[Met Performance] CID:216780
La Sonnambula {49} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/2/1968.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 2, 1968


LA SONNAMBULA {49}
Bellini-F. Romani

Amina...................Joan Sutherland
Elvino..................John Alexander, Acts I, II
Elvino..................George Shirley, Act III
Rodolfo.................Bonaldo Giaiotti
Lisa....................Colette Boky
Teresa..................Louise Pearl
Alessio.................Paul Plishka
Notary..................Paul Franke

Conductor...............Richard Bonynge

Director................Henry Butler
Designer................Rolf Gérard
Choreographer...........Thomas Andrew

La Sonnambula received ten performances this season.

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday Review


Quality and excitement, two vocal values which have been in short supply this season, returned to the Metropolitan with the reappearance, after too long an absence, of Joan Sutherland. The specification is double because, as indoctrinated operagoers know, there can be excitement without quality, as well as quality without excitement.

With Miss Sutherland, both are of a rather special sort, taking in extremes of reaction. Some sense the excitement without being aware of the quality, taking their stimuli from the pure physical phenomenon of cleanly struck higher-than-customary high notes, or a rapid succession of sounds crowded into a shorter space of time than is normally required for such execution. These excite basic sensory perceptions and induce a kind of Pavlovian response, such as cries of "Brava" and extravagant applause.

Others, more keenly aware of the finesse in Miss Sutherland's delivery of the vocal detail in such a role as Amina in Bellini's "La Sonnambula" ( a work not previously heard at the Lincoln Center Metropolitan), respond to it in the ways reserved for those who achieve results above and beyond the reach of ordinary humans. That is, they honor her as a paragon, a touchstone, an absolute among comparatives, one who has reached every station on the way to the summit of the mountain. Or perhaps, it would be better to say, every station but the very last. That is the terminal point of any artistic journey, the one marked MOUNT BELIEVABILITY. The fickle gods, dispensing their gifts as they do, sometimes challenge their votaries by withholding something from those they favor most. It is a way of keeping everything in order and suppressing pride when it raises its ungrateful head.

Thus, with Miss Sutherland's Amina, fantasy and realism are strangely inverted. The realism of her performance is that which would be fantasy for most - an unbelievably glossy, free, and precise articulation of Bellini's intricate patterns, the almost instrumental exactness with which she strikes high Ds and Es (Cs are barely worth mention). The fantasy, not quite within her reach, was that which would be ready realism for many others - the creation of an attractive, appealing, not to say believable, figure of a young girl in love. Everything relating to romantic credibility was, in her relations with Elvino, reduced to symbols, whether the betrothed was John Alexander or George Shirley.

There was half of one and one and a half of the other in the season's first two
performances, due to gradual loss of voice by Alexander on the first night, resulting in his replacement by Shirley then and later in the week. Comment on one or the other is discouraged not only by such circumstances, but more by the mere fact that, in terms of the surroundings (Swiss), Miss Sutherland's effort was consistently above the timber line, those of her associates in the vocal valleys. Of the others, Bonaldo Giaiotti's Rodolfo (though a bass) came closest to matching her vocal altitude. Richard Bonynge completed the family partnership as conductor.



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