Left - Rachelle Durkin and Aldo Di Toro
La Sonnambula isn’t the most complex of stories but that doesn’t seem too important when listening to the glorious strains of bel canto opera.
Set in a village in Switzerland, the curtains opened to reveal preparations underway for a wedding. Everyone is joyous and happy except for Lisa, who was once engaged to the prospective groom.
Vincenzo Bellini’s opera demands a cast of four fine principal singers – the title role of the sleepwalking Amina is renowned for its difficulty – so I was looking forward to seeing New York-based Perth soprano Rachelle Durkin take on the role.
Her voice didn’t disappoint with crystal clear notes and dazzling coloratura (a style that involves elaborate ornamentation and embellishment) showcasing Rachelle’s impeccable training and talent. She also showed acting chops as the innocent Amina, portraying an earnestness that was believable. Her voice showed signs of strain in the last half hour of the performance but she still did a remarkable job in this challenging role.
Rachelle was ably supported by Aldo Di Toro, who played Elvino, the landowner longing for a faithful woman. Their voices were perfectly matched, harmonising each other intricately. Andrew Collis was fantastic as Count Rodolfo, providing a rich baritone and Zoe Kikiros was vocally strong as the jilted Lisa.
The set was simple but cleverly adaptable, with a rotating centre stage that was used to full effect, adding movement and colour to a fairly basic plot. I enjoyed the set up of the wedding feast, with lanterns and tables and the final mill scene was sparse but effective. In some parts, such as the villager’s search for the Count, perhaps more could have been done to embellish the set and add visual interest.
As it was sung in Italian, I was grateful for surtitles, although they were hardly needed considering the simplicity of the plot. There were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, mostly at the hilarity of the groom’s changing mind and the idea that a man would rush into another wedding the day after he had broken off an engagement.
The West Australian Sympthony Orchestra provided an impeccable rendition of Bellini’s music under the direction of conductor Richard Mills, who relied on his theatrical instincts to provide expression to the performance.
I mustn’t forget to mention the fantastic supporting cast of tenors and sopranos, whose voices joined together to form backdrops for lead singers and rose to fill the room to bursting point.
The opening night performance was fittingly dedicated to the late Dame Joan Sutherland, who famously performed the part of Amina in 1960 to great acclaim. The WA Opera are a credit to the quality of training in Western Australia and always put on a magnificent performance.
West Australian Opera presents
by Vincenzo Bellini
Venue: His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
Dates: 28 October - 6 November 2010
Tickets: $37.50 - $152.50