Pertusi Steals the Show in Covent Garden’s La Sonnambula

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Bellini La sonnambula Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Daniel Oren (conductor), The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2.11.2011. (CC)


Amina – Eglise Gutiérrez
Elvino – Celso Albelo
Count Rodolfo – Michele Pertusi
Lisa – Elena Xanthoudakis
Alessio – Jihoon Kim
Teresa – Elizabeth Sikora
Count Rodolfo – Michele Pertusi
Notary – Elliot Goldie


Director, Set design and lighting Marco Arturo Marelli
Revival Director: Andreas Leisner
Costume Designs: Dagmar Niefind-Marelli

This was the first revival of Marco Arturo Marelli’s production since it was first seen here in 2002 (and seen the year before that for the first time in Vienna: Marelli was also responsible for set and lighting design).

The plot of Sonnambula is notoriously simple, so perhaps Marelli’s choice of one stage setting for the entire opera was intended to mirror that. That setting was a Swiss clinic (or is it a modern, clinically-decorated hotel?) of some sort. So much for an Alpine village. Amina may be a staff member – she changes into her wedding dress on-stage. And as for her somnambulistic tight-rope act, she walks down an upturned, downwardly sloping table, this is hardly dramatic stuff. In fact pastoralism seems to be all here. Why does the curtain come down before Amina’s final contribution? Certainly this is not the first time I have seen this technique used, but here it seems rather pointless. Static staging puts the onus on the musical elements so much so that they are suddenly under the microscope. If only the cast was uniform …

This is not the first time I have reported on an opera and named the star of the night as someone other than the leading gentleman and lady. Here, the star beyond a doubt was the magnificent Michele Pertusi, a singer of huge experience who simple stole the show as Count Rodolfo, a role he has previously taken at La Scala, La Monnaie and the Met, among others. The part is clearly fully imprinted upon him, as he was the only member of the cast who seemed to live the drama convincingly. He was absolutely convincing as the love rival – an older man with considerable appeal and the confidence brought by much life experience. In that respect he brought back memories of William Shimell as Don Alfonso in Così last year at the same venue. His voice was sure (if audibly not in its prime) and he had a secure enough lower range to cope with Bellini’s demands. Phrasing, too, was a joy, with Bellini’s lines caressed and honoured magnificently. Throughout there was the impression that Pertusi’s character, Rodolfo, was the controller of the action – the puppeteer, if you will.

The two leading roles, Amina and Elvino, were sung by Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutiérrez and Spanish tenor Celso Albelo respectively. Gutiérrez (who sang the titular heroine in a 2009 concert performance of Linda di Chamounix at the Garden) boasted jaw-dropping trill technique, but lacked the star factor; her coloratura was adequate but showed signs of smudging, and her lower range could certainly be darker. Neither was she dramatically convincing. Assertions such as “there is no light left in the world” left me simply disbelieving her. Her diction was variable.

Albelo was making his ROH debut in this role (he has also aung it at Baden-Baden and Las Palmas). There were distinct signs of nerves, but his voice is lyrical and although there is an edge, the Act 1 duet (“Son geloso del zeffiro errante”) was gorgeous. As the evening progressed the conclusion that Albelo works best in company seemed inescapable, though. On his own, he lacks character, but somehow in duet he ignites. Not the greatest recommendation for a lead tenor, I suspect.

The Korean bass Jihoon Kim (a Jette Parker Young Artist) was inconsistent, his mellow, resonant voice initially impressed but his full voice simply sounded too heavy for Bellini in the second act. Elizabeth Sikora excelled as Teresa (Amina’s foster mother) – I have yet to hear this singer and be disappointed; Elena Xanthoudakis’s Lisa, Elvino’s former lover, was magnificently pure of voice.

The chorus (the ever-reliable Renato Balsadonna as Chorus Master) was impeccable throughout. Oren’s handling of the orchestra was workaday rather than inspired, however, and there were several significant slips in ensemble; which is a pity, as Bellini’s score and his accompaniments, in particular, benefit from the illumination of an insightful conductor.

This was a mixed evening. Please note that Christophoros Stamboglis takes over from Pertusi as Count Rodolfo for the performances on November 16th and 18th (the rest of the cast remains the same throughout the run).

Colin Clarke