I’m not a huge bel canto fan so it’s probably no surprise that I had, previous to this DVD, only seen Bellini’s La sonnambula once. That was in Mary Zimmermann’s messy production at the Met which had left me with the impression that it was a rather feeble comedy with formulaic music and not much improved by Zimmermann’s attempts to sex it up. I did wonder if it might be improved by the full on Regie treatment and so I was quite happy to have a chance to see the DVD of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s 2013 Stuttgart production, especially as it had played to significant critical acclaim and won a bunch of awards. I was surprised and impressed. Far from being a cavalcade of extraneous elements (the usual charge levelled at Regie), this production probed the libretto and the source materials in a highly intelligent way to produce something really rather moving. The music is still what it is; tuneful, well crafted but hardly deep, but there you go.
So what do Wieler and Morabito do? First, they strip down the setting. Essentially everything takes place in one room at Lisa’s inn. The time period is also updated to some time maybe around the 1970s. There’s no attempt to create “gay and happy opera peasants” out of the people the libretto describes as being from an “impoverished Swiss village”. They also make very clear the relationship between Amina and Count Rudolfo. Of course she’s his daughter and the ghost that haunts the village is her dead mother abandoned by the count. Of course Amina’s sleepwalking parallels her mother’s nocturnal peregrinations. The directors make this clear by actually placing the mother/ghost in several scenes, most notably the happy ending which is not so easy on the count. Simple, obvious once one gets it and transformative. What good directing should be.
Performances, from a cast all but one(*) unfamiliar to me, are generally very good. Ana Durlovski is a really good Amina. She’s got a sweet, rather vulnerable, soprano and acts very well. Well enough in fact to win the German theatre prize Der Faust. Enzo Capuano’s Rodolfo is noble and sympathetic with clear, accurate singing and looking every inch a gentleman among peasants. Catriona Smith is a suitably coarse and catty Lisa, though her singing is properly idiomatic, and Helene Schneiderman is a strong and sympathetic Teresa. The one performance I’m less sure about is Luciano Botelho’s rather one dimensional Elvino. Maybe he’s just a bel canto tenor being a bel canto tenor or maybe he’s being directed that way but he comes off as a rather unsympathetic lout and it’s hard to see what Amina sees in him other than his wallet. But the singing, in the properly Italianate manner, is just fine. Excellent work from the chorus too and Gabriele ferro and the orchestra make the most of what they have to work with.
Marcus Richardt’s video direction is unfussy and tends to showing the whole stage much of the time. The picture quality is fine and both Dolby surround and LPCM stereo sound options are detailed and clear. The booklet contains a track listing, a synopsis and a couple of helpful essays but the only extras on the disk are trailers for other Euroarts releases. Subtitle options are English, German, French and Italian.
This one is definitely worth a look.
* Helene Schneiderman is currently appearing as Marcellina in the COC’s The Marriage of Figaro.