Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 7:30 nightly, Tues 19th, Thurs 21st, Sat 23rd July 2011
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
Tickets: adult $55-170/conc $45-140
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or http://www.bass.net.au
State Opera start their main stage season for the year with the extremely lyrical music of Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835). They have also started it with an absolutely sublime production of this charming opera. Described as a melodrama, or opera semiseria, it is in the Italian style known as bel canto (beautiful singing), a style also associated with Rossini and Donizetti.
High in the Swiss Alps the orphan, Amina, has become engaged to the wealthy landowner, Elvino, and the villagers are celebrating. The innkeeper, Lisa, is sad, as she had hoped to be his bride. A stranger appears and is attracted to Amina. Elvino, noticing his attentions, becomes jealous. Teresa, who has raised Amina, reminds the villagers that it is getting late and that a ghost walks the village at night, sending them to their homes.
Lisa recognises the stranger as Count Rodolpho and, when he stays at her inn for the night, she visits his room and they flirt. Amina enters, sleepwalking, and Lisa slips away. Rodolpho is tempted to take advantage of the situation, but leaves Amina sleeping in his bed, departing through the window. The villagers and Elvino discover her there and he leaps to all the wrong conclusions, calling off the wedding.
In the second act, Elvino has decided to marry Lisa instead. Rodolpho, however, produces a ribbon that he removed from Lisa's dress the night before during their flirting, and Elvino withdraws his offer of marriage. Alessio has been attracted to Lisa and is pleased at this development. Eventually, Elvino sees Amina sleepwalking for himself and all ends happily, with the villagers realising that the ghost they had feared was, in fact, just the sleepwalking Amina, all along.
Conductor, Benjamin Northey, and director, Julie Edwardson, have enlisted a marvellous cast and created a completely captivating production. Northey's control of the orchestra, chorus and soloists results in a superb balance between the three and Edwardson has brought out some strong performances from all of the cast, including members of the chorus.
Soprano Emma Matthews is truly magnificent in the role of Amina. Her singing of the fioritura passages would delight any opera-goer and she presents us with a fully developed character, acting as well as she sings. Tenor Aldo Di Toro, as Elvino, is also sensational, with his expressive singing and another solid characterisation. When they join in their duets they seem to inspire one another to even greater heights.
Count Rodolpho is sing by bass Andrew Collis giving a commanding performance as the aristocrat, but with lighter moments, such as chasing Lisa around his bedroom, handled very well, too. The always popular soprano, Teresa la Rocca, is the coquettish innkeeper, Lisa, singing beautifully as always and injecting a nice sexy edge to her character.
Teresa is sung by another favourite with Adelaide audiences, soprano Sally-Anne Russell, adding another great voice and presenting a sensitive portrayal of her motherly character. Similarly sensitive is the work of Sitiveni Talei, making his début with the company in the role of Lisa's rejected and dejected suitor Alessio. Robert Macfarlane injected some humour, too, as the aged Notary with balance difficulties, bumbling and stumbling about, to be caught and righted by the villagers whenever he began to fall.
There is the expected high quality work from the State Opera Chorus, rehearsed to perfection by concert master and now CEO and Artistic Director of State Opera, Timothy Sexton. There is a lot going on in the background if you keep an eye on the individual members of the chorus and I, for one, would not want to face the villager played by Roslyn Lock, brandishing an umbrella in a way that makes it very clear that she will stand no nonsense. These little touches, impossible without a chorus filled with people who can also act, are worth watching for.
It goes without saying that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra showed their vast experience playing for this opera company in such a wide range of styles over the years with yet another performance notable for the close interaction between orchestra and singers, supporting and giving confidence to those on stage through their understanding of the needs of the singers company.
A brief failure of the surtitles at the start showed that a great opera, well played and sung, can be followed and understood without the full interpretation, although it was good to have the extra detail that the surtitles provide, once they were running.
Designer, Richard Roberts, has kept the set uncluttered, basing it around a revolving square platform, angled down on one corner to give it a rake that aids in changing location by partial rotations at various points in the opera. This effect is augmented by a carefully designed lighting plot by Matt Scott.
State Opera have presented so many fine operas over the years and this is one of their best. It is an ideal opera for first timers as well as something that will appeal to the seasoned enthusiast. You'll be hearing people talking about this for some time, so make sure you see it.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.