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La Sonnambula Soars in Philadelphia

Prince Music Theater
02/18/2010 -  and 19, 20, 21 February 2010
Vincenzo Bellini: La Sonnambula

Elizabeth Zharoff (Amina), Kirsten MacKinnon (Lisa), J’nai Bridges (Teresa), Joseph Barron (Rodolfo), Diego Silva (Elvino), Allen Boxer (Alessio)
Danielle Orlando (Musical preparation), Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Shwartz (conductor)

B. Shwartz (© Jennifer Hui Bon Hoa)

Following up the Academy of Vocal Arts’ concert Norma, the Curtis Opera Theatre is adding to Philadelphia’s bel canto bounty with concert performances of Bellini’sLa Sonnambula at the Prince Music Theater. The production showcases the company’s talented young singers but also puts on display Curtis’ outstanding Symphony Orchestra. After using his baton to turn Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims into a fizzing comedy last spring, Benjamin Shwartz returns to lead a reading of Bellini’s opera that catches the rustic charm as well as the tender pathos of his plaintive melodramma. Shwartz draws crisp playing from his musicians and shades Bellini’s score with tender accents. The orchestra plays superbly. The singers do well, too.

Slim and pretty, soprano Elizabeth Zharoff makes an affecting Amina. Although her attractive voice is marred by some tonal quavers, Zharoff traces the long, spacious vocal lines elegantly. Her bel canto technique may not be flawless – she fails to negotiate with clarity a few of the roulades and rapid divisions – but her singing sounds joyous in the allegros. Zharoff also catches the sad mood of “Ah! non credea mirarti,” although she doesn’t reveal all the subtle colors in Bellini’s music. But her top blossoms radiantly in the high climaxes.

Tenor Diego Silva makes a sweet-toned Elvino but his voice lacks tonal variety and sounds pinched on the high notes. Silva makes his effect in Elvino’s second-act scena ed aria “Tutto è sciolto!” Silva catches the heartbreak and the despair of a lover who believes he has been betrayed. Joseph Barron brings a rich-toned, seamless bass to Rodolfo’s “Vi ravviso , o luoghi ameni.” He sings securely throughout the performance.

No stage director is listed in Curtis’ program, but the performance is more than “line up the singers and let them perform.” Zharoff makes the most of Amina’s two sleepwalking scenes as she floats in a daze down a side aisle with a candle in her hand. Kirsten MacKinnon makes a spitfire of a Lisa. She sings Lisa’s second-act aria with vibrant force and vividly projects her jealousy of Amina, her love for Elvino and her interest in Count Rodolfo. The audience appreciated her efforts. Adding to the effectiveness of the performance were the youthful Teresa of J’nai Bridges and the Alessio of Allen Boxer.

Robert Baxter



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