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Please learn to think in the opera house,
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This review is from: Bellini: La Sonnambula [DVD]  (DVD)
This DVD of La Sonnambula, from the Met with Dessay and Florez, is to be highly recommended: the general consensus about the performance (even from the two-star reviewer) is that there is not much wrong musically: I agree. So what about the production?
A stage-within-a-stage? Hardly original (try "Kiss Me, Kate"; or even "Taming of the Shrew"), but on the whole this production hangs together and, in the best sense of the word, is clever, slipping from "rehearsal" to "reality" without difficulty, and allowing life to imitate art. First, however, some obvious points: this company, rehearsing "La Sonnambula" is not well-funded, the Stage Manager/Director sings Lisa and the chorus master Alessio.
After rehearsing the notary scene, the stage manager signals "take five" and the tenor takes this opportunity to propose to the soprano (who is not at this stage an especially likeable character): they have a relationship, but she is both surprised and delighted (from here until the end of the act, reality sets in). Enter a distinguished looking stranger (whom I took to be a theatrical "Angel"): he finds the soprano attractive, she is flattered, and the tenor (a jealous type) furious. The stranger is given a makeshift place off the rehearsal room. Time for the company to go home and they warn him of a phantom haunting the place (well, theatre people are supposed to be very superstitious). The soprano, annoyed by the tenor's unreasonable behaviour, stands up to him (a spunky, rather than a wet, Amina - thank goodness).
The SM is trying to "come on to" the stranger/Angel" but the soprano enters, sleepwalking: the SM clears off, the stranger (realising immediately that this is the "phantom") is tempted but does not take advantage (as Sinatra says in "High Society" - "There are rules"). The company come along for rehearsals the following morning and their noise wakes the soprano who is disoriented ("Dove son?") but sees a face she can rely on ("Ah mio bene") and his reply shocks and deeply wounds her ("Traditrice"). She cannot explain what has happened, except that she has done nothing wrong. (No, I don't know what the ripping up of scores is about either; or why Dessay and Florez have to get on that bed while it's being moved. I did say that on the whole the production is good).
We continue slipping between "rehearsal" and "reality", the latter mainly consisting of the outpourings of the tenor and soprano and their reactions to each other. "Ah Perche non posso odiarti" almost destroys the relationship beyond any repair - both are horrified at what he thinks she has done. Is he too brutal here? Of course he is: unfortunately, even the mildest, most pleasant of men (hardly a description of the tenor anyway) can be brutal - and equally unfortunately, most people do not interfere in so-called "domestic" arguments. Sadly, Zimmermann has got this one right. In any case, think of the words: he wants to loathe the soprano, but can't.
The show must go on: Amina isn't needed for the next part of the rehearsal, and the SM thinks she has a chance with the tenor (hoping that life will imitate art again, but later this is spoiled by the soprano's mother: so rehearsal and reality overlap). The stranger has explained about somnambulism, but it would be too much of a coincidence for the soprano in La Sonnambula also to be a sleepwalker: then the soprano appears sleepwalking along the ledge outside of the building. It is the SM who rescues her at this point: of course, the SM must always be practical, decide what must be done and how, so she brings the soprano in. A sentimental touch? Absolutely not - the SM might have no love for the soprano, but that doesn't mean that she would not help her if she were in danger. It's called common humanity.
The soprano expresses, unconsciously, everything she feels is now going to happen and the tenor is full of remorse - each has learned a great deal about him/herself. So instead of just getting a couple of showpieces, one for tenor and one for soprano, they - and we - are completely involved in the drama. And it is a drama, nor is it slight. Its essence is captured in this highly intelligent, thoughtful, if flawed, production.