouTube, is very, very good as Amina. The tenor is also promising. Also worth your attention is the VAI DVD issue with Anna Moffo from 1956. Moffo doesn’t have a clue about bel canto style but her young voice is ravishing, the production charming, and she is very lovely to watch, even before her famous nose job. Check out what all the furor was about! The Mary Zimmerman-directed production from the Met has a great cast, but archly ridicules the original story while failing to make much sense itself. As for this disc, it could have been a world beater, but if you can get used to the nasal tenor, it is still very enjoyable. Recommended.

FANFARE: Bill White

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DYN-55616

  • UPC: 8007144556167

  • Label: Dynamic

  • Composer: Vincenzo Bellini

  • Conductor: Maurizio Benini

  • Performer: Antonio Siragusa, Eglise Gutierrez, Gabriella Colecchia, Max René Cosotti, Simone Alaimo


  1. La sonnambula

    Composer: Vincenzo Bellini

    Performer: Simone Alaimo (Baritone), Gabriella Colecchia (Soprano), Max René Cosotti (Tenor), Eglise Gutierrez (Soprano), Antonio Siragusa (Tenor)

    Conductor: Maurizio Benini