Originally produced in Milan in 1831, Bellinis fairy tale opera has never been out of the repertoire and has always had a very particular place in the heart of the lovers of belcanto. This is certainly not for the dramatic action there almost is none, with no occasion to cry, feel threatened or laugh; in fact there is very little emotion at all, the most exciting moment being when the heroine tiptoes in a sleepwalking state over a shaky bridge across the mill-stream. Will she fall into the racing water below? Of course not, but instead she does break into one of the most glorious of show pieces from Italian opera, Ah! non giunge, is reunited with her faithless but by now chastened swain, and all is well. It is the sheer beauty of the music, the exquisite sweetness of the arias, which make this piece so special.
Bruno Campanella, a conductor renowned as something of a specialist in the belcanto field, sets a very leisurely pace, often almost too much so, and at times one longs to tear into an aria or chorus.
The production, by Pier Francesco Maestrini, with attractive sets and costumes by Alfredo Troisi, is extremely traditional, but not at all out of place for such a fairy tale, although perhaps the famous bridge over the racing water could have looked a bit more rickety, a little less robust. The collapse of a portion of it when the diva has just passed was very clumsily done.
Amina: Cinzia Forte has a sweet face and sweet voice, which go a long way in this role, but lacks verve somewhat; this matters particularly when she gets to Ah! non giunge. This should ideally be taken at a cracking pace and is the one opportunity in the opera for the belcanto soprano to display her weaponry, those hard-won assets of agility, trills, held high notes and so on. Cinzia Forte has a certain agility, but the trills are very short and the high notes hardly held at all, and the overall effect is more tame than thrilling.
The Russian tenor, Dmitry Korchak, is Elvino; his voice is small and not especially golden, but more than adequate.
Sonia Caramella, as Teresa, sings with real class, as does the Rodolfo of Vincenzo Capuano, who has exactly the right blend of compassion and authoritativeness.
Daniela Schillaci is excellent in both voice and presence as the scheming Lisa; one ends up feeling really quite sorry for her.
Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Rome. Tel. 06 481601 www.opera.roma.it. 23 November 2005. Further performances 24, 26, 27, 29 and 30 November 2005