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Washington Concert Opera: 'La Sonnambula'

René Barbera and Eglise Gutiérrez, La Sonnambula, Washington Concert Opera, 2012 (photo courtesy of Washington Concert Opera)
The Teatro Carcano had quite an 1830-1831 season in Milan. Founded in 1801, the management had dreams of rivaling La Scala as an opera theater. As noted in my preview of the past weekend's highlights here in Washington, the theater premiered both Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Bellini's La Sonnambula in the space of a few months, in December 1830 and March 1831. (A theater in Milan still bears that name, but it now hosts other kinds of performances.) As chance would have it, both operas were performed in Washington this past weekend: the Donizetti by Washington National Opera and the Bellini on Sunday afternoon by Washington Concert Opera at Lisner Auditorium.

Sadly, it was not a good afternoon for Eglise Gutiérrez in the title role, with many of the same issues noted of her performance this past July at Caramoor. There were intonation problems and a swallowed, perilous hold on the high pianissimo notes, although the outdoor acoustic at Caramoor made that sound worse than at Lisner. More disturbingly, the top of Gutiérrez's voice was giving out by the end of the first cabaletta and she struggled with it throughout the performance. The audible torment of the role was doubly sad because, as noted in my preview, it was not created for a voice that went quite that high. The rest of the lead cast was more successful, starting with the lovely sound, heroic high notes, and musical suavity of tenor René Barbera as Elvino -- a nasal, frontally placed voice but one that was beautiful and solid all around.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, WCO’s ‘La Sonnambula’ is live and wide awake (Washington Post, September 18)
Equally good were the smooth baritone of Ben Wager's Rodolfo, with a present and round sound at both ends of the compass, and the pouty, spiteful Lisa of Maureen McKay, a silver-toned voice that darted and sparkled. Supporting parts were capably filled by Madeleine Gray as a maternal Teresa, Matthew Osifchin as long-suffering Alessio, and Rolando Sanz as the Notary. As usual, much of the credit goes to Antony Walker at the podium, who infused the score -- and it has plenty of corny duds in there -- with delight for its beauties and tolerance of its shortcomings. The orchestra was a little messy in the strings here and there, and there were a few wrong notes and false entrances, but Walker, with a relatively small amount of rehearsal, kept singers, orchestra, and the effective chorus all on the same page. Milan was clearly the place to be for bel canto opera that year. Back at La Scala in December 1831, Bellini and Romani teamed up again for Norma, with Giuditta Pasta once more in the title role: it will be mounted by Washington National Opera next March. Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, which will be the second opera from Washington Concert Opera, in April, was premiered at La Scala just four years later, in 1835.

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